Tue, Jun

Marijuana: Is ‘Pot Therapy’ Legal for California Dogs and Cats?


ANIMAL WATCH-Marijuana, the shredded leaves, flower buds and stems of the Cannabis sativa plant, has now been legalized for medical use by humans in 29 states, plus D.C. It is said to relieve pain and inflammation and manage side effects of cancer. Some animal experts, including the late Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Doug Kramer, who lost his own battle with cancer in 2014 at age 36, believe that dogs and cats suffering from chronic pain, inflammation or other end-of-life issues should also be allowed the opportunity for the benefits of “pot therapy.” Others disagree and say, "pot isn't for pets." 



U.S. consumers spent $6.7 billion on legal cannabis in various forms in 2016, according to the San Francisco-based, Arcview Group, a Cannabis investment and research firm, with anticipated annual revenue generation at $22.6 billion by 2021. 

California, and three other states have also approved recreational use of Marijuana, with six more expected to expand “weed-for-fun” in 2018. The purported goal is to have regulated markets so that the underground black-market is easily identified and stopped or forced to meet legal standards. 

In a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 17.4 million people in the United States said they had used marijuana in the past month. A 2016 Gallup poll found that one in eight people smoke marijuana, and 43% of U.S. adults admit they have tried it--13% report being current marijuana users, up from 7% in 2013. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report to Congress on marijuana-impaired driving in July. Its findings outline the various challenges facing law enforcement. It's a good idea to remember that driving while stoned is illegal everywhere in the United States. 

With the changes in marijuana laws and usage, incidents of animals getting into their owner’s stash are also on the rise, reports LeafScience.com on Aug. 28, 2017. The Animal Poison Control Center reported that, out of 180,000 poisoning cases handled in 2013, about 320 calls were about marijuana, which sounds like a small amount, but represents a 50% increase over 2009. 

A Feb. 2, 2017, article in the NY Times, advises that one medical center in New York reported a 144% increase in calls for marijuana overdose in pets from 2010 to 2015. “We probably see close to one a day at one of our four hospitals,” said David Wohlstadter, senior emergency clinician for the city locations of the Blue Pearl veterinary chain. “And we’ve definitely seen an increase in the past couple of years,” Animal Medical Center, also an emergency clinic in NYC, says it treats several cases a week. 


Marijuana use remains illegal under federal laws in all states and the District of Columbia; e.g., Controlled Substances Act (except in research settings.) Although the laws regarding marijuana use have changed in some states, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is categorized as having a high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.  

Clinical trials that study medicinal Cannabis in cancer are limited. To do research with Cannabis in the United States, researchers must file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), receive a Schedule I license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and gain approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 


Lori Ajax, chief of California's Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, told San Diego industry leaders in March 2017 that the goal is to align regulations so that there is one consolidated industry — not separate business models for medical and recreational. 

Discussions are planned with California Highway Patrol and other law-enforcement agencies in development of a "track-and-trace" system to prevent  diversions to the black market, Ajax explained in the San Diego Tribune article, entitled, "Regulating marijuana in California will be turbulent, state official says." 

She believes comprehensive state regulations will encourage local jurisdictions to begin approving more types of marijuana businesses "by alleviating fear and confusion about how the state will regulate them." 

Here's a glimpse of that mechanism: (1) Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation will oversee dispensaries, labs, transporters and distributors; (2) CA Food and Agriculture Department will oversee cultivation and pot farms; (3) Public Health Department will oversee manufacturing of edibles; (4) Fish and Wildlife Department is involved in regulating cultivation; and (5) the Pesticide Control Department will have a role in the lab testing. 


Marijuana (pot, weed, grass, reefer, Mary Jane, etc.) was originally a Central Asian plant, but is now grown almost everywhere. It can be vaporized, eaten, brewed into a tea, but is most commonly rolled into a joint and smoked. The imaginative array of "edibles" is increasing in popularity, especially when used for medicinal purposes. It is also available in capsules, oral sprays and oils. The element which produces a "high" is tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. 

The Potency Monitoring Project found that THC is not static. Their research shows that in 1972 most THC content in Marijuana was less than 1 percent. During the 90's it rose to 3 to 4 percent, jumping to 13 percent in 2010, and today, some retail marijuana has 30 percent, or higher, THC content. 

There are at least two active chemicals in marijuana that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) -- which seems to impact the brain without a high -- and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- which has pain relieving (and other) properties. However, some medical professionals say these same health benefits can potentially be gained by taking THC pills like Dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, which in some ways might be more effective than smoked marijuana.   


Hash (hashish) is another way the Cannabis plant can be used. It is made only from the resin collected from the flowers. The primary active substance is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Hash is usually smoked in pipes, water pipes, joints, and hookahs, and can be mixed with regular tobacco. It can also be eaten. 

The Urban Dictionary describes the most common effects of hash and cannabis as, "a sense of wellbeing, relaxation, rapid flow of ideas, increased appreciation of music and food, heightened senses, sleepiness, pain relief, nausea relief and increased appetite.” But, on the downside are: "... dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, impaired short-term memory, anxiety and panic attacks."

It also provides some straight talk about kids and pot, "Most high school students report that it is easier for them to obtain cannabis than alcohol. This is possibly due to the fact that people who sell cannabis are already breaking the law and have few problems with selling to minors." 


Cannabinoids may be useful in treating the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, according to the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. government’s principal agency for cancer research. Other possible effects of cannabinoids include: Anti-inflammatory activity. blocking cell growth, preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors, anti-viral activity, and relieving muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis.  

Adverse side effects of cannabinoids may include rapid beating of the heart, low blood pressure, muscle relaxation, bloodshot eyes, slowed digestion and movement of food by the stomach and intestines, dizziness, depression, hallucinations, paranoia. 

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved Cannabis or cannabinoids for use as a cancer treatment or any cancer-related symptom or side effect of cancer therapy, and the FDA has not approved a marketing application for a drug product containing or derived from botanical marijuana and has not found any such product to be safe and effective for any indication. 


Dr. Robin Downing, a Windsor, CO, veterinarian and one of the top animal pain-management specialists in the country, who believes in going the limit to help prolong the lives of pets, told the Denver Post in 2014 that she draws the line when it comes to treating them with marijuana. “There’s more we don’t know about this therapy than we do know,” she explained. 

“Marijuana therapy for animals is untried, unproven, unregulated medicine,” Downing says. “Any time you use untested therapy, there are increased risks. . .We have good (pain) tools already.” She said she agrees with the American Veterinary Medical Association that studies are needed before pot therapy is practiced. 

The late veterinarian Dr. Douglas Kramer was among a small number of experts who believed THC could help canines cope with debilitating and chronic conditions, just like it helps humans. 

Dr. Kramer developed a special tincture for dogs and cats, called Canine Companion, to treat pain, inflammation and end-of-life health issues. But he, also, agreed more research was needed on pot therapy. 

Dr. Kramer told Vice  he does not approve of blowing smoke in pet’s faces or using Cannabis for other than strictly medicinal purposes, “To me, it’s animal abuse, really. It kills me because it devalues what I’m trying to do.” 

His non-human marijuana users did not smoke it or inhale it in any way. They would receive it in the glycerin tincture for greatest accuracy in dosing, or in food cooked in oil or butter made from cannabisHe also suggests it could be added to homemade dog biscuits. 

Dr. Kramer believed it was time to explore the potential benefits that pets could receive from its medicinal effects. After he “dosed” his own beloved dog Nikita, who had been suffering from terminal cancer, he said she was up and about and enjoying a better quality of life until she reached her end. 

“Medical marijuana can also be used to give felines the munchies when they’re not feeling hungry, Dr. Kramer explained. “We're using it on cats ... as an appetite stimulant,” he told Vice, explaining that a sick cat gets picky about food. 

"A client first brought it to my attention," Kramer told Vice. "She had a pet that was not responding well to any of the pain medications or the steroids that we were giving it, and she wanted to talk about getting medical marijuana." 

Dr. Robin Downing, however, reminded her colleagues that liability is another serious issue. While physicians in states where medical marijuana is sanctioned are legally allowed to recommend the drug, that’s not true of veterinarians. 

But, as medical marijuana receives more attention, pet owners are starting to consider if it can help their furry friends, too. 


Dr. Katherine Kramer, a veterinarian in B.C., told LeafScience on August 28, 2017, that the topic of medical marijuana is becoming more popular and patients bring it up at least once a week.  She confirms that, "Animals can benefit from marijuana, but they are also at risk for health problems from it." 

She explains that the reaction each animal has to marijuana can be unpredictable.   

Dogs can experience a number of symptoms and side effects after ingesting marijuana, including, lethargy, panting and difficulty breathing, panic/anxiety, loss of balance, loss of bladder control/urination and sensitivity to noise. 

She says medical marijuana may be particularly helpful for treating pain in cats. But in Canada and the U.S., cannabis is not considered a veterinary medicine. This means that veterinarians can’t officially prescribe marijuana.  

Dr. Eric Barchas, Medical Director of San Bruno Pet Hospital, reminds us that, "Some effects of marijuana may lead to other health concerns, such as dehydration and loss of coordination. After ingesting marijuana, dogs can become lethargic to the point that they do not consume water. Paired with the risk of marijuana-induced incontinence, this could leave your dog dehydrated.  Due to the loss of balance and coordination, some animals may also injure themselves while under the influence of marijuana." 

Neal Sivula, DVM, PhD, FAAVA, posted on the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal on February 15, 2017, a very comprehensive analysis of the history, lack of research and possible benefits of medicinal use of marijuana for pets but also the potential for toxic overdosing. He reminds us: 

Pets are most often exposed to toxic doses because of deliberate administration of edible products, by inhalation of second hand smoke, or by ingestion of unattended quantities of the plant. 

Most pets exposed to toxic amounts of cannabis become sedated and uncoordinated, but it is reported that up to 25% of pets suffering from overdose exhibit agitation. In extreme cases, pets need to be rehydrated with intravenous fluids and have their cardiac status monitored while they recover. 


CA Veterinary Medical Board - Current Laws and Policies Regarding Marijuana, Hemp, and Animals  

Following are excerpts. The entire post may be read here 

The Veterinary Medical Board does not have a formal position on the matter of

marijuana and hemp use on animals. . .

The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has ultimate jurisdiction over controlled substances, including marijuana. . .

The DEA has not given veterinarians the authority to possess, administer, dispense, or

prescribe cannabis or cannabinoid products. Therefore, under Federal Law,

veterinarians are prohibited from engaging in such activity.


California Law. Current California law makes it legal for human patients and their

designated primary caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for their personal

medical use with the recommendation or approval of a California-licensed physician or

surgeon. In addition, the recently passed Proposition 64 “Legalizes marijuana under

state law, for use by adults 21 or older.”


There is nothing in California law that would allow a veterinarian to prescribe, recommend, or approve marijuana for treating animals. Veterinarians are in violation of California law if they are incorporating cannabis into their practices. 


Psychology Today post on Oct. 12, 2016, by Hal Herzog, PhD, asks, "Would a hit of marijuana help an epileptic dog or a cat with itchy skin? " The answer, of course, is "possibly." But until much more research is done, and since every pet's reaction is unpredictable, is it worth the risks of overdosing or poisoning your best friend.


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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