Health Care is Going To Pot: Cannabis Use in Pet Health

Many people have turned to using cannabis for their pets.  It is currently being used for diseases such as cancer, chronic pain, seizures and emotional/behavior disorders such as anxiety.  Like many natural remedies gaining popularity, cannabis has its fair share of controversies.  This blog, hopefully, will help you understand a bit more about this beneficial remedy.

When we look at using cannabis for medical purposes, we have to go back a while and see its history.  Back in the early 70s, the federal government decided it was time to address the widespread use of hallucinogenic drugs.  With their sweeping legal actions, they decided to place cannabis in the category of schedule 1 narcotics.  This category was used for other drugs such as LSD and heroin.

Unfortunately, when the government included cannabis, they did not consider that all cannabis was not the same.  Cannabis is a family of plants.  Oak trees are another example of a family of trees.  There are many species of oak trees and they differ greatly.  Cannabis has two primary species; hemp and marijuana.  And, as you probably know, they are dramatically different.  Marijuana became popular for its hallucinogenic effects and this was the primary reason that the government tried to eliminate its use here in the US.  Hemp, on the other hand is another species of cannabis that has no hallucinogenic properties.

Hemp is used for many purposes from medicinal to making paper.  It is the medicinal abilities that offer us great potential for helping our pets.  CBD oil is extracted from the hemp plant and this is the biochemical that is helpful with diseases.  CBD oil does not come from marijuana plants.  The term “medicinal marijuana” is a misnomer.  It should be “medicinal cannabis or medicinal hemp oil.”  Starting to see how this can be a bit confusing?

THC is the biochemical that is found in marijuana that gives the plant its chemical effects on the brain causing hallucinogenic reactions.  This is what makes marijuana considered a recreational drug.  It has no medical benefits.  CBD oil has medical benefits but will not cause hallucinogenic activity in the brain.  You can take a truck load of CBD oil and not get stoned.

Another problem that we veterinarians have faced regarding the use of cannabis in pets is that because it is a schedule 1 narcotic, it is illegal for us to recommend or prescribe it for pets.  We are not even supposed to discuss its use.  The federal government could come in and shut down a vet hospital that has been recommending it for medicinal usage.  This has not happened but it has been one of the reasons that vets have stayed away from the remedy.

Most holistic vets have ignored those fears and are now starting to study and learn about the health benefits and as we learn more, we pass the information to our clients.  So, it is new to us and we are in the learning curve as well.

While we are still in the learning curve, we will likely make mistakes, so we need to approach this slowly and be aware of any harm that we might cause our pet.  I examined a dog a few weeks ago that had cancer.  The dog was in a lot of pain from its cancer and their conventional vet had put him on two analgesics.  Both of these drugs suppressed brain function as a side effect.  The old dog had a bad liver, which made him unable to process the drugs correctly and each time they gave him more drugs, the more suppressed his brain became.  The couple had heard about using cannabis so they went to the cannabis shop in town (Washington state where marijuana is legal) and they were sold some marijuana that they were told would help their dog.  When I saw the dog, he was in a stupor.  He could not stand.  He did not respond to anything and he died the next morning.  Not from the cancer, but from the side effects of the drugs and the pot.

Because cannabis is not regulated by the FDA, it is considered as a supplement, therefore we have no way of knowing what is in the product.  If the company is not testing the product for its chemical makeup, then no one knows what levels of what chemical is in the cannabis that they just bought.  We must turn to companies that appear to be doing things correctly.  Canna Pet, in Colorado, is an example.  I have no affiliations with Canna Pet, but I have read over their data and their website and they are making a concerned effort to assure us that their product is safe and effective.  They are doing joint research with Colorado State University for the benefits of cannabis with pet health.   Another factor is that in order for a company to ship their product out of state, they must assure the government that the cannabis has less than 0.035% THC.  This is a great, indirect way to assure that the product you buy is not loaded with THC.  The government has been consistent in regulating this.

I will not go into the specific benefits nor the biochemical effects of CBD oil in the pet but I will say that in the five years that I have been working with many pets using it with cancer, seizures, chronic pain and anxiety, it is certainly an option that we want to use in our approach to health care.  It does take some time to see the benefits (most say 4-6 weeks) but I have seen its use as a great adjunct for these diseases.

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