Veterinary marijuana- Taboo or to do?

Recently in the most prestigious veterinary journal (JAVMA) there was a news article (see links above) about the use of marijuana in veterinary medicine.  With the legalization of marijuana in 2 states and medical marijuana admitted in 16 states, it is likely to become a hot topic. In addition, our four-legged family members are living longer, and in turn, developing diseases like cancer and arthritis. Pets with these diseases could benefit from the positive effects of marijuana.

As an emergency clinician in Arizona, I have seen my fair share of marijuana toxicity cases. For the most part, animals recover with low mortality, moderate morbidity. However, signs are dose dependent and the animals do not look happy when they are “stoned.” They can have seizures, cardiac changes, temperature abnormalities, blood pressure changes and tend to have a glazed look, dribble urine, and can be very sensitive to light and touch.

So if this substance is toxic to pets, how could it help. Well it would need to be at the right dose and given by the right route. There is apparently a glycerin tincture that is sold in some licensed medical marijuana dispensaries currently in California.  Testimonials from clients and some veterinarians is that it may help, in cases where more traditional pain therapies (tramadol, gabapentin, NSAIDs) did not.

Veterinarians that have seen these beneficial effects do not want to prescribe it for all cases. They do believe, however, there is a need to investigate marijuana further to determine that case reports are not seeing placebo effect results.

The problem is that pet owners are not patiently waiting for the scientific evidence, and if they have access to medical marijuana they may try to give some to their pets. Some owners are trying the drug on the pets for separation anxiety, appetite stimulant, irritable bowel syndrome, in addition to palliative pain treatment. There are testimonials that topical cannabis oil is used to treat skin tumors. Owners do not understand dosing a pet is different from humans, and that medications can affect animals differently than they affect humans.

Veterinarians who are on the forefront of this movement agree there is enough justification to study the potential effects. The problem is what companies/institutions will finance this research? Perhaps as medical marijuana becomes legal for humans, and a company capitalizes on that they will support veterinary-related research as well.  Until that time, I would urge veterinarians to become comfortable talking with clients (especially in the medical usage states) about the possible toxic effects and the lack of research. Client education is key. As a community, we need to consider developing a consensus statement and hand out to be prepared when clients ask us our thoughts; or, when they do not ask and we suspect they are treating their animals without medical advice.

Kudos to JAVMA for bringing up a controversial topic that needs a responsible medical focus going forward.

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