As of October 18th, 2019, edible (and drinkable) cannabis became legal in Canada. And yet, almost 5 months later, legal cannabis stores have remarkably little selection. The SQDC (Quebec’s cannabis retailer) only started stocking cannabis beverages one week ago and only offers three types of tea and one type of seltzer. All things considered, it doesn’t seem like drinkable cannabis will be replacing Canadian’s joints, oils, pills or vapes any time soon.
If we look elsewhere however, the story of cannabis drinks couldn’t be more different.
According to the 2017 World Drug Report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, two of the top 10 cities that consume the most cannabis in the world are in India: New Delhi and Mumbai. The trick here is that much of the cannabis consumed isn’t smoked, but rather drunk in a drink called “bhang”.
Bhang looks somewhat like a shamrock shake or a green smoothie, but tastes (I’m told) of spices and herbs like saffron, fennel, garam masala and more. Strictly speaking, the term bhang refers to a paste made by steeping finely ground cannabis leaves (not buds) in hot milk. This paste can then be eaten on its own or used to create drinks or snacks like pakoras. However, the most popular preparation by far involves adding more milk, rosewater, sugar, nuts and other ingredients to the paste to create a refreshingly cool drink. This drink is often referred to as bhang but is more correctly named according to what ingredients are used, as a bhang thandai, bhang lassi or other.
Bhang is especially common during Hindu festivals, in particular Holi, the two-day Festival of Spring, which turns the streets into a sea of colour with coloured paint and water pistols. Cannabis has a rich history in sacred Hindu texts and is named as one of the five sacred plants in the Atharva Veda. The Hindu god Shiva has long been associated with cannabis, and is said to have used bhang for meditative and healing purposes, and is even known as the Lord of Bhang. Cannabis has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat conditions ranging from skin disorders to anxiety.
Despite India’s rich cannabis-history, marijuana is actually illegal in the country. Bhang manages to maintain its huge consumption rates due to a legal loophole. It is against Indian law to possess hashish and ganja, but not the leaves of the cannabis plant, which is what bhang is made from. Incidentally, despite its illegality, hashish (made from the resin of the cannabis plant and commonly mixed with tobacco before smoking) is much more popular in India than in North America, while marijuana (the dried buds of the cannabis plant) is much less popular.
Interestingly, cannabis of all preparations was legal in India until 1961, when the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs moved cannabis to the hard drug category. Prior to this, cannabis consumption had been seen as an inherent part of the religious and social customs of India. Even the colonial British rulers concluded, after commissioning the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report of 1894, that “to forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so gracious an herb as cannabis would cause widespread suffering and annoyance.”
Today any flowering top (called ganja) and separated resin (called charas) from the cannabis plant remains illegal in India, although that is clearly not limiting citizen’s ability to imbibe in THC and CBD. So long as only the leaves of the cannabis plant are consumed, Indians are within their legal rights. As to what happens to the flowering buds once the leaves are removed, well, perhaps I’ll save that for the Indian government to worry about.
Take-home message: – THC is very dangerous to most companion animals – Medical cannabis has only a few uses in humans, and even fewer in animals – Cannabis, hemp or CBD treats, food or supplements are not approved or regulated by Health Canada. They are illegal and could be quite dangerous for your pets.
While medical marijuana has been available to varying degrees for decades, with recreational marijuana legalized this week in Canada, discussions about what (if anything) cannabis can treat seem to be at an all-time high (see what I did there?)
Discussions of treating medical problems with cannabis are not limited to humans. If cannabis may benefit humans, it may similarity benefit companion animals like dogs or cats. Considering that some of the major ailments cannabis is touted to treat are prime concerns for pet owners (anxiety, arthritis, pain) it makes sense for pet owners to be curious about cannabis.
Cannabis can be very dangerous for pets
When discussing cannabis and companion animals, it’s important to define a few terms.
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. As most pet owners aren’t interested in getting their furry friends high, the vast majority of pet-marketed cannabis products are free, or almost free, from THC. Which is good, because THC is quite dangerous for animals.
Since it’s difficult to study cannabis (due to it’s soon-to-expire illegal nature) we lack recent numbers on the dose based effects of THC in dogs. Early studies report intoxication effects in dogs with doses between0.25 and 0.5 mg/kg of body weight. If your average German Shepard is about 30 kg, they would show THC’s effects after ingesting 7.5 – 15 mg, or about a 10th of your average “special” brownie.
Though cannabis intoxication and adverse effects have been reported in other animals like cats, horses and ferrets, it’s much more common in dogs. Why? Because dogs like to eat. As Dr Sarah Silcox, the President of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine explained to me, “edibles, in particular, are very attractive to dogs, and if left within reach of pets, will often be gobbled up quickly.”
While it’s not likely that pets will die from cannabis exposure (through smoke or edibles) there can still be serious effects, especially if left untreated. Fluffy and Rover probably won’t get a kick out of the intoxicating effects of cannabis, given that they can’t understand what’s happening. Pets may experience significant anxiety, agitation or lethargy. Smoke of any kind can cause respiratory distress and potentially lung cancer to pets who inhale it regularly, due to the polyaromatic hydrocarbons created during incomplete combustion. Cats in particular are at risk of developing malignant lymphomas when exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke, a risk that may transfer to other types of smoke. .
So what’s with all the cannabis products for pets then?
Pet treats, foods and supplements in general feature no THC. They instead contain a different cannabinoid found in cannabis: cannabidiol or CBD. CBD is not toxic to animals like THC, and it does not cause the same psychoactive effects.
This study of 16 dogs with osteoarthritis showed a significant decrease in pain after treatment with CBD oil, but similar studies, or studies looking at cannabis to treat other conditions are seriously lacking.
Dr Silcox mentioned many anecdotes of positive effects of CBD products on pets, and this survey have found that that well over half of all owners polled who have used cannabis products on their pets felt it helped. But anecdotes are never evidence enough. We need good, large, controlled studies to properly evaluate the potential benefits and risks of cannabis products on cats, dogs and other pets.
For pain treatment however, the evidence for cannabis hasn’t looked wonderful. This 2015 review found evidence for use of low dose cannabis for neuropathic pain, but not for other pain. This 2018 Cochrane review states that the use of cannabis for “chronic neuropathic pain might be outweighed by their potential harms.”
Second, as Dr Silcox wrote, there is a “concern that that pet owners will attempt to medicate their pets with cannabis products and without appropriate guidance, put their pets at risk of adverse effects.” When we give our pets, children or ourselves any medication we first check dosage information, but the problem is that it isn’t available in any well researched, accurate or well-defined way for most species.
Third, pet owners may use cannabis in lieu of other evidence-based treatments, putting their pets at risk or hurting their quality of life. We don’t really know what cannabis can or should be used for in animals, but that hasn’t stopped many owners from using it for things like pain, anxiety management and diabetes management. My fear, simply put, is that owners will choose cannabis over NSAIDS, over other pain killers, over insulin, and even over euthanasia. I hope that no animals are suffering as a result of receiving cannabis as an alternative treatment to conventional veterinary medicine, but my fear is that it’s already happening and will begin to happen more with legalization.
Whether they work or not, they’re illegal and unregulated.
Until October 17th, 2018 all products containing plant-derived cannabinoids (which includes THC and CBD) fall under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. But even after the 17th, it isn’t open season for cannabis products. The new Cannabis Act will regulate the approval and sales of cannabis products, meaning that anything sold legally will need to be approved by Health Canada.
Health Canada currently has no products approved for veterinary or animal use. So CBD and cannabis products currently have, as Dr Silcox explains, “no regulatory oversight to ensure their quality, safety, or effectiveness. While they are marketed to treat a range of ailments, these health claims are unsubstantiated by Health Canada, the products are not approved, and as such, are not compliant with Canadian law.”
Now, that could soon change. With legalization around the corner, studies on cannabis and its effects are about to become a lot more feasible. With more evidence we will be able to hash out which CBD claims have merit, and which are baseless.
With entire conferences being held on veterinary use of cannabis we can hopefully expect some answers soon. In the meantime, a few things remain really important.
We’ve been testing for THC (the main psychoactive part of cannabis) for a very long time. Our problem is not detecting it, but doing so with a portable machine in a non-invasive way.
As far as existing tests go, urine tests are commonly used for athletes or other employees undergoing drug tests. THC can be detected for anywhere from 1-30 days after use, depending on the frequency of use and the body fat of the individual (since THC is fat soluble).
False positives can result from consuming a variety of things: hemp seeds, ibuprofen, naproxen, and even Prevacid (an antacid). Luckily, a blood test can differentiate between true and false positives. Unluckily, blood tests for casual users of cannabis are only effective at detecting THC for about 1 day after consumption.
An alternative is a hair test. For that, the top 1.5 inches of a strand of head hair is tested. Body hair can also be used, though finding a 1.5-inch piece of leg or arm hair may be difficult. THC can be detected in hair up to 90 days post-consumption, although hair treatments like perms or dyes can affect results. This method is very sensitive and does not create false positives, though it does take longer than a urine test.
The quick and portable test that the Canadian government has settled on using is saliva-based. It’s called the Dräger DrugTest 5000. It requires only 0.28 mL of saliva, produces results in minutes, and even though very little THC passes from the blood into the saliva, the limit of detecting is low enough to still detect the compound.
The DrugTest 5000 is used in Australia, Germany and the UK. But it alone will not be the sole method of measuring intoxication of drivers. In addition to measuring the THC in a driver’s saliva, police will be allowed to perform field sobriety tests, and watch for telltale signs that someone is intoxicated.
Besides cannabis, the DrugTest 5000can detect opiates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines, though it does so for a hefty price: about $6000 per unit. It is only usable when the temperature falls between 4 and 40 ˚C, and can show false results if the subject has recently eaten or smoked.
This study took blood and saliva samples from 369 drivers and tested them using the DrugTest 5000 and traditional blood test methods (UHPLC-MS-MS). The DrugTest 5000 was correct in its assessment about 85% of the time for THC. This means that a false positive or negative reading would be given roughly once in every eight tests. Not really the best numbers.
The rate of false negatives is much better for the DrugTest 5000 when detecting methamphetamine (6.1%), opiates (0%) or cocaine (0%), although the rates of false positives (38.4%, 65.5% and 87.1%) are still quite high. False positives would at least be revealed as falsepositives upon blood test, a better alternative to letting an intoxicated driver free on the roads, but a 1 in 8 chance of a false reading is not what I’d hope for from the technology used by the Canadian police.
The familiar red and glassy-eyed stare of someone who’s high was thought to be due to the irritation of eyes by pot smoke. Now we know that weed makes your eyes red for the same reason it makes you dizzy- vasodilation.
Cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors and induce the dilation, or widening, of the blood vessels. This increases the blood flow to these areas,and causes an overall decrease in blood pressure. The increased blood flow to your eyeball causes the red appearance, and the lowered blood pressure causes the dizziness.
You can test it yourself, by consuming marijuana through a non-smoked method,and looking for reddening of your eyes.