When pets develop cancerous tumors that eventually metastasize to other organs, veterinarians often prescribe tramadol for pain and a prognosis of a few months to live. But more pet owners complain that tramadol makes their pet sleep all the time and lethargic. Such was the case with Denise’s 12-year-old Labrador Retriever-mix, Miles, who suffered from a splenic tumor which metastasized to his liver and lungs. Denise didn’t like the affect tramadol caused in Miles. That was until Denise’s friend suggested she try a tincture made of marijuana sold from a medical marijuana dispensary as a pet medicine. Mile’s appetite returned and he stopped vomiting within an hour after being given the tincture and Denise believes this is not a coincidence. She also believes that if Miles was on the tramadol, he would be sleeping in bed, not eating or possible dead instead of running on the beach and being himself which he is now doing.
Miles had terminal cancer and would die soon, was the reasoning Denis turned to when she felt hesitant about giving Miles an unapproved drug. She further reasoned by saying people don’t overdose on marijuana and is used on humans suffering pain and nausea from cancer and cancer treatment. Denise never would have considered giving Miles marijuana had the tramadol worked and now she is a “true believer” in the therapeutic effects of marijuana and will recommend it to other who have pets suffering some aliments that would benefit. It is a matter of better quality of life for your pet, not getting your pet high.
Federal prohibition on medical marijuana has been a battle of contention since 1996 when a referendum, approved in California, allowing legal personal growing, possession and use of marijuana for patients who have a doctor’s recommendation. Since that time, 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws with Colorado and Washington state legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2012. The federal government, however, isn’t on the same page. Federal law prohibits the use of marijuana in all forms and breaking that law leads one to face serious legal consequences. This includes the states where medical marijuana is legal. But public attitude is changing, showing that for the first time in 40 years, 52% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana while 77% said marijuana has legitimate medical uses. Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration believes that marijuana is not safe nor effective for treating any human or animal disease. Since 1970, marijuana has been classified as a schedule I drug meaning that the federal Controlled Substances Act believes marijuana has no current acceptable medical use and has a high potential for abuse like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy which are also schedule I drugs, while cocaine, methamphetamine, and morphine are schedule II drugs. There are 60+ cannabinoids unique to marijuana and although it is not approved for any medical use, cannabinoid-based drugs such as Nabilone, used as an ant emetic and adjunct analgesic for neuropathic pain, as well as treatment of anorexia and weight loss in AIDS patients, are available in the United States by prescription. Because regulations are so high for clinical research on schedule I drugs, many physicians and health care organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and National Association for Public Health Policy are asking to reschedule marijuana so more research can be done that could create new cannabinoid-based medications.
An increasing number of pet owners are telling their veterinarians about having experimented with or given medical marijuana to their pets. Some veterinarians have had their own personal pets fall victim to illnesses that, after exhausting ever avenue of legal, conventional treatment, including steroids, only medical marijuana could relieve. They believe there is strong evidence to support the use of medical marijuana in veterinary patients as an adjunct treatment or alternative treatment for chronic pain, post-operative pain and palliative care. Veterinarians support the AMA’s position and believe that marijuana needs further investigation to determine if case reports are true or whether there is a placebo effect taking place and what are the risks involved. But pet owners are not waiting for science and are feeding marijuana to their pets to treat behavior-based disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, pain management, nausea, and appetite stimulate while cannabis oil is used topically to treat tumors. It is illegal for a veterinarian to recommend the schedule I drug to patience even in states where medical marijuana is sanctioned and physicians are exempt from prosecution by the state.
Although many veterinarians sympathize, they are hesitant to consider marijuana as a potential veterinary drug. For most veterinarians, the only experience they have had with pets and marijuana is treating the pet for ingesting toxic amounts of the drug. It is clear that pet owners are giving their companions marijuana with both good and bad effects. But the veterinary community does not want to address and talk about an area with real and potential impact on animal welfare. The predominant view is that marijuana is only a toxic plant. Veterinarians should not discount marijuana’s potential as an animal therapy just because it is a controlled substance or a plant as the same can be said about morphine, however, morphine’s pharmacological effects on humans and animals have been thoroughly researched and studied; medical marijuana has not, therefore, putting an animal at risk when giving it to them as a drug. Do not assume that marijuana affects animals and humans in the same way nor should the assumptions be made that since marijuana is a natural substance it isn’t harmful. Those in the veterinary profession can no longer sit ideally by as the rest of the country makes decisions on medical marijuana. There should be a well-designed controlled clinical trial on the use of medical marijuana as a pain killer in animals suffering from cancer as it affects both pets and people.
Cannabis is now a part of the fabric that makes up our society but the in the heated battle between the federal government keeping it a schedule I drug and the public’s desire to make it legal both medicinally and recreationally, it is bound to cause casualties. Is it a price you are willing to pay with your pet?