by Martha Michael
With the passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016, many assume that the sale and use of marijuana is completely without restraints. That’s really not the case, but when it comes to medical marijuana for pets, its use is becoming broader, and more acceptable, than before January 1, 2018.
“Basically, it’s more available to everyone now,” said Dr. Tim Shu, the founder and CEO of VetCBD, a company that manufactures non-psychoactive cannabis for animals. “Previously, the only people who could go into dispensaries were people who had medical recommendations for themselves. (The new law) really opens the market for us.”
Veterinarians cannot discuss or prescribe medical cannabis because it’s still considered a Schedule 1 drug, said Niklaus Fox, DVM, who works on Saturdays at Stevenson Ranch Veterinary Center. It never stopped him from making it available to his patients, however. He has been prescribing hemp-based CBD oil, which has almost no THC, the chemical compound in cannabis that’s responsible for a euphoric “high.”
“CBD oil derived from hemp is readily available anywhere – you can get it online,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s derived from a strain of marijuana with just trace amounts of THC. A lot of vets won’t talk to you about it for legal reasons.”
“We’ve had good luck treating behavioral issues (with cannabis),” said Dr. Fox, who became a veterinarian in 1997. “A couple of my clients really have had a profound reaction with it.”
He described a canine patient of his that was attacking his owners, which Dr. Fox said was likely due to an anxiety disorder. The dog became far less aggressive after treatment with CBD oil.
The veterinarian, who also has a mobile practice, has a regular client base where treatment involves wellness exams and routine lab work, but most of his patients are geriatric animals, so he does a lot of pain management. That’s where cannabis has proven effective.
“CBD oil makes a big difference when it’s in combination with western medicine. It’s another level of pain control,” Dr. Fox explained. “I also do acupuncture with holistic supplements like CBD oil. The pets do very well.”
There is a growing number of pet owners turning to VetCBD products for aging and arthritic animals, as well as a lot of other conditions, Dr. Shu said.
“People are seeing it for themselves. In the vet community we’ve seen a huge turnaround,” he said. “The reason why is because they have clients who have pets with chronic issues: limping, chronic nausea, loss of appetite, separation or noise anxiety. Some of them don’t do well with traditional medications. It sometimes causes lethargy, and sometimes pain meds can cause damage to the liver or the GI tract.”
Dr. Shu mentioned CBD treatment for head trauma, and certain breeds that develop slipped discs in high numbers, such as dachshunds and pugs. He said it manages pain and increases mobility.
Some seizure patients treated with CBD oil see a reduction in seizures from every day to about once a month, Dr. Shu said. “It’s a huge, huge change in their lives; then they talk to their veterinarians about it,” he added. “And when their cats start eating and gaining weight, that‘s a huge difference for the owner and they definitely bring that to their veterinarians’ attention.”
He underscored the dual benefit of cannabis treatment. “They’re seeing improvement in the animal’s quality of life. They can go for long walks, jump up and down,” Dr. Shu said. “The owners’ quality of life goes up also.”
Products & Availability
Before the passage of Proposition 64, many owners used medicines with hemp, because they could get them outside of a dispensary. VetCBD uses full spectrum cannabis. “The reason is, it contains multiple cannabinoids,” Dr. Shu explained, “which has a much more therapeutic benefit than if they use products that are hemp-based.”
In other words, with hemp you get some benefits, but not the full potential, according to Dr. Shu. And an additional advantage to full spectrum cannabis is that manufacturers are forced to follow a range of testing requirements.
“We’ve always abided by rules and regulations of the cannabis industry,” the company’s founder said. “January 1st came with a lot of changes. It’s business as usual for us, but we’ve always been in this space.”
Patients who want to use VetCBD products still have to go to dispensaries to purchase them. And while the company will continue to abide by legal regulations, in terms of the general population, medical marijuana products will now be more available in California.
“Veterinarians are kind of caught in a tricky position. In terms of the American Veterinary Medical Association, they’re not able to recommend or incorporate any sort of CBD in their practice,” Dr. Shu said. “It’s unfortunate. As health professionals, we should be able to discuss options with our patients. … It’s forcing vets to do their patients a disservice.”
According to Dr. Fox, before Prop. 64 you were limited to obtaining medical cannabis through dispensaries because of the stigma attached to it.
“People had this misconception that it’s ‘druggies’ or whatever – it’s a shameful connotation. That’s completely not the case,” Dr. Fox said. “We’ve created this societal perception that it’s bad, (yet) we can use it to improve our health. We can see the trend in the nation, state after state, they’re changing their laws from medical use to recreational use.”
With the obvious shift in perception, where is California going with cannabis treatment for pets?
“A lot of it comes down to misunderstanding, which is why we focus so much on education,” Dr. Shu said. “That’ll be one of our top priorities is opening up that dialogue between healthcare professionals and pet owners and legislators. We’re going to be working on laws to enable vets to prescribe/recommend cannabis products.”
Dr. Fox would like to see cannabis get rescheduled to promote research. There is scientific data, so far, on the medicinal benefits of cannabis with a wide range of animals, including rats, pigs and monkeys. Dr. Shu explained that all animals have endocannabinoid systems, so researchers can see the benefits.
“We want to push for progress,” Dr. Shu said. “This is something that we’ve always been fighting for – for vets to be educated and for pet owners to have these resources. If it is a better option for them, we want that.”