Medical marijuana was just passed in Florida by referendum in the 2016 election. Despite the voter referendum, conservative counties backed by our republican controlled executive and legislative state government are running interference across the state to disrupt the implementation of medical marijuana leaving it still largely unavailable.
The reality of medical marijuana is that it has a number of legitimate uses for disease management that are virtually side effect free when dosed properly. The marijuana flower has glandular structures known as trichomes that contain essential oils. When these glands are separated from the plant, “cannanioids” may be separated out and formulated into the proper ratios that facilitate medical uses with little to no side effects.
Cannabinoids fall into 2 categories. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is responsible for the psychotropic effect; while cannabidiol, or CBD, provides the main medicinal component. However, CBD alone is not clinically as effective as combining it in proper ratios with THC, and the right combination provides enhanced medicinal efficacy via what researchers term the “entourage effect.”
One very common use of medical marijuana in people is treatment of seizure disorders, of which we see a great deal in veterinary medicine, particularly in dogs. Life threatening complications or organ damage are highly unlikely with properly dosed medical marijuana in comparison to traditional anti-convulsant medications which are know to tax the liver. Other applications for medical marijuana include management of GI disease, nausea, spinal pain, arthritis pain, anxiety, and cancer management (stimulation of appetite and control of pain).
Are there any risks to treatment with medical marijuana in veterinary medicine? The biggest risk medical marijuana carries is accidental overdose. Even then, life threatening reactions to medical marijuana are exceedingly rare. Also, we must recognized that accidental overdose potential exists with traditional medications as well, often with far more devastating consequences.
Will we be prescribing medical marijuana in veterinary medicine any time soon? The answer to this is: not likely. The first barrier is that standardized dosing research in dogs and cats is still very much in progress with little clear consensus. The second barrier is that the purchase of medical marijuana in states like California (and likely Florida once it is available) require a medical marijuana card. In California where medical marijuana has been legal for years, there is no legal mechanism by which a dog or cat can be issued a medical marijuana card. I assume the same will be the case here in Florida where I practice once medical marijuana is available.
The best option available to pet owners at this time is to talk to a veterinarian who has experience with pets being treated with cannabis oil about proper dosage and reputable manufacturers. How these veterinary practitioners navigate the legal side of prescribing medical marijuana is not clear to me, however.
In summary, practical applications of medical marijuana are well established in people and early research and anecdotal reports indicate that the same is true for dogs and cats. While it will likely be some time before this alternative treatment approach will available to dogs and cats, as research evolves and doses are standardized, there will likely be more pressure for a legal avenue to make it available to dogs and cats.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.