U of S research looks into health benefits of cannabis for pets

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A team at the University of Saskatchewan is setting the stage for future research into the potential health benefits of cannabis for pets.

While the project is still in its early stages, researchers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) are looking into whether cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis, could be used as a long-term therapy to treat chronic vomiting in animals. 

In August, a team led by Dr. Al Chicoine and Dr. Kevin Cosford started preliminary work that must occur before any clinical trials can take place. Low doses of a CDB-rich extract were administered to 12 dogs from the WCVM’s teaching population. 

“Realistically, I don’t think this would be a game changer in terms of animals with chronic vomiting; we already have good medications for that,” Chicoine said. “It’s more of a proof of concept to see if this would work.”

Currently, it is illegal for veterinarians to prescribe or recommend cannabis products. The work could eventually contribute to Health Canada approving CBD oil for veterinary use. 

Dr. Al Chicoine, pictured with his dog Timber, aims to find out whether cannabis can be used to prevent chronic vomiting in cats and dogs. Matt Smith / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Little published research exists about the effects of cannabis on animals. What does exist focuses largely on toxicity instead of whether the products are safe of effective. Most of the research to date is about dogs.

Chicoine and his team drew on that research in order to determine dosages for their study.

The products do have some THC in them, Chicoine said, which can make it tricky to work out how much to administer in order to provide medical benefits while minimizing the potential for any neurological impairment.

“The joke going around of course is everyone’s like, ‘Oh wow, you got the dogs stoned!’ ” Chicoine said. “And that was not it at all.”

The dogs that were affected by higher doses displayed signs of light and sound sensitivity as well as an increased response to visual stimulus like having a hand waved in front of them. 

The team is hoping to get into further applications for cannabis, including for pain control after orthopedic surgery.

“We have a whole list of things we would love to try using CBD for,” Chicoine said. “I’ll be honest, I’m a skeptic. As veterinarians we’re an extremely evidence-based profession, so we’re all skeptical before we see evidence that it works.”

The team is also working on a pilot project to determine the contents and quantities of hemp-derived cannabis products being sold at pet stores.

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