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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pot For Pets

By: Ricki Stern

Would you give your pet pot?  I don’t mean your old college roommate’s method of  blowing thick bong rips into the face of a squirming Fido.  Dr. Doug Kramer is a veterinarian leading a growing movement of vets and pet owners who believe that marijuana may provide medical benefits for animals.
While tending to the health concerns of others’ animals at the Vet Guru Animal Veterinary Center in California, Dr. Kramer’s own Siberian Husky, Nikita, was diagnosed with untreatable cancer.  After exhausting all the traditional pain medications, even steroids, without success, and just before euthanasia, Dr. Kramer turned to marijuana.  “She was nearing the end…she had nothing to lose…at the first dosage, she was up and around.  I didn’t cure her.  It was just…increasing her quality of life and putting off inevitably euthanizing her” Kramer said.

Dr. Kramer is not alone.  Fellow Californian, Becky Flowers’s 20-year-old horse named Phoenix was diagnosed with degenerative ligament disease.  For four years, Flowers tried everything except putting the horse down, and that was next.  Phoenix’s condition continued to worsen.  When Phoenix lay on her side and refused to walk, eat, or drink, Flowers tried marijuana before putting Phoenix down.  An hour after giving Phoenix a small amount of cannabis, the horse was walking around, eating and drinking.  Flowers noted the incredible change “with cannabis, I don’t worry about potential liver damage…I also don’t worry about her overdosing…she never appears panicky or disoriented.  She’s just her normal, happy Phoenix.”
These are but two cases among many.  Dr. Kramer reports over 300 people giving marijuana to their pets for a medical conditions ranging from separation anxiety and noise phobia to pain and seizures.  Dr. Kramer says that cats are given marijuana “as much, if not more” than dogs, generally as an appetite stimulant because they are less likely to eat when sick. According to Dr. Kramer any animal with cannabinoid receptors will respond to marijuana like humans, including monkeys, rats, chickens, and pigs. 
With all this success you might be inclined to think the veterinary community would embrace marijuana..  You would be wrong.  There are a number of hurdles between marijuana and veterinary medicine.  In states where medical marijuana is legal, physicians are exempt from prosecution for recommending marijuana to their human patients.  No such protections exist for veterinarians in any state.  There is also the ever-dwindling social stigma surrounding the drug.  Many veterinarians do not want to weigh in on the issue for fear of losing business. 
Further, the medical benefits of marijuana for pets intuitively seem to be an undeniable scientific fact.  However, all claims must be tested using the scientific method before they can be stated with any degree of scientific certainty. Other possible factors that could have contributed to the animals’ recovery must be ruled out.  Dr. Kramer agrees, “We need to investigate marijuana further to determine whether the case reports I’m hearing are true or whether there is a placebo effect at work.”   
You  might think that certainly with all this anecdotal evidence and the push for more testing, the scientific community must be fervently researching the effect of marijuana on animals.  You’d  be wrong again.  Although many states have recognized the same medical benefits the Chinese knew millennia before a man named Jesus walked the earth, the Food and Drug Administration still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug.  Schedule I drugs, according to the FDA, have no medical value and a high risk of abuse.  This scheduling effectively deters any significant testing of marijuana, unlike morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine which are Schedule II drugs.  Dr. Kramer joins organizations like the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and National Association for Public Health Policy, as well as patients and smokers nationwide, in calling for the rescheduling of marijuana by the federal government. 
The relevance of this issue to both animals and their humans is what adds the gravity to this issue.  For some people, a dog is simply a dog.  But for so many more, dogs are as much a part of the family as anyone else.  When a dog becomes terminally ill, the impact on the family is immense.  In many of the cases, their owners gave them the marijuana as a last resort before euthanizing the animal.  Euthanasia is a pretty word, but let’s call this what it is.  Seeing their beloved pet sick, in pain, and dying spurs them try marijuana before choosing to kill Fido because death is preferable to Fido’s current condition.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  If these reports are true the impact to the veterinary community could be paradigm shifting.  However, its influence cannot be quantifiable without scientific data to support it.  Scientific data cannot be collected on any sort of practical scale without a reclassification of marijuana (or maybe taking marijuana off the whole damn list!).  

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