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16 Oct 2018

Cannabis in the CV: When It Comes to Treating Pets With Marijuana, Knowledge Is Hard to Find

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A new law directing the California Veterinary Medical Board to create guidelines for veterinarians to discuss pets’ use of cannabis was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, and will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Assembly Bill 2215 is surprisingly controversial—for several different reasons. On one hand, it’s a leap forward—as of now, the veterinary board can revoke the license of a veterinarian if he or she even discusses cannabis use for pets. On the other hand, the law still prohibits vets from prescribing cannabis products for their patients.

Again, the longstanding prohibition mentality is standing in the way of real progress. Lawmakers, veterinarians, the veterinary board and pet owners are justifiably concerned, because almost no research has been done regarding the safe and effective uses and dosages of cannabis for pets.

Given humans’ longstanding use of cannabis, it is not surprising that we have also been using it to treat our animals for millennia. Just one example: There is evidence the ancient Greeks used cannabis to treat horse wounds.

When I brought up cannabis use for my dog with our vet, I received a nervous non-answer—which makes sense, given what laws are on the books through the end of the year. Unfortunately, this has led pet-owners to seek information on their own—from the internet, pet stores, budtenders, friends and acquaintances … none of which are the best places to seek medical advice, for you or your pet.

Fortunately, some peer-reviewed scientific studies regarding pets and cannabis are beginning to be released. In July 2018, the first clinical double-blind study treating arthritic dogs with cannabidiol was published in Frontier in Veterinary Science. A team led by Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, of Cornell University, studied how hemp-based CBD products helped dogs with pain and arthritis.

It is important to keep in mind that the research was funded by ElleVet, a maker of hemp oil designed for pets, and ElleVet products were used in the study. Still, the results of the small study of 16 animals were extremely promising: After treatment, more than 80 percent of the dogs saw a significant decrease in pain, and improvement in their ability to move. This is good news for all of us with aging dogs.

Another study, this one at Colorado State University, is looking into treating dogs with epilepsy—and the preliminary results have been called “promising”: A small study of 16 dogs revealed that 89 percent had a reduced frequency of seizures after receiving CBD.

Dosing is a big issue with pets; after all, my three-pound teacup Chihuahua can’t receive the same dose as my 150-pound neapolitan mastiff. Dr. Wakshlag found that with CBD, 2 milligrams per pounds of body weight is generally effective and not cost-prohibitive. The study also found that CBD dissolved in fats had a greater efficacy than other delivery methods.

Take note: THC is believed to be toxic to dogs, so if you choose to experiment with cannabis products on your own pet (something that’s NOT advised), make sure you are using only the purest hemp-based, THC-free products. Signs of THC poisoning include glassy eyes, stumbling and a lack of coordination, vomiting and urinary incontinence. If you think your pet may have ingested THC, get it to the veterinarian ASAP, and be honest with the medical staff. In most cases, even severe THC poisoning can be treated, assuming it is caught quickly.

That said, Dr. Gary Richter, a San Francisco Bay Area veterinarian who spoke at the Palm Springs Cannabis Summit last April, feels that THC may have a greater story to tell. He likes to point out that many drugs, if used improperly, can cause severe harm to both humans and animals. Due to the wide range of uses THC has in human pharmacology, Dr. Richter believes that proper studies may reveal that very small doses of THC can treat pet ailments.

While a few studies are being done on dogs, an even smaller number is being done on cats. I found one being done on anxiety, and one on pain, but I found no studies on cats with any published results yet. I found no research on smaller animals (like parrots or rodents) or larger animals (like horses)—although hemp seeds are safe for parrots, and in fact, parrot breeders often use hemp seed to stimulate breeding behaviors.

In other words … we have a long way to go. Stay tuned.

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