Sun, Jun 25, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Medical marijuana wooing four-legged fans in the US

By Jocelyne Zablit  /  AFP, LOS ANGELES

Brett Hartman gives Cayley, a six-year-old Labrador, drops of a cannabis-based medicinal tincture to ease hip pain and anxiety at his home in Los Angeles on June 8.

Photo: AFP

It is early morning, just after breakfast, and six-year-old Cayley is wide awake, eagerly anticipating her daily dose of cannabis.

The black Labrador, tail wagging, laps up the liquid tincture owner Brett Hartmann squirts into her mouth, a remedy he uses morning and evening to help alleviate Cayley’s anxiety.

“Ever since I started her on CBD [cannabidiol — a marijuana extract], her separation anxiety has disappeared,” 30-year-old Hartmann said of his pet, a service dog he acquired while in college because he had epilepsy.

Hartmann, who lives near Los Angeles, said he turned to medical marijuana for Cayley after he no longer needed her to accompany him everywhere, having himself overcome his epilepsy with the help of the drug.

“I just allowed her to retire and ... I don’t think she handled the transition too well,” said Hartmann, who also has his aging dachshund on cannabis. “But CBD has really helped.”

With the multibillion-dollar medical and recreational marijuana industry for humans blossoming in the US, so is a new customer base — animals.

“We are seeing about 20 percent growth every single month,” said Alison Ettel, founder of Treat Well, a company in California that specializes in non-psychoactive medical cannabis products for animals and humans.

She said owners of animals — from dogs, cats, lizards, turtles, alpacas and horses to farm animals — are increasingly turning to cannabis to help treat ailments ranging from cancer and heart murmurs to arthritis and ear infections.

The feedback is more than encouraging, Ettel said.

“We probably get at least one to five cancer patients a day and the results we’re seeing are just blowing my mind,” she said, claiming the drug can help improve life expectancy.

When she started in the business about a decade ago, Ettel said she would treat about 20 animals per year, mostly dogs.

Today, with medical marijuana legalized in 29 states — plus the District of Columbia — the number of four-legged patients has skyrocketed.

“Now we are treating thousands of animals,” she said.

However, despite the rush to cash in on the booming industry, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level and marijuana laws on the state level do not apply to pets.

That has translated into pet owners having to get a marijuana card for themselves in order to purchase cannabis for their pups, as veterinarians are barred from prescribing marijuana.

The legal gray area and the lack of substantial studies on the effect of cannabis for pets also means that owners and dispensaries have had to tread carefully on dosages.

“We start very, very low and very, very slow to try and find the appropriate dose,” said Melinda Hayes, founder of Sweet Leaf Shoppe, a medical cannabis delivery service. “The last thing you want to do is for your dog or pet to be uncomfortable.”

Proponents have said the advantage of cannabis for ailing pets as opposed to painkillers or other traditional drugs is that when properly used, it has no known serious side effects.

“Other medicines can take a toll on an animal’s kidney, liver and other organs,” Hayes said.

Another advantage was the lower cost of medical cannabis compared to some medication, she added.

However, veterinarians are cautioning against viewing cannabis as a miracle drug.

“There are no studies on dogs or cats, much less guinea pigs or other species, so I don’t know what the potential benefits could be, if any,” California Veterinary Medical Association head Ken Pawlowski said.

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