Pet Pot: If medical marijuana helps humans, can it also help their pets?
When Jamie Rephann's eight-year-old boxer mix, Tank, started having trouble walking, he took his dog to the vet, where he learned the options were pretty limited. Either Tank could go on expensive pain medication that might destroy his liver, or Rephann could try other, alternative treatments for his pet -- including cannabis. Though the doctor made it clear he wasn't recommending pot, he also didn't shy away from reality. "He said to me, 'If you use it, it will help your dog,'" Rephann recalls. "God forbid we have a medicine that helps without damage to dog's livers and such."
Dr. Doug Kramer from VetGuru.com with permission.
Within days, Rephann says, Tank was up and moving around like old times.
There's nothing in state law expressly prohibiting you from giving your dog cannabis, medical or otherwise. But at the same time, Colorado animal-cruelty laws are vague, and "mistreating" an animal isn't specifically defined. So problems could arise if a veterinarian considered administration of cannabis by a pet's owner mistreatment. Marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level; that means the government thinks there's no medicinal value to it, for humans or animals.
Still, though it's not quite legal -- even in states that allow humans to use medical marijuana -- cannabis is increasingly used as an alternative treatment for suffering and dying four-legged members of the family. And that's a trend that's pushing the veterinary community to reconsider a plant that many once thought only made animals sick.
California veterinarian Doug Kramer has become the leading spokesman for using medical cannabis for pets; he insists he isn't some hippie, new-age healer just because he keeps a natural herbal remedy in his mental medicine bag. In fact, Kramer says he isn't a medical marijuana user (or even a recreational user). Instead, his acceptance of cannabis as a veterinary therapy comes from a greater desire to improve care. "I'm not a holistic vet in the true sense of the term," he says. "It's my duty. If there is anything out there that is going to work -- natural, holistic, or some strange therapy we haven't even heard of -- we have the duty to investigate it. I do practice mainly traditional medicine; I just happened to have been the one that put my head on the chopping block in this situation."
Dr. Doug Kramer works with a patient, with permission from VetGuru.com
His interest in cannabis as an alternative treatment for pets started when some of his clients -- many of whom were medical marijuana patients in California -- started asking about using pot for their pets. When he heard that some owners were using it for their pet's separation anxiety, he had mixed feelings. It wasn't until his own dog, a husky named Nikita, stopped eating toward the end of her life that Kramer saw the benefits of cannabis use firsthand. While pharmaceutical drugs did nothing for the dog, cannabis eased her pain and made her final few months more tolerable.
Since then, Kramer has done his homework and become an expert in the field -- or as much of an expert as you can become with a frustrating lack of direct studies on veterinary use.
"It's well documented in research that has been done: dogs, cats, pigs -- they all have the same endocannabinoids receptors," Kramer explains. "Those are naturally occurring, and they are the same receptors that humans have and the same systems humans have. If animals possess them, too, then why wouldn't cannabis work on animals?"
He points to animal acupuncture, massage and cold-laser therapy as treatments that gained popularity with humans before they were tried with animals -- and they worked.
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