PERSPECTIVES: Cannabis for pets? Part 3 of 3. The veterinarian’s perspective…

Since the first medical cannabis laws were passed in California over 20 years ago, the body of scientific knowledge in the field of human cannabinoid treatment and research has grown exponentially. Since that time, and especially in recent years, many US states have passed some type of pro cannabis legislation. As medicinal cannabis has become progressively more mainstream and accepted, more and more pet owners are curious about the possibility of medicinal cannabis for their pets. Veterinarians in practice are increasingly questioned by their clients on this subject, in some cases, daily.
How should veterinarians respond to these questions? What are the legal, ethical and moral obligations involved? What if they don’t know the first thing about cannabis, other than how to treat for toxicity? Currently, the notion of cannabinoid medicine for veterinary patients is just beginning to take hold. There are no classes in this subject being taught in veterinary schools and there has been a serious lack of scientific data to support it. Practitioners are understandably concerned about the conundrum in which they find themselves.
Veterinarians understand that regardless of these issues, many of their clients are using cannabis in their pets anyway. It can be difficult to discount the volumes of anecdotal evidence and ‘word of mouth’ success stories that many clients are exposed to.
First, from the legal standpoint, veterinarians are prohibited from recommending, prescribing, dispensing or administering cannabis products due to the schedule 1 status imposed by the DEA. Also, state veterinary medical boards have varying positions on the subject, so it behooves the practitioner to check with their local regulatory body regarding specific regulations. Due to the recent passing of AB2215 in California, starting in 2019, veterinarians will be able to discuss the subject without fear of reprisal from the state’s medical board, but there are still regulations that need to be adhered to. Many hope that other states will follow California’s lead on this issue.
Second, from an ethical standpoint, if clients need medical advice on potential treatment for their pets, do veterinarians have an obligation to at least have the discussion? Is turning a blind eye to the matter in the patients’ best interest? Could the potential for harm be increased if the only guidance pet owners are receiving are from individuals outside of veterinary practice without medical knowledge? Many veterinarians are realizing that, to fulfill their oath, the answer to these questions must be NO.
Third, from a professional standpoint, education is imperative. Veterinarians need to at least learn the physiology involved in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the basics of cannabinoid medicine to best advise their clients when these questions arise. There are resources in which to gain such knowledge. Medical doctors have various CE courses available in this subject and veterinarians can participate in this coursework to gain basic background knowledge on the ECS. Veterinary specific information is harder to come by, but there are a growing number of outlets available and this past year we have seen the first studies published in coordination with veterinary institutions, with more on the way. Other resources include; the AVMA, state and local veterinary medical boards, private social media groups of practitioners dedicated to sharing information on this subject, cannabis knowledgeable veterinarians and even smaller lectures and CE events dedicated to the subject.
As the field of cannabinoid medicine continues to advance, the veterinary profession needs to be actively involved with it. It is in the best interest of our patients if ALL the available therapeutic options can be evaluated, tested and utilized.

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