Medical pot legalized for pets in California

Countless thousands of California’s good pooches and cute kitties will experience fewer seizures and less arthritis pain and anxiety thanks to a new law signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 18.

The newly enacted Assembly Bill 1885 allows veterinarians to “recommend” medicinal cannabis products for their furry patients. Previously, veterinarians could only “discuss” such products with their patients’ owners, prompting many veterinarians to avoid the topic rather than risk losing their license.

“This is a huge shift,” said Tim Shu, President of the Pet Cannabis Coalition, a Los Angeles-based DVM and Founder/CEO of VetCBD. “This is the first calculation of this kind worldwide. My goal is for other states and countries to see this as a framework.”

The new law, sponsored by San Jose, California Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D), had the support of the state’s Veterinary Medical Committee and passed unanimously by both houses of the California Legislature. “It was just incredible,” said Dr. Shu.

The bill had no organized opposition. A small recent brand, Lovingly & Legally, had safety concerns.

Nobody talks about hotboxing your cat

This law does not mean you can or should give your dog grass chocolate or give your cat hotboxes. The key is to empower veterinary professionals to lead the care of sick animals. Right now, desperate pet owners are turning to internet forums or do-it-yourself pet dosing.

“We want owners to have guidance,” said Dr. Shu. “Traditionally, vets have said, ‘Sorry, I can’t talk to you about that.’ This bill closes that gap. Go to a vet and get that referral.”

Rep. Kalra stated, “While current law allows veterinarians to discuss the use of cannabis products on animals, it does not allow them to recommend it for their own animal patients. This is a serious legal oversight, as veterinary recommendations help pet owners make safer and more responsible decisions when considering giving their animals therapeutic substances.

“AB 1885 will ensure pet owners receive proper guidance when providing their pets with the benefits of safe, regulated therapeutic cannabis.”

Rep. Ash Kalra (D-San Jose)

“In short, AB 1885 will ensure that pet owners receive proper guidance when providing their pets with the benefits of safe, regulated therapeutic cannabis.”

The Veterinary Medical Board (Board) stated in support, “By enabling veterinarians to recommend animal-based cannabis products for potential therapeutic uses, AB 1885 provides pet owners with a safer environment to make informed decisions about their pets.”

MMJ is used for pet seizures and pain

Veterinarians have “discussed” the use of cannabidiol (CBD), as well as low doses of THC, to relieve seizures, ease arthritis pain, relieve anxiety, and stimulate appetite in pets with cancer. If these sound like common human uses for medicinal cannabis, that’s because they are. All vertebrates have an endocannabinoid system that responds to the active ingredients in the pot. Animals have different tolerances and contraindications than humans, but the science is solid.

“We’ve seen that cannabinoids, most notably CBD, drastically reduce the number of seizures a pet has, and in some cases eliminate them entirely,” Shu said. “Dogs on CBD show less pain and inflammation or less itching.”

“Every year we see more and more veterinarians saying, ‘I’ve seen it be so effective on my patients with arthritis or anxiety.”

No FDA approval for cannabis for pets yet

About 70% of American households have pets. In many cases they have become substitutes for spouses or children. In Los Angeles, people push dogs in strollers and walk cats, Shu said.

Just as with humans, marijuana’s federally illegal Schedule 1 status blocks basic research into drug efficacy. Veterinarians are using expensive, dangerous drugs in conditions that could be managed cheaply and safely with cannabinoids.

Raw cannabis is too cheap and difficult to patent for pharmaceutical companies to exploit. “There are no cannabis-derived products approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in animals,” state records state.

According to the state veterinary service, “the panel wishes that funds could be raised for cannabis research on animals.”


5 things you should know before using medicinal cannabis on your pets

It’s not just about CBD

The legalization of hemp has stimulated CBD research for pets, but Shu said THC is important, too. Cannabinoids may be more potent and less toxic than many NSAIDs.

“THC got bad packaging. … Too much THC can have negative side effects, but THC has medicinal benefits of its own. A big one is THC and inflammation,” he said. “Sometimes we will see that pets do better with an increased amount of THC.”

But you need to find the right dosage or THC can cause anxiety. All the more reason to bring in a licensed veterinarian, now protected by state law.

According to a Senate soil analysis, “THC, in particular, is considered toxic to pets and can cause hyperactivity, excessive drooling, vomiting, gastrointestinal upset, urinary incontinence, seizures, disorientation, and impaired balance. Additionally, many edible cannabis products may contain additives that are dangerous to cats and dogs, such as chocolate and xylitol.”


What Vets Really Think About Pot And Pets

Animal rights for medical cannabis follow humans

The path of reform follows that laid out for the people. In 1996, Californians legalized medicinal cannabis, but doctors feared their license would be revoked for recommending a plant on par with street heroin. A court case upheld doctors’ right to “recommend” cannabis; although they cannot “dictate” it.

“Vets are just a little more hesitant than their human counterparts and a little more fearful. We’ve seen that change,” Shu said.

A world of applications across the animal kingdom awaits in the 21st century. dr Shu knows the use of cannabinoids in horses, pigs, ferrets, rabbits, rats and birds.

The bill provides for the Veterinary Committee to adopt and publish recommendation guidelines by January 1, 2024.

Fully tested, government-approved medical cannabis pet products will hit dispensaries no later than July 1, 2025, according to new Department of Cannabis Control regulations.

David Downs News Senior Editor David Downs is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, covering cannabis products and policies since 2009. Downs was the first cannabis editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he founded Downs is the co-author of the best-selling Marijuana Harvest (2017) by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. His current monthly columns include Leafly Buzz (focusing on West Coast floral news) and Leafly HighLight (featuring profiles of a top 200 US strain). He lives and grows in San Francisco, California.

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