Making the Case: Cannabis For Pets
Allow Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis for Animals in California
By Dr. Gary Richter
We love our pets like family. We take them with us everywhere, they often eat better than we do, and when it comes to health care, we want them to have the best. Fortunately for Californians, we have more options than most when it comes to cutting-edge therapies.
The legitimacy of medical cannabis is a settled issue in California. There is no question from either a legal perspective or in the medical research that cannabis is powerful and effective medicine. Like humans, animals have an endocannabinoid system and respond to cannabis in very similar ways. This means that animals can receive all of the same benefits from appropriately dosed medical cannabis as we humans do. Some of the conditions cannabis can be used to improve pet’s lives with include: Pain, inflammation, gastrointestinal upset, seizures, anxiety, and in some cases, even cancer.
There is a problem though…
When Proposition 215 legalized medical cannabis back in 1996, no one was thinking about access for animals. The law was written for physicians and their human patients. The use of medical cannabis for animals in California is still illegal.
In recent months, both the California Veterinary Medical Board and the California Veterinary Medical Association have published statements highlighting California’s cannabis laws as they pertain to veterinarians. Specifically, California veterinarians have been put on notice that medical cannabis laws only apply to physicians and their human patients. There are no medical use laws for animals, and any veterinarian “involved with treatment of an animal with marijuana or hemp” may be subject to disciplinary action. These agencies state that they are acting to protect veterinarians. The reality however, is a different story.
Every veterinarian currently in practice is fielding questions from people regarding medical cannabis for pets. Many pet owners have experienced benefits from cannabis first hand, and those who have not, know someone who has. Pet owners are searching for information regarding how to effectively use cannabis to help their pets feel better. Veterinarians are banned from providing any information or guidance on the subject.
As a veterinarian, I have seen first-hand how medical cannabis benefits animals in ways conventional Western medicine cannot. Through legal intimidation however, my profession has been removed from the discussion of providing medical guidance and treatment recommendations for pets. Cutting vets out of the loop isn’t stopping pet owners from seeking advice on how to use cannabis for their pets. It’s merely forcing them towards unreliable and potentially dangerous sources of information. Is it really the best idea to encourage pet owners to seek medical advice about a psychoactive substance from the Internet or from people with no formal medical training when the results of inappropriate dosing of cannabis in pets can be disastrous?
At present, any Californian with a medical card can legally purchase cannabis through a dispensary. In 2018, recreational use will go into effect and anyone 21 and over will be able to buy cannabis. Regardless of how people may personally feel about it, widespread legal access to cannabis in California is here to stay.
The current legal landscape leaves us with three options. Veterinarians can ignore the law and risk prosecution to provide much needed medical guidance on how to use cannabis safely and effectively in animals. Everyone can disregard the need for medical guidance altogether, which will ultimately lead to the ineffective (and potentially dangerous) use of cannabis in animals. Our third option is to take action and change the law.
No profession is more qualified to provide medical guidance regarding the safe and effective treatment of animals than veterinarians. Yet veterinarians are singled out as the one group who is forbidden to speak. Something has to change.
Pets receive the same benefits from medical cannabis as humans. A compassionate use law for animals will allow veterinarians to provide guidance to people regarding the safe and effective use of cannabis for their pets.
Below is a link to a petition for all concerned pet owners to sign in support of giving veterinarians the same rights California physicians have to provide guidance and treatment recommendations for the use medical cannabis. Rather than sit on the sidelines, let’s be part of the solution and allow veterinarians to do what they are trained to do- provide better and safer health care for our pets.