By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / June 6, 2017

Dr. Robert J. Silver DVM, MS, CVA

If you have a heart beat and can read, its likely you’ve seen mention of “pot for pets” or “medical marijuana for pets”, or something like that. Maybe your neighbor’s dog wasn’t doing so well, limping around, or has cancer, or epilepsy, and they gave their dog some cannabis, and its doing much better, or even miraculously better.

Wonder what all this fuss is about?

With the current national movement to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in people, folks are seeing often amazing results for:

  • Babies with epilepsy that drugs can’t fix,
  • Or someone with cancer, who “beat that rap”
  • or perhaps they found relief from chronic pain.

It’s a natural extension that these benefits seen in humans would be extended to our four-legged family members. As a result, some people have tried to give their pets some of their own “stash”, often with disastrous results, and their beloved pets had to make an unexpected trip to the Animal ER. At the same time, some have observed results that border on hard to believe, but, take it from me, these results for the most part are real.

I am an integrative veterinarian with 35 years of practice experience in Colorado. I was in practice in the year 2000 when Colorado passed its medical marijuana laws. This was after 4 other states, including California, Washington and Alaska had already passed their own state laws allowing the use of marijuana under the recommendation of a human physician trained in its medical applications. Some of the stories that I heard from my clients, for patients I had tried every possible remedy for and failed, were nothing short of incredible.

I’ll never forget “JoJo”, a ten year old male apricot-colored miniature poodle, who had been in a car accident 5 years ago, badly injured, who after that, could never jump on the couch on his own. I had tried acupuncture, herbal therapies, massage, and of course, the appropriate veterinary drugs to address this painful problem, with only a small amount of success. “JoJo’s parents had a medical marijuana card in Colorado and had found great relief for their own chronic pain issues.

They had been in the same car accident that JoJo had been in and suffered comparable injuries and also experienced chronic pain for the past 5 years. For them, and for JoJo, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like carprofen for JoJo and Ibuprofen for them didn’t work very well. And the opiate drugs like tramadol for Jojo and oxycontin for them, worked at first, but over time their value diminished, and they found themselves getting addicted to the narcotics without getting much relief. They had to keep increasing the dosage, and the benefits did not increase.

JoJo’s parents had heard from friends about how medical marijuana had helped them, so they tried it and were amazed at their own results. That’s when they wondered if JoJo could also benefit from medical marijuana. So they shared some with him, but didn’t know how much to give, so they just gave a little. But poor little JoJo was pretty small, and that little bit was too much, and he started acting “weird”. His eyes glazed over, and he just stood there with his legs wide apart, and kind of rocked forward and backward, but couldn’t walk or move. He salivated a lot, and started whining like he was feeling pretty anxious.

They’d gotten so worried and guilty about what they had done in giving their medical marijuana to JoJo that they called me that morning, and I had them bring him in. By the time they’d gotten to my clinic, JoJo’s symptoms were lessening, but he still was not a happy camper. We hooked him up to an IV and gave him a little sedative, and let him sleep off his bad experience with medical marijuana the rest of that day. When he had recovered from this episode, and his parents felt so bad that they had done this to him, JoJo was actually feeling a LOT better. So better that he jumped up into his parents arms when they came to get him that afternoon. (Jumping was something JoJo hadn’t done in 5 years, since the accident.)

This experience got me wondering why this herb could cause so much trouble, but at the same time help with this poor dog’s pain. One of my great interests is how herbs can help animals. I am an herbalist and an integrative veterinarian, and in fact, am currently president of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association ( ). I’m also a bit of an information nerd, and so the first thing I did when I had some time was to learn as much as I could from research studies about medical marijuana, and why it seemed to affect dogs differently than people.

What I learned amazed me. I found that the dog has more “receptors” in its brain for the compound in marijuana that gets people stoned, THC, and that those receptors are located in the part of the brain that controls balance. Receptors are like locks that are located on the outside of each cell in the body. When the right substance bonds to these receptors, or, like a key in a lock, they turn on some activity in the cell.

I also learned that if dogs are given tiny little doses of THC first, they will develop tolerance over time, and you can give them higher doses that will help them overcome pain or other problems that we know medical marijuana can address, like epilepsy, anxiety, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, glaucoma and even cancer. But finding that safe low starting dosage is not always easy, and many people live in states that still don’t have medical marijuana laws on the books.

The next thing I learned changed how I would think about medical marijuana for pets forever:

I learned that marijuana and hemp are basically the same plants, Cannabis sativa L, but that hemp, by law contains super low amounts of THC. So low that it’s not enough to get anyone high, even a dog. At the same time, hemp can have higher levels of the medicinally active oils, such as CBD, CBG and CBC than medical marijuana, and it could provide almost identical benefits as medical marijuana without risking accidental overdoses or legal ramifications. THC is good for severe pain, and for certain types of cancer, but CBD, CBG and CBC, and other similar molecules in the hemp plant work really well for many types of pain, and can even reduce some types of tumors.

I wanted to share this information with pet owners so dogs would stop being rushed to the Animal ER from accidental poisonings from THC, so I wrote a book ( ), and created an on-line course ( ), and have a blog ( ) where people can learn about this without having to buy the book or take the course, unless they want much more detailed information. This column also is my opportunity to educate pet parents about the benefits and some of the risks of using medical marijuana or medical hemp for their pets’ problems.

Each column will discuss a different aspect of medical marijuana and pets. If you have specific questions, please ask them here, and I will address them in a future article, or in the comments section.

Stay tuned for future columns with even more great information that can help your pets.

Dr. Robert J. Silver DVM, MS, CVA

[email protected]

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Dr. Robert SilverDr Robert J Silver, DVM, MS, CVA is a 1982 graduate of Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He has pioneered the use of diet, herbs and nutraceuticals in his small animal integrative practice in Boulder, Colorado for the past 30 years.

Dr Silver is the Chief Medical Officer of RxVitamins for Pets (, an animal nutraceutical company that sells exclusively to licensed veterinarians.

Dr Silver has authored a book: Medical Marijuana and Your Pet ( ), and owns a blog-site (  where he provides credible information to the pet-owning public.

Dr. Silver is Chief Veterinary Officer of the largest vertically-integrated medical hemp company in the US, Folium Biosciences, and the owner of the eCommerce website,

Dr Silver writes and speaks both domestically and internationally to veterinary audiences on the value of blending holistic modalities with conventional medicine. Currently, Dr. Silver is a consultant to the both the medical hemp and pet food industries.

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for