Treating canine pain with medical cannabis

Will legalization clear the air for pet use?


Mu, a labradoodle who takes hemp-derived CBD oil for pain and inflammation

When I first met Ralph, I was amazed by his friendly demeanour and composure. Still, there was something about him that intrigued me. In getting to know Ralph, I learned that he suffered from arthritis, inflammation and mobility issues.

Ralph has a chronic condition that had previously been treated with the usual pharmaceutical cocktail of painkillers and adjuvant therapies, most of them ineffective and riddled with side effects. I learned that the shine of his wet nose, the perkiness of his furry ears and the slobbery pants of excitement were due to his use of medical cannabis. Ralph is a fourteen-year-old black lab whose owner had opted to treat him with cannabis-derived, non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) oil. Ralph obtained better symptom management with fewer side effects through the use of medical cannabis rather than traditional pharmaceutical options.

Like Ralph’s mom, pet owners throughout the city are turning to both hemp- and cannabis-derived CBD oils to help ease the health symptoms of their loved ones. 

Currently, medical cannabis access is restricted to human use. The College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO) has issued statements on their website saying that “Veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe medical marijuana to their patients.” 

One Toronto-based physician and cannabinoid therapy expert, who asked to remain anonymous, uses cannabis-derived CBD oil to treat his or her pet’s seizure disorder. Bukki, a nine-year-old Yorkie has had a significant reduction in seizures since beginning his cannabis treatment three months ago.

Those wary of the potential legal repercussions of diverting cannabis oil prescribed to human patients are choosing hemp-based CBD products instead. 

Erin, the proud owner of Mu, an eight-year-old labradoodle, used a hemp-derived CBD oil for her pooch to treat associated pain and inflammation resulting from a hip dislocation. 

“His rehab therapist was really happy with his quick recovery, which took just three weeks,” says Erin, who has gained knowledge about the therapeutic benefits of CBD oil through her interaction with human patients who have legally been prescribed medical cannabis. 

However, according to one Toronto veterinarian specializing in holistic medicine, hemp-based products are less effective and require much higher dosing than cannabis-based ones to manage symptoms. This increase in dosage, which is sometimes 10 times the recommended dosage, results in additional financial burdens for pet parents. 

“CBD cannabis sativa treatment plans work better” says Dr. Nancy (a pseudonym), a seasoned veterinarian looking to help her clients and animal patients use cannabis in a safe and effective manner. 
Although Dr. Nancy is not currently prescribing cannabis-derived CBD oil for her patients, she does report that those who procure the medicine themselves see much better results when it comes to pain management, epilepsy and various forms of anxiety. 

“The use of medical marijuana isn’t going to go away. I want to help my patients in a safe and effective way, with minimal risk,” says Dr. Nancy. She currently directs her patients toward hemp-derived CBD oil obtained through Hemp & Bone, a Vancouver company specializing in these products, but states that she would prefer to administer cannabis-derived CBD oil instead. 

Although the CVO explicitly prohibits veterinarians from prescribing medical marijuana for their patients, their website also states that veterinarians are “not prohibited from prescribing cannabidiol (CBD) oil or capsules, and hemp (e.g., hemp oil, hemp seed oil).” 

Based on the language on the college’s site, making a distinction between the two types of oil suggests that veterinarians may in fact be licensed to prescribe both cannabis-derived CBD oil and hemp-derived product. 

According to Dr. Nancy, the college has not issued any more formal statements allowing veterinarians to prescribe cannabis. Still, she is hopeful that this will soon change. However, the issue of supply would remain. To date, there is no record of any of the Health Canada licensed producers of medical cannabis supplying CBD oil for the purposes of treating animals. It is not clear whether the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) would be able to include a provision specific to veterinarians. 

It is possible that upcoming legalization of recreational pot will help clear the air for the CVO and help increase access to cannabis-derived CBD oil for pets, as well as improve veterinarians’ knowledge of safe and effective dosing guidelines. 

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Ljubica Kostovic is a cannabis advocate and the director of communications and research at a medical cannabis education service.

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