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Do You Think Medical Marijuana Should Be Legalized for Dogs?

Cannabis relieves pain and suffering in dogs, but most vets want nothing to do with it. What do you think?

 |  Feb 25th 2013  |   221 Contributions


Christine L. of Nevada misses her Rottweiler, Sampson, who passed away on November 20, 2012 of a rare form of blood cancer. "In 2010, between the vomiting and diarrhea, he was losing two pounds a day," she recalls. Unable to afford chemotherapy, she felt helpless watching her best friend waste away to 64 pounds, less than three quarters of his fighting weight.

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Sampson the Rottweiler, poster dog for medical marijuana's healing power.

Then Christine stumbled upon a controversial homemade herbal remedy that she credits with enormously improving her dog's quality of life. She's grateful that, in his final year, Sampson weighed in at a robust 106 pounds and lived free of the wracking pain that had haunted him. Whereas before Sampson had been too weak to walk, almost overnight he became a born-again youngster. "He was a puppy again, happy and playful," Christine recalls. "He'd trot around the house with his toys in his mouth, wanting to play fetch!"

The name of the controversial herbal remedy Sampson took? Cannabis. 

Inspired by reports of medical marijuana helping human cancer patients, Christine started digging online. The search terms? "How to administer cannabis to a dog." Christine -- who, for the record, is not a recreational cannabis user -- was initially concerned about giving it to her dog because of the bad press she'd heard about the plant. But after giving Sampson cannabis flower-bud material mixed with virgin coconut oil (which the Rotti lapped up gladly), she noticed a huge difference in the dog's attitude almost immediately.

"Cannabis saved my dog's life," she says. "It brought him back from the brink."

Since Sampson's passing, Christine consoles herself by reaching out to others in a similar situation. Online, she found Dr. Doug Kramer, whose mission is to improve pets' quality of life by outlining safe and effective dosing guidelines. A conservative, clean-cut Californian, Kramer doesn't use marijuana himself for recreational or medicinal purposes. His goal, he says, is "to provide palliative care and prevent accidental overdoses resulting from owners' well-meaning attempts to relieve their pets' pain and suffering."

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Dr. Doug Kramer administers medical marijuana to Mason the Vizsla, who has late-stage cancer

Kramer's inspiration is Nikita, his beloved Husky, who died following a long battle with cancer. After studying the latest research on cannabis, he was moved to develop a homemade tincture and saw firsthand how it restored Nikita's appetite and allowed her to enjoy her final months to the fullest.

After Nikita's death, Kramer resolved to safely harness medical marijuana, aka MM or MMJ, to benefit other animals with incurable and terminal diseases. He's become an outspoken, tireless advocate of pain control for animals and has established a veterinary practice, Enlightened Veterinary Therapeutics, specializing in palliative and hospice care. He's the first vet in the country to offer cannabis consultations as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for pet patients.

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After receiving his dose of medical marijuana, Mason looks very relaxed

In doing so, Kramer is putting his professional reputation on the line and risking jail time. Veterinarians cannot prescribe MM for patients; it is illegal because cannabis is defined as a Schedule I drug by the FDA.

“The decision was an easy one for me to make," he says. "I refuse to condemn my patients to a miserable existence for self preservation or concerns about what may or may not happen to me as a consequence of my actions. My freedom of speech is clearly protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. This is an issue of animal welfare, plain and simple. Remaining silent would represent a clear violation of the veterinarian’s oath I took when I was admitted into this profession."

With enough support from the general public and medical communities, the legality of cannabis could change. Yet despite mounting scientific evidence proving the herb's potent pain-relieving property -- plus increasing anecdotal evidence from dog owners who've experimented with MM successfully -- the veterinary mainstream wants cannabis weeded out, citing the risks of overdose and carcinogenic secondhand smoke.

As Ohio vet Neal J. Sivula explains, "I am very frustrated by veterinarians' seeming lack of interest in exploring this potentially very useful plant, Dr. Kramer being the exception. I am gathering that most veterinarians have not followed the changes in genetic strains of MM. Most think of MM only in terms of what might be purchased for illicit use and haven't done their research to know that strains have been developed with an eye toward pain control, nausea relief, and appetite stimulation with minimal reported side effects [in people]."

Although it's understandable why vets frown on sharing pot with pets for recreational purposes, when marijuana is administered orally via a tincture, in precise dosages prescribed by a vet with the goal of relieving unbearable pain, the smoke risk is eliminated, and the herb appears to do much more good than harm. Plus, cannabis doesn't adversely impact the liver, as many medications do. That's why, for every vet who opposes cannabis, there's another open to giving it a try -- once it's legalized. 

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Cannabis, the controversial plant with potent pain-relieving powers. Image by Shutterstock

Dr. Sue Boynton of Santa Rosa, CA, hopes that -- like numerous other treatments used to help human patients, from homeopathy to hyperbaric oxygen therapy -- MM may soon be legally harnessed as a treatment option for pets.

"I see an awful lot of animals with cancer, and I treat them with conventional chemo," Boynton says. "I'm all about diagnostics -- ultrasound, radiology, blood work. I use it all to see what's going on with my patients. But then I like to add in other modalities, like Chinese herbs and homeopathy, because I think alternative medicine has a lot to offer. Why is cannabis not an option for pets, when it's so widespread as an option in the human world?"

Dr. Sivula recalls a dog patient with chronic arthritis who was being medicated by the owner when all other traditional pain medications had failed. MM was helpful in relieving the dog's discomfort. 

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Nikita the Husky, inspiration behind Enlightened Veterinary Therapeutics. Photo courtesy of Dr. Doug Kramer

"Clients have asked about it for years, but the interest has grown since MM has been legalized in various states," Sivula says. "As veterinarians, the only discussion we have around MM is regarding toxic doses; because of the Schedule I problem, we don't even have any good research in animals to show if it can be used safely. The bottom line is that we absolutely need the DEA to reclassify MM so that it can be studied." 

What do you think? Should medical marijuana be legalized for dogs? Would you use it on your dog? Let us know in the comments! 

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