Pot for pets? Veterinarians want freedom to recommend like medical doctors

Lobbyist talks about benefits of medical cannabis for her dog, Bobby

Lobbyist Pamela Lopez's dog, Bobby, uses VET CBD oil to treat his anxiety. Lopez discusses an assembly bill that would allow veterinarians to talk to pet owners about the medical use of cannabis for their pets.
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Lobbyist Pamela Lopez's dog, Bobby, uses VET CBD oil to treat his anxiety. Lopez discusses an assembly bill that would allow veterinarians to talk to pet owners about the medical use of cannabis for their pets.

Jamie Peyton, a doctor at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, has been working on a first-of-its-kind study for the past few months, a running survey about treating sick pets with cannabis.

So far, the school has collected responses from 1,300 animal owners who are using cannabis – usually non-psychoactive oils – to treat dogs and other small animals for pain, anxiety and nausea, among other things.

“This is very similar to medical cannabis usage for humans,” she said.

The survey ultimately will help inform an area where there is scant research or solid guidelines for pet owners to follow. “There is nothing out there for them,” Peyton said. “Right now, they are on their own.”

Unlike medical doctors in California, veterinarians are prohibited under state law from discussing cannabis as a treatment option for pets.

That would change under a bill recently proposed by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, D-San Jose. AB 2215 would have the state Veterinary Medical Board come up with guidelines for discussing marijuana treatment and “protect state-licensed veterinarians from disciplinary action for discussing the use of cannabis on animal patient clients.” The bill is sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Association.

Doctors were given the authority to make recommendations for people when California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996. Those recommendations long were mired in controversy, as the California Medical Board struggled to come up with guidelines that would allow proper medical use while preventing abuse of the drug for recreational purposes.

While abuse isn’t considered a problem for pets, the Veterinary Medical Board also is wrestling with questions, including whether it’s appropriate for veterinarians to prescribe cannabis when there is a lack of scientific research on the subject.

Researchers say it’s difficult to attract funding for any marijuana studies because cannabis is classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it’s considered highly addictive and without therapeutic value.

Kalra’s bill has faced some early hurdles. A motion from the California Veterinary Medical Board to support AB 2215 failed last week on a 4-2 vote. A board attorney said five yes votes were needed to support the recommendation. The decision means Kalra will have to work with the board, which sets and enforces professional standards for veterinarians across the state, to get its support.

The board voted to send concerns about the measure to Kalra’s office, including the need to allow the board disciplinary authority for veterinarians who recommend dangerous doses of cannabis.

Board members opposing the measure said they were also concerned about allowing veterinarians to recommend cannabis, as opposed to just allowing them to discuss treatment. The proposed bill does not refer to recommendations, although the veterinary association has said it wants such language.

Opponents of the bill point out that an overdose of marijuana can be toxic to pets. Supporters said pet owners already are seeking information on their own, and may receive bad advice.

“Veterinarians should be making these recommendations, not all these other people,” said Valerie Fenstermaker, executive director of the Veterinary Medical Association. “Some veterinarians have expressed that they receive questions daily about this.”

Pamela Lopez said she received a recommendation of Xanax, a tranquilizer, for her dog Bobby’s anxiety. “That’s pretty heavy stuff,” said Lopez, who works for a Sacramento lobbying firm that represents VETCBD, a cannabis-based pet medicine company.

Lopez said she decided to give Bobby the alternative medicine that contains CBD or cannabidiol, a cannabis compound known for its healing properties. It is different than THC, the compound that produces the psychoactive reaction from cannabis. Animals are typically given CBD through an oil.

After a month and a half of treatment with the medicine, Bobby’s condition has improved, she said.

Tim Shu, a veterinarian and the founder of VETCBD, said interest is high in alternative medicine. “The fact is, the cat is out of the bag on this,” he told the Veterinary Medical Board on Wednesday. “Clients want to be able to discuss this with their veterinarians.”