Unless you asked your vet about cannabis-based treatments for any number of pet health problems yourself, you may not have known that until recently veterinary professionals were prohibited by law from discussing these natural treatments.
This could easily be a surprise to many people because physicians have been doing this with patients for years, and the education it’s afforded people about the benefits of cannabis has contributed heavily to the trend of pet owners choosing similar treatments for their pets. However, because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule-1 Controlled Drug federally, veterinarians had been forced to stick to the stance of not discussing possible medical uses of the drug for your dog. Until recently, that is.
Late in 2018, AB 2215 was approved in California and went into effect officially as of January 1, 2019. The bill, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, became the first to allow vets to discuss cannabis-based medicines and treatments with pet owners. However, it won’t be until 2020 when veterinarians are actually allowed to dispense those cannabis-based medicines, including CBD.
The new law in California obviously sets a precedence in the pet care industry, in which businesses like California-based Innovet create everything from CBD oils to CBD capsules and even hemp-based treats. Well over half U.S. households have a pet and according to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $62.75 billion in 2016, a four percent growth over the previous year. By the end of 2018 that annual number was expected to grow another $10 billion, showing that we continue to spend more and more money to ensure our pets’ health. The access to reliable and trustworthy information from vets obviously couldn't be more valuable.
“We’re extremely excited for the passage of AB 2215, as this law will be able to give pet owners an opportunity to get more information on the usage of cannabis for pets,” says David Louvet, co-founder of Innovet. “Education is the foundation for understanding what cannabis can or cannot help with.”
While California vets are now able to have these discussions with their clients, pet owners can now look to states like Colorado and Washington (where recreational use of marijuana is permitted) to see if similar laws will be passed.
“It’s what’s best for animals, it’s what’s best for clients and certainly, it’s what’s best for the veterinarians, because they’re the professionals,” said Valerie Fenstermaker, executive director of the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), who spoke before the state Senate vote in August in support of the bill. “We have dispensaries selling these products and nobody...outside of a veterinary professional should be giving advice about using these products in animals.”
Seeking natural, holistic, or otherwise referred to as “alternative” health treatments for pets is a growing trend among pet owners in the same way people are turning to natural treatments over prescribed methods for themselves. However, while the awareness of cannabis’ benefits in the medical field has sparked much of this trend, it’s important for pet owners to recognize a few distinctions. Cannabis, marijuana, and hemp are words that are often used interchangeably, and when it comes to our pets it’s actually very important to note the differences because marijuana can be life-threatening to animals, especially our dogs if ingested at high enough levels. Meanwhile, cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in hemp that appears more frequently than THC in dietary and natural supplements and is considered safe for dogs. Both Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD interact with the cannabinoid receptors found in the body and brain of both humans and dogs, but each has dramatically different effects. Our body of research is constantly being added to, but cannabis is most often used in the medical field to treat a laundry list of symptoms, including pain, epilepsy, anxiety, and even depression, among many others, while research suggests CBD may be best for inflammation and neuropathic pain. The most noticeable difference between CBD and THC, however, is that patients are more likely to experience the relief of unwanted discomfort with little or often no impacts on their cognitive abilities.
So what does all this mean for vets in California now that AB 2215 is in effect?
AB 2215 “prohibits the Veterinary Medical Board (VMB) from disciplining, denying, revoking, or suspending the license of a veterinarian solely for discussing the use of cannabis on an animal for medicinal purposes, absent negligence or incompetence.” This simply opens the doors for vets to offer information, while the VMB still has allowances for disciplining vets under certain circumstances. First, and perhaps most importantly, the act “prohibits prescribing, administering, dispensing, or furnishing a controlled substance to or for any person or animal, unless otherwise specified.” This means pet owners are only able to turn to their vets for education on cannabis and cannabis products that could be used for treatments, but the VMB still has rules outlined and in place to protect pet owners from unethical practices surrounding the new law. Other stipulations leaving veterinarians open to potential fines or revoking of licenses include:
-revoke or suspend a veterinarian license, or to assess a fine, for accepting, soliciting, or offering any form of remuneration from or to a Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) licensee if the veterinarian or his or her immediate family has a financial interest, as defined, with the MAUCRSA licensee.
-revoke or suspend a veterinarian license, or to assess a fine, for discussing medicinal cannabis with a client while the veterinarian is employed by, or has an agreement with, a MAUCRSA licensee.
-revoke or suspend a license, or to assess a fine, for distributing any form of advertising for cannabis in California.
-prohibit a licensed veterinarian from dispensing or administering cannabis or cannabis products to an animal patient.
According to the California Veterinary Medical Association, the law requires the VMB to adopt guidelines on cannabis discussion and to make them available to professionals on or before January 1, 2020.