Tonawanda News

June 30, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Pot and pets?

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Earlier this month, I saw an Associated Press article by Sue Manning on the subject of medical marijuana for pets. I was curious. With online research I could only find her article regurgitated by all the other news outlets.

Manning reported on Dr. Doug Kramer of vetguru.com. Under the press section of his website it offers 22 media reports on his “extraordinary work,” including fine media resources such as The 420 Radio Show, Perez Hilton and Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”  

I do not want to dismiss the fact that medical marijuana could have positive benefits to your ailing pets. However, humans compared to other animals, react differently to drugs and further medical, peer-reviewed research should be done on the topic. 

Kramer does have a do-it-yourself book titled “Sweet Serenity” on how to administer medical marijuana to your pets. The book did make me wonder, is this even legal?

The quick answer is no. 

The use of medical marijuana for pets is illegal in all states, said Dr. Ahna Brutlag, the assistant director of Veterinary Services from the Pet Poison Helpline. Brutlag is a veterinarian specializing in small animal clinical toxicology. In addition to having a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, she also has earned a master’s of science in toxicology and is a board-certified Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology.

Brutlag also warns of the possibility of overdosing. 

“Thankfully, marijuana has what’s referred to as a ‘wide margin of safety.’ This means that the therapeutic dose (dose used to treat disease) is very far below the toxic dose. This is a good thing because it means that small overdoses are unlikely to result in severe poisoning or death.” Brutlag said.

Dr. Eric Barchas, a full-time emergency veterinarian serving the San Francisco Bay area, says that in his experience most dogs did not react well to marijuana and very often required hospitalization and treatment to prevent dehydration and other complications.

Given that medical marijuana for pets is not currently legal, partly due to insufficient data, there are no published effects of the drug. The Pet Poison Helpline has received many calls about marijuana exposure in pets. Most of the calls dealt with dogs. Symptoms included things that you could also find in people. Dogs were seen to be dazed, generalized weakness, incoordination and vomiting. Less common effects were dribbling of urine, becoming agitated, hyperactive, and changes in heart rate and body temperatures.

“Marijuana may help with pain relief, appetite stimulation, inflammation and more,” Brutlag said. “Some veterinarians may recommend it in very ill dogs to help them just ‘feel better.’ However, we currently have many other medications which can also help with these same problems.”

Jessica LeRoux, owner of Twirling Hippy Confections, a Colorado-based licensed manufacturer of cannabis-infused gourmet snacks for humans, said she experienced firsthand the positive effects pot can have on canines. While the company doesn’t make these products for pets commercially she has experimented on her own service dog that became weak in the legs and had difficulty walking, going up stairs and into the car as he aged. LeRoux says that the cannabis maximized his mobility and comfort.

LeRoux said she is neither a veterinarian nor a biologist, but has many years of using medical marijuana to help human patients. She has been baking medicated cheesecakes, among other specialties, for hospice patients since 1993 and for her own dogs since 2001.

She believes that dogs, like humans, are born with an endocannabinoid system which operates with the same chemicals found in the THC molecule to promote health and wellbeing. She has also seen favorable responses in pets that had a fear of thunder and lightning, separation anxiety or pain due to stitches or broken bones that received a small dose of medical cannabis. LeRoux does emphasize keeping activated charcoal pills on hand for potential overdoses of cannabis medicines or other toxic substances.

Barchas doesn’t recommend medical marijuana for pets at this time, primarily because it is illegal. 

“Also, there has been insufficient study of the matter, and products have such varying potencies, that determining an appropriate dose is almost impossible.” 

Lastly he added that because many dogs do not react favorably to the medication he worries that the benefits of the product might not outweigh the risk of an adverse response.

As we learn more about medical marijuana, Brutlag and Barchas, said it is extremely important that pet owners don’t take this information as an excuse to self-medicate our critter companions. Not only would such action be illegal, it is not in the best interest of the pet.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to birdbehaviorconsultant@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.

 

 

 

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to birdbehaviorconsultant@yahoo.com, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.