(WASHINGTON) — With several states deregulating marijuana in the past year, a California veterinarian is sparking debate over whether it could be used to help America’s sick pets.
Doug Kramer, the pet doctor behind the Vet Guru animal veterinary center, tells a compelling story of how his dog, Nikita, used a THC treatment to “increase her quality of life” while she suffered from untreatable cancer.
“She had gone through all of the traditional pain medications, even steroids. When it became clear that she was nearing the end, that’s when she had nothing to lose, as long as it didn’t hurt her,” the vet told Vice Magazine. “At the first dosage, she was up and around.”
Kramer sells a guide on his website that instructs readers how to create an herbal extract in their own home, though for legal reasons he has removed all references to medicinal marijuana in his book. He thinks treating pets with medicinal marijuana could help owners to put off putting their ill pets down without the guilt of knowing they are in pain.
A poll released earlier this month showed more than 50 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, though the poll did not specify whether it was intended for human or animal consumption.
On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, making his state the 19th – plus the District of Columbia – to do so. A business less than three miles away from the White House called Capital City Care announced last week that it was the first licensed dispensary to open its doors in D.C.
If the push for pot for pets grows, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals could get on board with the movement, according to PETA president Ingrid Newkirk.
“Our position is that anything that can help animals – if it’s truly, properly administered in the right amount [and] can relieve a dog’s pain – then they should be given the same consideration that humans in pain are given,” Newkirk told ABC News on Friday.
But no one’s suggesting you take Coco to your next clam bake.
Newkirk stressed that there is a high potential for abuse when pets and marijuana are brought together.
“People amuse themselves by blowing smoke in a dog’s face to get him high or getting the cat drunk, and so, you know, that’s something that one has to guard against,” she said. “It has to be a genuine medical need, and if that is the best course of treatment then we are in favor of it.”
Though the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of marijuana for any purpose, there is a synthetic form of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana called dronabinol or Marinol that is FDA approved. At least two veterinary textbooks provide recommendations for treating pets with dronabinol.
Lynne White-Shim, assistant director with the division of scientific activities of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said legalizing medicinal marijuana use for pets is a “brand new” idea for her organization – so new that it does not have a policy on the issue.
But the group advises vets to take into account “sound clinical judgment” and describes how to stay “in compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations” when treating an animal.
She stressed that is important to conduct research into the effects such a drug would have on animals before going forward with treatment, because not all drugs affect humans and their furry friends in the same way.
Some medications, like opioids, are used in animals even though they are only labeled for use in humans, White-Shim said.
“Even in those scenarios, we believe veterinarians must use them according to their best judgment,” she added.
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