The term ‘cannabis for dogs’ sparks some pretty wild thoughts for those of us with furry friends. Maybe a puppy-sized joint, or a bite-sized chocolate-free brownie?
But Dr Tim Adams, lead researcher at Aussie hemp company The Cannabis Co, is quick to dispel those notions.
“We’re quite upfront about it, we don’t make any mystery about the product. It won’t make animals high, but it does have other beneficial effects,” he tells SmartCompany.
“When we’re at events, people naturally ask those sorts of questions, but it’s no mystery once they understand the product.”
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The product itself is a new offering from the Cannabis Co, a company which sprung up at the end of 2017 after the sale of hemp products in Australia was legalised. Hemp is a particular strain of the cannabis plant, typically without the psychoactive components, and its seeds and fibres are used in numerous products across the world.
The Cannabis Co was founded by David Stapleton and Cormac Sheehan and started off with more conventional products such as hemp seed oil and flour. But the company made its mark last year with the launch of a hemp gin, which hit shelves and quickly went viral.
“We released that last October and we’ve struggled to keep it in stock since,” Sheehan says.
“So while we were scaling that up, we started looking into another one of our top-selling products, which was hemp seed oil for pets. We were getting incredible testimonials from owners who were having real results, so we thought it might be worth a bit more time and effort.”
Roping in Adams and fellow vet Dr Peter Brunskill, the company developed a new range of dog products, unveiling a line of hemp dog shampoos earlier this year.
None of the products, just like all of the Cannabis Co’s products, contain any CBD or THC, the two psychoactive substances which cause the high usually associated with cannabis. Instead, the cold-pressed oil contains a number of legal, harmless terpenes, which have numerous benefits for our furry friends.
Adams says hemp oil products are a tried-and-tested market in countries where hemp has been legal for longer, and have been shown to have benefits for joint pain, skin conditions, allergies and anxiety in pets.
“Anxiety is one of the big ones, and we’ve seen people with anxious pets have results within days,” he says.
“The products have naturally occurring plant extracts, called terpenes, and dogs seem to respond to these in ways humans don’t. They’re more sensitive to them than we are, it calms them down.”
Fighting misconceptions with marketing
With a name like ‘The Cannabis Co’, the team isn’t trying to hide what they’re doing, and naturally, have had to overcome a good deal of stigma and misconceptions about their products over the years.
For Sheehan, a writer and marketer by trade, this has been a “fun challenge”, finding ways to market a product which suffers from nearly 100 years of prejudice and misinformation.
“It represents an opportunity to change the conversation, and with quite a few hemp and CBD brands making waves overseas, there’s less of a stigma than there used to be,” he says.
“But it will still be decades before people see hemp oil in the same way they see coconut oil.”
The company has also been subject to strict bans on advertising from Instagram and Facebook, which take a hard line against hemp products despite them being legal in Australia.
“It’s a bit of a setback when we can’t use those channels, but it just means we’re going back to old-school marketing, doing more storytelling,” he says.
Despite making its mark on the hemp industry, The Cannabis Co and its founders are big supporters of legalising CBD and THC in Australia, and say they’d move into incorporating CBD into some of their products.
“CBD has solid evidence around its use in animals, there are no questions there,” Adams says.
“But THC is probably not as desirable. As a vet, I’ve seen a few stoned dogs who got into someone’s stash, and there’s not a lot of medical benefits. They just sit there, it’s not very functional.”
Owners treating dogs like kids
As a vet for more than 25 years, Adams has observed a definite “premiumisation” of the entire industry, with the entire spectrum of pet products moving towards the top end of the market.
He believes this is indicative of Australia’s changing relationship with pets, seeing them “more like family members” than ever before.
Sheehan agrees, labelling the trend as an “anthropomorphisation” of pets.
“We’re treating them more as humans than ever before, we’re choosing to have pets over children, and we’re spending an increasingly large percentage of our income on our pets,” he says.
“They’re scratching that itch for people who might not want to have children.”