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Why Your Vet Isn’t Talking to You About Cannabis

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In just a few short years, Cannabis has gone from that thing college kids spent too much time thinking about, to the mainstream belle of the ball. Powered by an interest in natural medicine, a distrust of traditional pharmaceuticals, and some strong word-of-mouth talk of results, everyone from your neighbor to your buttoned-up grandmother is comfortable talking about CBD oil and what it can do for your health. Naturally, the topic also extends to our loyal furry family members.

I get asked about Cannabis more than almost anything else: does it work, what should I use, where’s a good place to start. And like most other veterinarians I know, we have very little guidance to offer. Trust me, we are just as frustrated as you are. There is nothing I want more than to be able to provide the best, safest information for pet owners about this or any other medical concern. There’s just one problem: the law may or may not forbid it.

It’s not that we aren’t talking about Cannabis and learning: every continuing education conference I’ve been to has multiple lectures about Cannabis use in pets and how to do it safely. Those lecture halls are packed. The second we’re legally allowed to discuss it, we’re ready.

THC vs CBD

Without going too far down the chemical rabbit hole, most of the legal wrangling and debate comes down to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the hallucinogenic component of the Cannabis plant. This is concentrated in the flowering buds, leaves, and resin. Other parts of the plant are much lower in THC but still contain cannabidiol oil (CBD), which provides the purported medicinal benefits without the psychoactive ones. CBD oil products are not intended, nor should they be, to get a pet “high.”

“Controlled” substances are those drugs with a potential for abuse. Those are controlled on a federal level by the DEA, and those regulations supersede any state law.

0.3 is the magic number to be classified as controlled. If the plant parts used in a product contain less than 0.3% THC, it’s considered industrial hemp. The DEA doesn’t care about industrial hemp. This is where most CBD oils marketed to pets are derived from.

Anything over 0.3% THC is classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the DEA, and we aren’t allowed to possess, administer, dispense, describe, or discuss it under risk of prosecution.

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The Legal Ramifications

The next question seems obvious: if the DEA doesn’t care about industrial hemp and that’s where most veterinary CBD products come from, what’s the problem?

Confusion, mostly.

  1. While the DEA doesn’t care about industrial hemp products, they still fall under federal regulation- ie, the FDA.
  2. CBD oils are not FDA approved for use in pets, and while their official positioning is still under review the current rule is “not legal for vets to prescribe.
  3. Veterinarians are also subject to state regulations, which are just as confusing and perhaps directly contradictory to federal ones.

Just last year, California became the first state to pass a law expressly allowing veterinarians to talk about Cannabis with pet owners. Not sell it, not distribute it, just answer the question “do you think CBD oil is worth a try in my dog with cancer?” In 49 other states, vets aren’t even sure they can legally answer that question, nevermind recommend anything.

No one really knows what could happen when a veterinarian does something as simple as help guide a client through safely choosing a product without actually selling it him/herself. A few brave souls are out there testing the waters, but most of us are waiting for the legal OK.

So Now What?

The law will eventually catch up with reality. As a consumer, you can advocate for your pet by calling your state representatives and encouraging them to pass a law similar to California AB-2215. In the meantime, please be patient with us as we do our best to advocate for your pet within the constraints of the law.

As you can imagine, non-veterinarians without the worry of DEA prosecutors hanging over their heads and livelihoods are saying and doing all sorts of things about CBD. Some of them have your pet’s best interest in mind, while others are looking out for their pocketbooks. Like all supplements, some manufacturers take quality control much more seriously than others. Published research is scarce, but people are working on getting factual, science-based information out there.

As a pet advocate, I sometimes have to get creative when it comes to getting the word out there about pet health. There are some really science-minded, ethical veterinary professionals who have great information. In fact, they’re the ones teaching us at veterinary conferences. In my accompanying infographic, I’m sharing the same great information and resources that veterinarians are hearing at conferences.


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