Which is it? Is marijuana is dangerous and deadly for domesticated animals? Or is it non-toxic, capable of prolonging pets' lives in some cases. That’s the ongoing debate being waged in the press and among veterinarians and animal advocates in this 21st century age of legal medical and recreational marijuana.

Pot works medicinally on pets because they possess endocannabinoid systems as humans do, thus they can be physically and psychologically affected by cannabis. And as it does for humans, a system in cohesion with cannabis protects pets in many ways – for example, a 2012 study conducted at the University of Pisa (Italy) found both the natural endocannabinoid system and consumption of cannabis compounds protects against the effects of allergic inflammatory disorders, such as allergic skin diseases in dogs. 

Also adding weight to the "pot is good for pets" argument was a positive, extensive May 2013 article published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association (JAVMA News). One L.A. pot patient told JAVMA News that he gave his 24-year-old cat a glycerin tincture made specifically for pets and that the feline is responding nicely. A West Hollywood woman gave her 12-year-old black Lab, who has liver and lung cancer, a THC tincture in part because she didn't like the way the prescribed medication made the dog do nothing but sleep. The Lab’s owner now says she's a "true believer" when it comes to medical pot for pets, further telling JAVMA News: “People need to understand that this isn’t about getting my dog high. It’s about improving his quality of life.” 

Convincing pet owners and the public at large about cannabis has been problematic. There has been scant research on the subject. However, reports and articles that focus on the "pot for pets" debate still reference a 2002 study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center that analyzed 250 instances of pet pot consumption and could not link a single death to marijuana. The deaths of one cat and one horse in the research were attributed to other causes and there were no dog deaths, the primary animal studied by ASPCA. Most significantly, no median lethal dosage was established for dogs or cats, meaning pot is nontoxic to them. Still, an updated study on the effects of cannabis on pets needs to be conducted, not merely to determine if pot can possibly be toxic to them, but also the manner in which it specifically benefits particular animals' ailments. 

To be sure, ingesting ganja is not a completely benign experience for a pet. If they consume too much, they can undergo disconcerting side effects such as a loss of "fine motor skills," along with prolonged disorientation. (Unlike humans, animals can't really appreciate being stoned.) So while it is possible to get your pet "high," it doesn't mean the little guy enjoys it! Dr. Karl Jandrey, professor at the vet teaching hospital at University of California, Davis, told AP pets on pot can become wobbly on their legs, experience raised pulses and produce dribbly urine. If a pet owner suspects an animal has consumed an excessive amount of cannabis – raw flowers, leaves, or some type of edible pot – they should take the animal to the vet for immediate treatment. Again, a fatal OD is unlikely. 

A damning argument against those advocating pot for pets came in October 2012 following the release of a five-year study directed by Colorado veterinarian Stacy Meola. It reported a quadrupling of the number of domestic dogs sickened by marijuana from 2005 to 2010. The increase was ascribed to medicinal cannabis being legalized in Colorado in 2000. In the study, Dr. Meola confirmed the deaths of two Labradors who may have perished after consuming canna-butter. But for the majority of dogs, they only suffered the aforementioned side effects. However, because Dr. Meola's findings included two fatalities, this enabled elements in the mainstream media that clearly have an anti-pot bias to trumpet that legal medical marijuana is deadly for any animal to consume. The Colorado study triggered a warning from Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary adviser to the Humane Society: "Sometimes public sentiment and activity gets ahead of the scientific background and that can be dangerous."

However, according to an Inquisitr.com article, San Francisco vet Eric Barchas said pet pot intoxication only occurs when excessive quantities of marijuana or edibles are gulped down by an animal, and only lasts a few hours before wearing off. Beyond that fact, as noted, no median lethal dosage for pets has been set. Other non-cannabis factors can play a role in harming an animal for which pot has been erroneously blamed. For example, you wouldn't give hash brownies to a pooch because dogs metabolize theobromine (an alkaloid in chocolate) at a much slower rate than humans. If a dog eats too much too soon, the poor pup can die of painful pancreatitis days later – from the chocolate, not the weed. Cat owners needn't worry, as felines are unable to taste sweetness and will likely avoid gulping sweet cannabis treats.

While the public at large may worry that pot is poisonous to pets, as with many other aspects of cannabis, the tide seems to be turning in 2013. Press coverage on the subject has been more favorable of late, such as the expanded media presence accorded L.A. veterinarian Dr. Doug Kramer, who according to Dogster.com is the first licensed vet to treat pets' pain with pot. Dr. Kramer told JAVMA News that since 2011, roughly 300 patients told him that they treat their pets with medicinal cannabis for ailments ranging from separation anxiety (a big psychological problem for some pets) to irritable bowel syndrome to FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus). Kramer's belief in cannabis for pets came when his own Siberian Husky developed terminal cancer. He administered tinctures and subsequently saw her pain decrease and her appetite improve to ease her through her final months. Earlier this year in an interview with Vice magazine, Dr. Kramer unabashedly advocated treating ailing pets with medical pot. His preferred method is the aforementioned glycerin tincture that can be added to a pet's water or food to provide the most accurate dosage, a key concern when treating an animal with marijuana.  In a follow-up interview, Dr. Kramer honestly imparted his unique perspective to the Huffington Post: "I grew tired of euthanizing pets when I wasn't doing everything I could to make their lives better. I felt like I was letting them down."

As reported by the AP, there is an increasing marketability for medical edibles to treat pets. Twirling Hippy Confections in Denver provides dog treats prepared by Jessica LeRoux, who gave them to her own black Lab-border collie to extend his life a year.  LeRoux said old or ailing pets that take cannabis typically have stimulated appetites and enjoy pain relief. La Brea Compassionate Caregivers dispensary manager Megan Hanley told AP of a critter-friendly tincture they've branded "Companion Cannabis.” She recommends one drop per every ten pounds of dog. Another method of medicinal cannabis delivery to consider is via balloon (bag) vaporizer. While blowing pot smoke in a dog's face is verboten, balloon-vaping is a safe and acceptable method of medicating pets with pot.

Ingrid Newkirk, President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says that PETA supports using medical marijuana on any animal it benefits: "Our position is that anything that can help animals — if it's truly, properly administered in the right amount [and] can relieve a dog's pain — then they should be given the same consideration that humans in pain are given." 

Bottom line: If pot is safe, nontoxic, and efficacious for humans, it stands to reason it could be the same for animals, though it must be administered with extra care and caution. In this sense, animals may be the most "pure" pot patients on the planet, as the majority of humans who use it for medical purposes also enjoy the ancillary buzz. For pets the sole objective should be for them to reap the medicinal rewards of the cannabis compounds consumed. As it is with humankind, increased social acceptance of medical marijuana and further research should likely yield even more previously unknown attributes and applications to make our animal companions s live healthier lives with less pain and better appetites.