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© By Martine Lavallée BAA, TSA 

Since its legalization, cannabis poses many challenges in many settings including veterinary medicine and animal health. Two of the most complex challenges for veterinarians are: educating users about the effects of cannabis for recreational purposes on their animals; and the development of safe cannabis products for animals. Indeed, the production and safety of cannabis for animal health purposes must be of superior quality. In addition, the most worrying component of cannabis is unquestionably THC, a substance that, when highly concentrated, can be harmful to animals.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) is a cannabinoid and one of many cannabis compounds. Its unique psychotropic properties are often sought by users. In humans, the effects of THC dissipate after a few hours. In animals, the effects are intense. Indeed, the body of dogs and cats absorbs it more quickly and their effects are more marked on them. Products for humans are definitely too concentrated for animals.

Following the legalization of recreational cannabis in several US states, local veterinarians are facing an increase in cases of THC poisoning in pets. There is an increase of 448% in reported cases related to marijuana overdoses over the last six years. The majority of cases are not fatal. Nevertheless, THC causes vomiting, incoordination, heart rhythm problems and blood pressure problems in animals. These symptoms, which are often worrying, require for the most part emergency care.

Cannabis, Marijuana and Hemp
Cannabis is sometimes called marijuana. The term marijuana refers to plants typically produced for their resin that is used for both recreational and medical purposes. As for the term hemp, it relates specifically plants produced for their fibres used in particular in the textile or for their seeds used in food. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC in its leaves and flowers. With regard to cannabis, this is the usual term for all plants under the cannabis genus and the one used in government literature.

Cannabis and Pets
Cannabis contains hundreds of chemical components; more than 100 cannabinoids and 120 terpenes as well as several bioflavonoids, fatty acids, phenols and sterols. There are many subspecies and strains. Among the main cannabis ingredients, there are two phyto cannabinoids: THC and cannabidiol (CBD).

We already know the effects of THC, but what about the CBC? This one produces no euphoric or intoxicating effect. The potency of THC and CBC varies from strain to strain. Moreover, these two compounds can have therapeutic effects in animals in appropriate concentration. Currently, there is new evidence supporting the therapeutic use of cannabis in pets. Products have been tested for safety, dosage and effectiveness, BUT there are NO approved cannabis products for pets.

Although veterinarians cannot prescribe cannabis for pets at this time, they are best placed to inform and educate pet owners about the risks associated with accidental consumption. In addition, veterinarians can provide pet parents with the latest information, new emerging studies and any potential drug interactions that may increase the risk of intoxication.

Why do animals react so much?
Animals react strongly to cannabis compared to humans because they have more CB1 receptors in their brains than in humans. The CB1 and CB2 receptors, where THC binds, are responsible for the intoxicating effect of THC. CBD, on the other hand, is not a primary ligand for CB1 or CB2 receptors. CBD has the property of modulating the effects of THC. Other research also shows that CBD increases alertness.

Recently, new studies indicate that THC can have therapeutic benefits in animals. The severity of the symptoms of intoxication will therefore depend on the dose, the route of administration, the habituation or not of the individual and the individual variations of sensitivity.


Side Effect
For simplicity, the side effect is the complicity of the components of cannabis. The chemical compounds of this plant work better together to produce a synergistic effect. These components produce essential oils whose many terpenes responsible for the characteristic odours of this plant. The terpenes have physical effects on the body and are considered to play an important role in the therapeutic effects of cannabis.

For humans, cannabis treats a wide range of diseases: chronic, neuropathic, muscular or cancer-related pain, palliative care, nausea, vomiting, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, epilepsy, arthritis, pain, osteoporosis, glaucoma, hypertension, stress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, inflammation, inflammatory skin or intestinal diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, etc. Veterinarians would like to be able to offer medical cannabis as a therapeutic option for their patients. But they currently have no legal way to do it. However, there are currently no registered products in Canada for animals. Hopefully cannabis will one day treat animals for many conditions similar to those of humans.

It should be noted that since the coming into force of the Cannabis Act on October 17, 2018, all products containing phytocannabinoids derived from cannabis, including CBC and/ or THC, have been moved from the list of controlled drugs to the Prescription Drug List. Like products manufactured for human medicine markets or recreational products and available legally, pet products must be of superior pharmaceutical quality and carry a certificate of analysis. This will ensure that the product has been tested for pesticides, heavy metals and micro-organisms.

If you consume cannabis, it is essential to store your supplies out of reach of your animals because the concentrations of these products can really be harmful for them. NEVER use your products on your animals and talk about cannabis with your veterinary experts.


[i] Cannabinoids are a group of chemicals that activate cannabis receptors found in the human body and in mammals. Source

[ii] Terpenes are a class of hydrocarbons produced by many plants, especially conifers. They are major components of the resin and turpentine produced from resin. Source

[iii] They give their colors to fruits and vegetables and are powerful antioxidants, protecting cells against free radical damage.

[iv] A receptor is a cell membrane protein that specifically binds to a specific factor inducing a cellular response to that ligand. Source

[v] A ligand is a molecule that reversibly binds to a targeted macromolecule, protein or nucleic acid, generally playing a functional role: structural stabilization, catalysis, modulation of enzymatic activity, signal transmission. Source




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