How medical marijuana may improve your kitty’s health.

Cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, remains a controversial topic. But more people are realizing how effective it is at treating the symptoms of many human conditions, from cancer and AIDS to multiple sclerosis, pain disorders, glaucoma, epilepsy and more. Cannabis is also being used to help treat pets, including cats, and for many similar conditions, such as seizures, pain and inflammation, cancer symptoms and even behavioral problems.

Medical benefits of cannabis in cats

Although there are hundreds of known compounds in the cannabis plant, the two most important are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is responsible for the “high” in recreational drug users, and is also useful for pain control and appetite stimulation. CBD has no psycho-active properties and helps relieve inflammation, anxiety, seizures and more.

Cannabinoid receptors are found in nearly every tissue of the body and brain. These receptors are part of the mammalian endocannabinoid system, which includes the brain and both the central and peripheral nervous systems. The receptors respond to the components found in cannabis, acting separately but holistically with the body’s other receptor systems. Because there are so many of these receptors, cannabis may help with a large number of conditions. Medical marijuana can:

  • Control chronic pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and FIC/FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease).
  • Act as a neuroprotective agent, reducing seizure frequency and intensity.
  • Decrease nausea and stimulate appetite.
  • Reduce cancer-associated symptoms
  • Help decrease the severity of dementia.
  • Reduce bronchial spasms in asthmatics
  • Lower anxiety, which can help correct or modify behavior issues.
  • Support the immune system for conditions like food allergies and immune-mediated diseases.

Veterinarian Dr. Sarah Brandon, a founder of Canna Companion USA, a manufacturer of cannabis supplements for pets, noticed an unexpected “side benefit” of cannabis in cats. “We administered it to several older kitties with joint discomfort and histories of FIC (feline interstitial cystitis),” she explains. “All responded well regarding their joint aches, but the surprise came after two months of supplementation when their FIC symptoms also resolved.”

Dr. Brandon can’t be sure whether this was due to lower stress levels in the cats and/or their improved mobility – or if the cannabinoids had direct anti-inflammatory actions on the cats’ bladders. “It’s likely a bit of everything, particularly as new research indicates some cannabis metabolites are perfect for aiding urinary tract health. Either way, the cats are now more comfortable and their quality of life has improved on many levels, which is all we wanted for them.”

Veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney has also seen the benefits of cannabis in his patients, as well as in his own dog. However, he recommends consulting a holistic or integrative veterinarian before giving any cannabis product to your cat – good advice with regards to any new supplement.

Cannabis products

Cannabis supplements for pets (sometimes referred to as hemp supplements) come in capsules or tinctures and are formulated to enhance the medical benefits of cannabis without causing a “high”. However, Dr. Mahaney says not all products are the same. “Some are sedating or stimulating, depending on the amounts of CBD and/or THC,” he says – another important reason to talk to a vet before giving your cat cannabis.

Cannabis is usually not intended to be a sole treatment for any condition, and tends to work best when given in conjunction with other treatments. Supplementation with cannabis can allow for a reduction in medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, that may have significant undesirable side effects.

Very few side effects are associated with cannabis, as long as it is used properly. The most common is mild lethargy, which usually subsides in three or four days. Products that use the whole plant may lead to softer stools and more frequent bowel movements in sensitive cats, due to the increased fiber content. Rarely, vomiting or increased skin itchiness may be seen; in these cases, cannabis use may need to be discontinued.

Dr. Brandon says she’s excited about the future of cannabis for cats. “I believe that within two or three years, it will be a commonly offered option in veterinary hospitals for pain and inflammation reduction, neurological conditions and mild behavioral concerns,” she says. “It’s not a cure-all and we certainly don’t advocate the discontinuation of [other treatments] without consulting your cat’s veterinarian. But cannabis does have its place in the feline world and we’ll see more of it as time goes on.”

Important note

Keep in mind that current laws don’t allow vets to prescribe medical marijuana to their patients. However, cat owners can purchase and administer it in the form of capsules or tinctures. In fact, cannabis should only be given to cats and dogs in supplement form, and never by feeding them the plants or exposing them to the smoke.  The latter can result in a toxic overdose.