It remains unsafe to treat pets with marijuana. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post)

Pot for pets? It’s “untried, unproven, unregulated,” says top veterinarian

By John Davidson, The Cannabist

As the subject of medical-marijuana treatment for pets is bandied about in the veterinary community, Dr. Robin Downing comes down squarely on the side of orthodoxy. She agrees with the American Veterinary Medical Association that studies are needed before pot therapy is practiced.

And Downing, a Windsor veterinarian who is one of the top animal pain-management specialists in the country, isn’t afraid to swim against the tide of veterinary dogma. She has little patience for vets who settle for euthanasia and don’t go the limit for animals. But where pot is concerned, she goes with the conventional flow.

“There’s more we don’t know about this therapy than we do know,” she explained recently.

“Marijuana therapy for animals is untried, unproven, unregulated medicine,” Downing says. “Any time you use untested therapy, there are increased risks … We have good (pain) tools already.”

Downing says she doesn’t rule out eventual use of pot therapy, but she sees too many troubling knowledge gaps to support it today.

“We know dogs and cats have cannabinoid receptors,” she says. So there is a scientific basis for supposing that marijuana can play a medicinal role for them. “But we don’t really know at this time how we get to this receptor in pets. We have no knowledge of how pot metabolizes in them; how many milligrams of pot we need to treat them; what form we should administer it in; and how long it stays in the body. Are we going to create new problems to solve?”

Downing says that liability is another issue that her colleagues need to take seriously. While physicians in states where medical marijuana is sanctioned are legally allowed to recommend the drug, that’s not true of veterinarians.

Still, some vets — Downing puts it at “a handful” — have come down in favor of using marijuana medicinally as an alternative to watching animals wasting away in pain. It’s hard to pin down just how many.

Prominent among them was the late Los Angeles veterinarian Doug Kramer, who died of cancer in August. Kramer developed a special tincture called Canine Companion, made with marijuana for dogs and cats, designed to treat pain, inflammation and end-of-life health issues. Kramer himself said research on pot therapy was still needed.

Another supporter is Darlene Arden, a certified animal-behavior consultant as well as a noted author lecturer and journalist.

“The AVMA hasn’t endorsed it, saying it needs to be studied. But why should animals suffer in the meantime?”

One thing appears likely: The wait for research could be a long one.

Leaders at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences at Colorado State University say such research is not being contemplated at CSU, one of the top veterinary schools in the country. And they didn’t know of any veterinary school in the country doing it.

Downing said that the veterinary association, though calling for studies, is not likely to do them because its role is making policy, not research.

Meanwhile, Duncan Lascelles, a professor of surgery and pain management at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, told the website Mother Nature Network that such research could take a decade to ensure that marijuana-based animal drugs would be effective and free of side effects.