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Dogs may benefit from the use of marijuana

Owners helping treat dogs with marijuana
Owners helping treat dogs with marijuana
Photo by Sion Touhig/Getty Images

Dogs now are benefiting from using marijuana as a treatment for some conditions -, but it's not “Woodstock” weed. Colorado and Washington have legalized and regulated cannabis for human recreational use — and 22 states allow for some form of medical marijuana. But no federal or state agency has made any provisions for the largely unregulated pet supplement industry.

As recently reported on a 5-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Georgia is a medical marijuana patient. Georgia's owner has received mixed comments from friends when learning about Georgia’s unorthodox treatment. What those quick to judge don’t understand is that Georgia is not getting high.

Georgia was suffering from syringomyelia, a serious neurological disease and traditional canine treatments and medications were not working. Georgia’s owner sought alternative veterinary care from Dr. Cynthia Graves, in Philadelphia. The new treatment plan included acupuncture, which helped to a degree and it was recommended Georgia begin using Canna-Pet, a supplement made from hemp. The use of hemp was to help control Georgia’s pain and anxiety. Georgia’s owner was surprised by the results.

As her owner shared with CNBC, "It has truly been a miracle and I don't say that lightly. I feel like I have a whole new dog. Georgia's happy and relaxed. She's not in pain. It's amazing."

Georgia is not ingesting the same kind of pot that humans smoke. A growing number of pets eat hemp-based capsules that contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — the psychoactive ingredient that provides the cannabis high.

How marijuana helps dogs

Blazing the way into this new and uncharted field of hemp-based veterinary medicine are two companies in the Seattle area, Canna-Pet and Canna Companion. Dr. Sarah Brandon and Dr. Greg Copas, husband and wife veterinarians, launched Canna Companion in March. They began exploring medical cannabis for about eight years, starting with their pets and then those of family and friends to figure out the right dosage. By combining knowledge from humans with their veterinary knowledge they worked until they determined safe dosage for dogs and cats.

The whole hemp plant is ground to make their Canna Companion capsules — roots, seeds, leaves and stem. The goal was to obtain just a little THC along with the cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main medical components. The company acknowledges they do not have any scientific tests to prove the medicinal value of hemp-based supplements but hope that by "pushing the envelope" a bit, researchers will be begin to study it.

"It's experimental and we tell people that," Brandon noted. "It's not a miracle drug. This is truly a supplement designed to help conditions and help ongoing therapies, not the sole treatment of anything."

Does it work?

A number of veterinary expert were contacted by CNBC about the use of cannabis-related products to treat dogs and cats. All of them saw the potential for benefits for some conditions, such as anxiety and pain management but pointed out that there is no scientific evidence.

Dr. Robin Downing, a pain management expert and hospital director at the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado, agrees there is a lot of potential — and a lot of red flags.

As she shared with CNBC, "There's a whole host of hoo-ha out there when it comes to how this product can and should be used," she said. "We have no information that is reliable, valid or useful about the true applications for cannabinoids. What we don't know far exceeds what we know." She further points out that this new industry has virtually no regulations in terms of manufacturing practices or verifying and standardizing the contents.

Pet owners need to be cautious

Sales are getting ahead of the science while pet-lovers wait for the research. Canna-Pet has been selling to the public for about eight months and it's already shipping its products throughout the U.S. and 23 foreign countries.

Veterinary experts advise caution. The best advice for now: Never give any cannabis-based product to your dog or cat without consulting your vet.

As the nation grapples with this knotty issue, farmers, business owners, patients — and pets — are moving ahead while lawmakers hash it out. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted 22-8 on a plan that would block the DEA — or any federal agency — from spending funds to enforce anti-hemp laws in any state that has received permission to grow it while the full House OK'd the measure the previous week. To further complicate matters, the Drug Enforcement Agency still considers industrial hemp a controlled substance even though it is not psychoactive.

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