Ask the Vet: Medical marijuana — is it useful for pets?

Ask the Vet: Medical marijuana — is it useful for pets?

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Marijuana has now become much more of a mainstay in the United States. Starting in 1937 marijuana was illegal throughout the United States. This lasted until the Compassionate Use Act was passed in California in 1996. There are now eight states (and the District of Columbia) that legally allow the use of recreational marijuana and 20 states that allow the use of medical marijuana.

There are also advertisements on the internet that sell a variety of cannabis products for pets that include capsules, oils, butters, tinctures, infused chews and dog treats. Now, before you start asking your veterinarian to become Dr. “Cheech and Chong” or Dr. “Method Man,” I must print this disclaimer: The law does not approve the use of medical marijuana for pets in any of these 50 United States or the District of Columbia.

The chemical substances derived from marijuana products are called cannabinoids. There are actually over 80 cannabinoids derived from the Cannabis plant but, only two are of real importance for our purposes: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is found in the marijuana plant, while CBD is found in hemp. THC has a psychotropic effect (what gets people “high”) but CBD is the nonpsychotropic compound found primarily in hemp.

What, historically, are the uses of marijuana and hemp? Human studies have shown that marijuana helps with glaucoma, nausea related to chemotherapy, neuropathy (nerve associated pain) and spasticity. There are also anecdotal studies that marijuana products can help with seizures. Both THC-based and CBD-based cannabinoids have an effect on cognition, immunity, inflammation, preventing cell death and cancer, pain, emotional memory, nausea and appetite stimulation. There are studies that state that cannabinoids have potent antibacterial effects against MERSA.

There are (as mentioned above) a large number of these products available without a prescription (many of them hemp based). In order to ship these products without a prescription, they have to contain less than 1 percent of CBD and 0.3 percent of THC. Unfortunately, this has opened the door to some unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Many of the hemp-based products sold on the internet are derived from industrial-grade hemp and only used for fiber.

If one remembers from previous articles on supplements that the supplement industry was able to get Congress to pass the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994. This act, in a nutshell, stated that no supplement (human or veterinary) can claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure a particular disease. However, general claims that link a particular supplement to the prevention of particular diseases are allowed.

There are many benefits to the use of cannabis products. Unfortunately, medical marijuana is unavailable for pets, and “let the buyer beware” when choosing cannabis products. I’ll keep you updated to any changes as I find out.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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