Have you ever wondered what you can give to your dog or cat for pain? Planning on giving medicinal marijuana to your pet?

There are a few things you need to take into account before you do, such as the right cannabinoid and dosage. Here, we break it down for you.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about cannabis: all vertebrate animals naturally produce their own cannabinoids.

Now, don’t get scared. It’s not like your dog is going to get high out of the blue. Most animals, naturally produce molecules (2-AG and Anandamide) that resemble the effect of THC, but in a very small proportion. But that’s a story for another time. The point is, all of this is possible because of something called the Endocannabinoid System.

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It should be kept in mind that, although cannabis therapy is believed by many in the scientific community to have significant value, studies are still in the initial stage and have not provided definitive answers.

Cats, dogs, horses, humans, and every other pet you can imagine (except insects, if they are even considered pets), have something called Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which controls key aspects in the biology of all vertebrate species.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

Everything needs to be in balance. For cells to work and function in an optimal way, the body has to maintain perfect internal conditions. This is called homeostasis. The word comes from ancient greek, and it combines two concepts that mean “staying the same”. Homeostasis is “any self-regulating process by which biological systems tend to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are optimal for survival”. And ECS is a biological system present in every vertebrate animal that plays an important role in homeostasis.

Consequently, the ECS and endocannabinoids help regulate appetite, pain, inflammation, thermoregulation, sensation, muscle control, energy balance, sleep, stress, mood, memory, among others.

This happens because the body has special receptors that interact with endocannabinoids, working like key and lock.

CB1 and CB2 receptors

Even though there are a lot of endocannabinoid receptors, there are two that remain the most important: CB1 and CB2. These receptors are locked and need a specific key to set ECS into motion. Those keys are endocannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, among others. Even though CB1 and CB2 receptors are present in most parts of the body, each one is more present in some more than others.

CB1 is one of the most abundant receptors in the brain and nervous system. This particular receptor is the one to blame for the “high” effect of cannabis. When THC flows into your body, it works as a key to unlock the CB1 receptor, triggering the psychoactive effect of this particular cannabinoid. However, CB1 also liberates the THC medical benefits, such as pain relief.

On the other hand, CB2 is found mainly in the immune system. And this particular receptor is the one that is compatible with CBD, the cannabinoid that doesn’t have the psychoactive effect of cannabis. When CBD unlocks CB2 receptor, it produces medical responses related to appetite and pain. The connections between CB2 receptor and CBD are widely used to treat animal illnesses. If you have pets at home, you should continue reading.

Medical benefits of CBD in pets

When THC was first synthesized in the early 60s by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, it set in motion a wave of scientific studies to discover and find more evidence to prove the medical benefits of cannabinoids in humans. However, reports and studies in animals, specifically pets (such as dogs and cats), have become a more interesting subject in recent years.

Early studies were conducted in small rodents, mostly mice. As a result, scientists found that cannabinoids are beneficial for several disorders such as pain, cardiovascular disorders, asthma, diabetes and vomiting, among others.

But when it comes to medicinal marijuana, dogs are not like mice, or even like humans. These furry companions react very differently when exposed to THC. According to Dr. Robert J. Silver, author of the book Medical Marihuana & Your Pet: The Definite Guide, a dog’s metabolism reacts very differently to THC: “Of all species in the world, dogs have a much higher density of THC receptors, which makes them very sensitive to its adverse effects”.

Hemp, the perfect variety for pets

On the contrary, Dr. Silver explains that CBD doesn’t have the adverse effects in dogs and cats that THC does. In conclusion, he recommends hemp as the ideal plant for treating pets, mostly because it has low levels of THC and a high presence of CBD.

Hemp, and therefore CBD, can be used to treat the same conditions in pets and in humans.This conditions may include anxiety, stress, arthritis and seizures. However, it works best and in a more effective way in anxiety, noise phobia and lack of appetite. It’s a funny thing that the most common side effect is an increased appetite.

Yes, dogs also get the munchies.

But experts always warn that there is something that you have to be very careful about when treating your pet with medicinal cannabis. If you really want to see the the benefits of CBD and not hurt you pet in the process, always keep the dosage in mind.

Dosage: not the same in humans and pets

First of all, when it comes to dosage, you can’t consider your dog or cat  a “small human” and just adjust it to the weight.

In states where recreational marijuana is legal, a lot of cases have been reported were pets accidentally eat their owner’s edibles. This is extremely dangerous because of the low tolerance dogs have of THC. Also, dogs don’t process chocolate very well, so a chocolate based edible is considered potentially lethal.

Specifically, the THC receptors in dogs are located in a part of the brain called cerebellum. This area is in charge of balance and equilibrium. And, as you read above, these THC receptors are abundant in dogs. So when your curious and faithful friend ingests a high amount of this cannabinoid, it will start to lose its balance and fall uncontrollably. This is called, as said by Dr. Silver, “Static Ataxia”.

However, Dr. Silver recommends that a very, very small dose of THC can be a good place to start: 0.05 milligrams per pound of your pet’s body weight. But you have to be careful and be alert to see the side effects. If after two hours your dog starts acting dizzy, its eyes get red and loses its balance, the dose is too high. If these symptoms don’t show, then you’re good to go.

In hemp derivatives, high in CBD, the correct dose Dr. Silver recommends is 0.05mg/pound twice a day. It’s better to start with a small dose and then start increasing it over the weeks.

CBD, the right choice for your pet

As you can see, cannabinoids can have medicinal uses for pets as well as humans. CB1 and CB2 receptors, when unlocked by THC or CBD, trigger a series of responses in the body only possible because of the ECS, present in all vertebrates. Although THC can be extremely lethal to your dog, CBD has a lot of medical benefits and almost no side effects (other than the munchies). But, if you are considering CBD as a treatment for your pet, you have to be very careful with dosage. Consult your vet, and start with small proportions and increase gradually.