Vets lobby to expand medical cannabis laws to include dogs, cats
OTTAWA -- Parliament Hill went to the dogs Wednesday as veterinarians lobbied MPs to authorize the use of medical cannabis for critters.
The vets brought five dogs to the Hill to draw attention to what they see as glaring omissions in the legalized regimes for medical and recreational marijuana.
Among them was Max Pugsley, a pug rescue with such severe separation anxiety that he is on Prozac.
"It works really well but ideally we could have some kind of CBD (cannabidiol) product rather than some pharmaceutical like Prozac," said Max's owner, Matthew Trapp.
"CBD is shown to have great results but I can't even talk to my vet about it."
The law does not allow veterinarians to prescribe pot for pets, even though preliminary research and anecdotal evidence suggests it could be beneficial in treating pain, seizures, anxiety and other disorders -- much as it is for humans.
Moreover, the law requires labels on cannabis products warning they be kept out of reach of children, but there's no similar warning that they could be harmful to animals.
Dr. Sarah Silcox, president of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine, said her group has been told the omissions were likely "an oversight" that can be considered when the legalized cannabis regime is reviewed in three years.
But she wants more urgent action.
"For our patients, they age much faster than we do and this really isn't an issue that can wait for a three-year review," Silcox said in an interview.
Because vets can't legally prescribe cannabinoids for animals, or even offer advice to pet owners on the most suitable products or dosages, Silcox said some people are taking it upon themselves to administer cannabis to their pets. They're using products sold for human consumption or unregulated "black market" products marketed for animal use, but about which veterinarians have concerns about "safety and purity."
"Veterinarians are able to prescribe almost any other drug, including things like fentanyl and other opioids and ... prescription drugs that contain cannabis derivatives and yet we're not able to authorize the use of cannabis itself," Silcox said.
The prohibition on veterinary use of cannabinoids has made research into the potential benefits "challenging," but Silcox said preliminary studies suggest positive benefits for managing pain from arthritis and other conditions, epilepsy, anxiety and general inflammatory conditions.
It is particularly useful for treating cats, which are more sensitive than dogs to the other pain medications currently used for animals, she said.
Silcox's group and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association have lobbied the government to authorize veterinary use of cannabinoids. Silcox said they've been told by the policy adviser to Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor that it is not a priority at the moment, but could be considered when the Cannabis Act is reviewed in three years.
However, Silcox noted the government is reviewing cannabis regulations now in preparation for adding edibles and oils to the list of legal products this fall. It would take only a "few small changes" to add vets to the medical practitioners authorized to prescribe cannabinoids and to change references to people to patients, covering both the human and animal variety, she said.
Border Security Minister Bill Blair, who was the government's point man on cannabis legalization, said the government is willing to talk to veterinarians about the issue but added: "I think the research needs to be perhaps more fully developed to make sure it can be done in a safe and healthy way."
But Dr. Ian Sandler, a veterinarian who was among those lobbying MPs Wednesday, said cannabinoids are already being administered unsafely to pets, without veterinary guidance, and he predicted the problem will get worse once edibles are legalized for people.
"If that's implemented, we know from the U.S. that we're going to see a profound increase in inappropriate ingestion," he said.