It's Not Pot for Dogs — But Is Hemp-Based Therabis the Next Best Thing?

Your dog is anxious, or so itchy that he won't stop scratching himself until he's raw — or maybe his joints ache to the point where he can barely move.

If your first instinct is to give your pooch medical marijuana, don't do it. As we reported way back in 2010, many veterinarians say pot can kill your dog — or at least make him or her very ill.

But according to Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer for Dixie Elixirs, a Denver company that specializes in marijuana-infused products, hemp — marijuana's sober stepsister — is another story. That's why the firm has developed Therabis, a hemp-based product for dogs designed to help with calming, itching and mobility. And if you humans feel left out, Dixie brands also makes Aceso, a hemp mouth spray that Hodas says offers similar soothing/relaxation benefits to regular ol' people.

Hodas understands why some people might think Therabis and Aceso are marijuana products, given Dixie's other areas of specialization — not to mention media reports that refer to it as "doggie 'pot." But he makes it clear that "this isn't marijuana, it isn't pot. The core element is hemp, but there are some other ingredients: chromium, vitamin C, green-lipped mussel. And it's got an interesting history."

According to Hodas, Therabis, a powder that's mixed with a dog's food, is the brainchild of Dr. Stephen Katz, "who owned one of the largest pit-bull practices in North America in the Bronx. Pit bulls are pretty anxious, pretty aggressive dogs, so he spent the better part of a decade working on ways to help with that, and with itchy skin. He formulated three variations and then came to us around 2013 to talk about how to tap into our expertise around cannabinoids and extraction, because he'd done research about how CBDs can benefit pets. And the hemp really amped up the formula in terms of its efficacy. It was just more effective after putting cannabinoids in the mix."

Upon concluding that the combination of Katz's research and hemp was, in Hodas's words, "pretty amazing at dealing with anxiety and pain," the Dixie crew finalized three products: "Calm and Quiet," "Stop the Itch" and "Up and Moving." But they realized that dog owners with little knowledge about the differences between hemp and marijuana might still be confused about what exactly Therabis was...and wasn't. Hence, the "frequently asked questions" section of the Therabis website, which features inquiries and answers like these:
Will my pet get high?

No, plain and simple. The cannabis plant has more than 400 compounds that have potential medical benefits while the psychoactive ingredient is Delta-9 THC. Therabis contains no Delta-9 THC.

What's the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana?

Industrial hemp and marijuana are common names for two different strains of the cannabis sativa plant. But that doesn’t mean they have the same effects on your pet’s body. Think about cannabis sativa like a Canis Lupus (or domesticated dogs). There are hundreds of breeds of dogs, and they all fall under the same species: Canis Lupus. So while chihuahuas, mastiffs and goldendoodles look and act very differently, they’re all still classified as the same species.... At Therabis, every product we make is derived from industrial hemp. The active ingredient, cannabidiol, is a potent anti-inflammatory and is also being used to control seizure disorders in children.

What if my pet accidentally eats more than instructed?

Since there are no recorded incidences of overdosing on any of the key ingredients in Therabis — including hemp derived cannabinoids — there is nothing to worry about. Simply keep your Therabis in a safer place next time.
Therabis received a soft launch in December and has been on sale since early this year — and Hodas says the feedback from dog owners has been extremely positive. "I got a text from a woman who told me the formulation gave her an extra week with a sick dog that was going to be put down," he notes. "Things like that tell me that we've touched a nerve with people."

At the same time, Hodas acknowledges complications with marketing and manufacturing Therabis and Aceso.

"There are no restrictions, and because there's no THC in it, no psychoactive ingredients, we can sell it online in all fifty states," he notes. "But there are weird laws around hemp. You can find hemp products on sale in Costco, but most of these products are actually imported from Canada or made in Canada. And the industrial hemp with the cannabinoids we need have to be imported from the Netherlands. We'd love to buy Colorado hemp to support the industry and the local economy — but state-to-state shipping of hemp isn't legal here. So we have to import it internationally."

Thus far, Hodas says, Therabis has caught on more quickly than Aceso, which he sees as "hemp 2.0. But we're really excited about both of these products. They're not marijuana; they don't have THC. So for people who think, 'Marijuana might help me, but I don't want the THC,' this is a really great option."

Look below to see a video in which Hodas discusses Therabis and Aceso.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts