Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Can marijuana help dogs enjoy holiday fireworks?

FourthThe somewhat silly question in the title of this post is prompted by this not-so-silly new NPR article headlined "Some Marijuana-Derived Treatments Aim To Soothe Skittish Pets." As a pet owner with a dog who really dislikes fireworks, I could not resist blogging about what some folks think could be a Fourth of July tonic for freaked out Fidos.  Here is an excerpt from the lengthy article:

Along with picnics and barbecues, the Fourth of July brings a less pleasant yearly ritual for many dog lovers: worrying about a family pooch who panics at the sound of firecrackers.

Betsy and Andy Firebaugh of Santa Cruz, Calif., have reason for concern. They live on a mountain ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean — a usually peaceful scene, except at this time of year, when people illegally set off firecrackers at local beaches. The explosive booms send their otherwise happy Australian shepherd — Seamus — into a frenzy....

But to quell the dog's nerves this year, they say, they may try something new: giving him a squirt of an extract of marijuana that's mostly cannabidiol (CBD), a component of the cannabis plant that, unlike a better-known component, THC, doesn't induce a high. CBD has drawn a lot of attention in recent years from neurologists and other researchers intrigued by hints that the chemical might prove helpful to people; there's been preliminary study of possible benefits in reducing chronic pain, anxiety and seizures in humans, for example. So it's probably no surprise that some folks are interested in CBD's therapeutic potential for Fido or Fluffy, too.

Betsy initially got a prescription for medical marijuana to help with her own joint pain. While at the medical marijuana dispensary, she also picked up a vial of CBD oil designed for pets, on the advice of the manager. The supplement has already yielded good results in their other dog, Angus — a sweet blue merle Aussie who was abused as a puppy by previous owners, and still sometimes "becomes Frankendog" around canine strangers, Betsy says. Occasional doses of the cannabis extract in high-stress situations, she says, help to mellow him out.

The Firebaughs aren't the only ones exploring marijuana-based therapies for man's best friend. A growing number of firms are marketing CBD for noise anxiety and other ailments in companion animals. Denver-based Therabis specifically advertises one of its hemp-derived CBD supplements as an aid to help dogs get through the Fourth of July. And the Los Angeles-based makers of VetCBD oil say that early July, along with New Year's Eve, is one of their busiest sales periods. Animal shelters tend to see an increased influx of runaway pets around the two holidays — because of fireworks, notes VetCBD's founder Tim Shu, who is also a veterinarian.

Still, cannabis therapies for pets fall into a legal gray zone. While numerous states, including California, have legalized medical marijuana and/or recreational pot for people, cannabis remains federally illegal, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently clarified that it considers CBD extracts unlawful too. None of the cannabis-derived products for pets are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and state licensing agencies, such as the California Veterinary Medical Board, don't allow veterinarians to prescribe them.

Shu says marijuana has long had a bad reputation in the veterinary community, which has seen many ER cases of dogs suffering toxic effects from gobbling down their owners' marijuana stash or edibles. Large doses of THC, the chemical that produces pot's intoxicating effects, can cause wobbliness, disorientation, vomiting and loss of bladder control in canines.

But the premise of companies selling cannabis-derived products for pets is that non-psychoactive CBD, in combination with a small amount of THC, can be beneficial. For instance, Shu's VetCBD oil contains a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC, a formulation he says he developed in a quest to aid his own elderly dog, Tye, a mixed pit bull breed. Tye has arthritic pain and fireworks anxiety, the veterinarian says, but can't handle the side effects of standard veterinary medications.

By experimenting with Tye and other patients in his practice, Shu came up with his cannabidiol concoction — which is extracted from organic cannabis flowers — and a variety of specific dosages for pets of different sizes. Tye's mobility has since improved, Shu says, and "I can actually walk her outside during Fourth of July fireworks. For a lot of owners, it's a night-and-day difference."

Such anecdotes may sound compelling, but some other vets say they'd like to see scientific evidence. Brennen McKenzie, a veterinarian in Los Altos, Calif., writes the SkeptVet blog and is on the board of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association. In regards to CBD, McKenzie says, "we have virtually no research in pets, so we are guessing and extrapolating."

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2017/07/can-marijuana-help-dogs-enjoy-holiday-fireworks.html

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