The Women Fighting For the Right to Get Your Pets Stoned

For years, humans have been sparking one up and partaking in all the medical benefits cannabis has to offer. According to the book Medical Marijuana by Dr. Mark Sircus, just three puffs of cannabis a day can help folks with chronic pain. With the legal status of marijuana changing rapidly throughout North America (Canada recently announced of a marijuana legalization plan) and weed blossoming into big business, the pet industry is a fairly untapped marketplace. While many pet owners may be looking for a purposeful and meaningful way to medicate their pups, the weed industry is introducing products and specialty stores to help pets get naturally high.

Calyx Wellness Centre, Canada's first CBD boutique opened by Danielle Blair in Toronto's Parkdale community, is dedicated to all things holistic and natural. But a good portion of Blair's business is made up entirely by her CBD pet offerings including oils and tinctures. "Just like humans, our pets have the endocannabinoid system in their bodies that connect to hemp and naturally help heal," Blair explains. She shares stories including that of a small Dachshund with a skin condition that cleared up thanks to CBD, and points me to testimonials on her website from customers who've used her products as a stepping stone. "If there is a natural way of helping our body heal, we will try it," Blair says. "The same should go for your pets."

Blair with her pup-customers, Nick (L) and Alex (R). Photo by Danielle Blair

Right now, medical-grade cannabis use is restricted to humans; veterinarians are barred from recommending or prescribing cannabis use on pets. While there has been no outward statement against it, the conversation and debate is being had amongst vets across North America. In Nevada, Democrat Tick Segerblom has proposed a bill that would allow ailing pets access to medical marijuana with a vet's approval. When Broadly spoke to a representative from The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, they explained that for the time being, they're approaching cannabis with discretion: "Currently, there are no therapeutic protocols since cannabis is not legally available for use by veterinarians in animals. We would support a cautious approach to cannabis to ensure safety and efficacy." According to the Canna Law Blog, CBD derived from marijuana violates the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and while the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has no enforcement authority with respect to hemp products, it does control hemp cultivation. Therefore, the only way CBD products for pets can be legal is if they are derived from imported hemp and not from marijuana.

As pet owners anxiously await legalization, there can be a lot of shame and guilt attached to exploring an alternative medicine for one's pet. Many veterinarians I reached out to were unwilling to speak on the record about their use of CBD on pets for fear of jeopardizing their licenses and practices.

Founder and director of Hot Mess Pooches Rescue and Sanctuary Natalie Freshour with some of the dogs she has trained and used CBD to medicate. Photo by Natalie Freshour

Natalie Freshour is the founder and director of Hot Mess Pooches Rescue and Sanctuary in Houston, Texas, and a canine trainer and behavioral specialist. When she found out her own dog had been diagnosed with a rare tumor resistant to chemotherapy, she began researching CBD products and eventually used them on her own dog. She now recommends these products to her own clients.

"Knowing that CBD helps with anxiety and neurological issues, I started recommending it in situations where I felt it would be beneficial to my client and their dogs," she tells Broadly. "To me, the success of the dog is the most important thing and if alternative therapies helps to save a dog's life or helps to keep a dog in a good home, it's worth trying."

While there are many types of CBD products on the market, it's still a legal gray area that poses a challenge to those hoping to help their pets with pot.

"It is technically still illegal in Canada, although we believe that is a bad law that needs to be changed immediately. There is no downside to CBD and it is archaic and cruel to remain under the Schedule 2 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act," explains Gabriele Jerousek, co-owner of Apawthecary Pets based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Her brand is wildly popular among pet owners, so much so that she struggles to keep up with production on best-selling items like waxes, oils, and hemp-based treats. "Pharmaceuticals typically come with side effects and liver damage whereas hemp terpenes and CBD's do not," Jerousek explains, adding that many of her customers are sick of chemicals and coming to realize that they're damaging to the planet, their bodies, and their pets.

Many on the internet came to know and love Scout, a rescued pit bull from the website Stuff on Scout's Head. Last July, his owner Jen Gillen posted a message to Instagram saying that Scout had passed away from several complications. Prior to Scout's death, Gillen—who worked in the pet industry for ten years—explored several alternative treatment methods including CBD oils to help her beloved pit bull. "I could see the toll (the pills) were taking on him personally," she tells Broadly. For her, turning to products like these were a last resort, but a risk worth taking if they could ensure that Scout could feel happier in his final days.

Freshour wants to see more alternative therapies like CBD endorsed by veterinarians, but believes that the industry is being more reactive than proactive. She's not alone in this feeling; many folks I interviewed hope that lawmakers, government officials, and veterinary associations will invest in research and, as Jerousek puts it bluntly, "wake up and smell the science."