After working as a veterinarian for the military, Dr. Casara Andre turned her focus to holistic medicine, with the hopes of achieving a more balanced approach to wellness than that provided by pharmaceuticals. This idea lead her to found Veterinary Cannabis Education & Consulting, which helps to educate both veterinarians and pet owners about the potential of CBD and cannabis-based medications.
Her robust resume also includes: owner of Cultivate, a veterinary coworking community; director of the Colorado School of Animal Massage; and manager of Scheduled Relief, a networking service connecting veterinary clinics and relief veterinarians. In this exclusive interview, we discuss with Dr. Andre her switch to holistic medicine, how to choose the right products for pets, and how to best educate the public on cannabis-based medication.
Cannabis & Tech Today: Can you tell us about your decision to take a more holistic approach to your veterinary practice?
Dr. Casara Andre: It has been a long road transitioning there. I was a veterinarian for the military for a while, so that was my introduction to working with dogs in rehab. One of the biggest things that I wish I had while working in the military was more holistic modalities, more mild modalities, to help the animals, because these are amazing athletes. We know everything about them from puppyhood. We don’t get surprised by heart disease or kidney disease. We see it coming. So the majority of what we deal with are training injuries, or slowing down as they get toward the end of their career and are about to retire.
What I always wanted was better modalities to support this really amazing body throughout its working lifetime that wasn’t as strong as the pharmaceuticals that I had. I didn’t need all these heavy hitter pharmaceuticals. I needed supportive mechanisms. That really formed my interest in rehab, acupuncture, and massage, which is still a very important part of my practice.
We currently run a co-working group for veterinary professionals … It’s a huge community working with older animals, hospice animals, and the questions about cannabis were so big from everybody, so a year ago, when we held our first symposium, it was really with the intent of, “We don’t really know what we know, and everyone’s saying something different, so let’s at least get together and be on the same page, and at least share some information.”
That symposium was last year, and the culture has changed so much in this one year. My clients are really asking me for more information. So, there’s a bigger push from the pet parent side, wanting to know more, and more acceptance from the veterinarian side. So we’re holding our second symposium this year. It’s about three times as big.
C&T Today: It’s so amazing to see this rapid progression in medicinal cannabis. It’ll be exciting to see how you will be able to expand once more states start opening up to it.
CA: We really hope to be able to positively influence states that are looking for ideas to implement. One of the big things that happened in Colorado that makes it difficult is that when physicians are allowed to write a recommendation for their human clients, that allows them to circumvent some of the DEA restrictions and stay within state laws. We have the same DEA license as human physicians, but veterinarians were not included in that little piece of legislation that allows them to recommend cannabis, and we’re hoping to push that soon. Just to add veterinarians to that and say all medical providers who carry this type of DEA license, which we do, can make a recommendation for cannabis, it means that we could actually give that full recommendation to our clients…
So how we currently approach it and encourage other vets to approach it is through harm reduction education, which means providing our pet parents with all information, both good and bad, about cannabis so they can wisely make decisions. It’s more from the direction of the pet owner; you’ve decided to do this, we’re going to make sure that your pet is safe while you’re utilizing this. It is a semantic dance. We do very much want to stay within the bounds of DEA federal regulations and state regulations, but we also have a duty to our clients and our patients to make sure that they’re safe.
C&T Today: How do you distinguish which products or brands are reputable?
CA: That’s a really tough one, especially in Colorado where it’s very easy to get, especially on the hemp side, even more than the marijuana side. We see companies popping up all the time that do not appear trustworthy to begin with, which doesn’t mean they’re not, but at first blush, they are unable to answer some really basic questions about where their hemp came from, what else is in there, what’s the processing mechanism, all those pieces.
Now, because there is so little regulation in this field, really trusting the ethics of the company and the transparency of the company becomes really important. So, we are starting to have some brands that we trust, but it’s a huge problem, because the pet owner has to get the product themselves. We, as the vets, can’t really assess it. We can maybe make a suggestion or use whatever product they bring and make the plan from that, but we can’t really help vet the products. So that’s a really tough thing to be in the middle of.
We do have a plan in the works for a product approval program. We would have a list of criteria, and then we would review the product and say, “Yeah, they’ve done really well. They’re trying really hard. We really like this product.” Currently, it is a really big point of concern for us that pet parents get the right product. We do have the buying guidelines on the website to hopefully help with that, but it’s tough. It is tough to know the difference between all the available products.
C&T Today: How are these products being used to treat ailments like epilepsy, anxiety, arthritis, and cancer?
CA: Well, we do, anecdotally, see really good clinical success with the use of cannabis in most of the ailments you mentioned. Although, hand in hand with that, comes the fact that we don’t know a lot about what causes those diseases you mentioned. Anxiety, as a quick example, is such a big overarching name.
Even in humans with anxiety, we don’t always know what to do or how to help, and if we don’t know what is causing the anxiety in that animal, it’s really tough to be able to help them as well, so it is important that anybody starting down the road to use cannabis is really good at setting initial goals. We’re not exactly sure how this works yet, or what we’re addressing. We’re going to have to be willing to change products, change ratios. You can’t be stuck in, “I’m going to try one thing and it’s either right or not.” You have to pay attention to the animal and make sure that it’s very individualized medicine. That’s the biggest thing I would say about cannabis medicine, it is very individualized. You do find trends, but you have to read that particular animal and not have any biases one way or the other.
C&T Today: What would you say to someone who is considering a CBD/cannabis regimen for their pet?
CA: It depends on the case. You should make sure your vet team knows that cannabis is being used, because it does potentiate other medications. It does change decisions that we make in a clinical sphere, so knowing that’s happening is really, really important. Being careful in the product purchase, because there are ingredients that we’re starting to see included for the human products that are not safe for animals. We offer 15-minute free consultations just to see if cannabis is the right direction, and for more complicated cases, we’ll absolutely create a plan, talk to their vet, review records, all those pieces. It is definitely something people can start on their own, but they really need to be doing it with their team, at least letting their veterinary team know that it’s happening so that we can watch the animal for any toxicities, or for the benefits, and help watch for those improvements as they come.
C&T Today: What are the preferred delivery methods for pets?
CA: We recommend using tinctures. That’s the easiest for us to use in a medical case, because we can start really low and creep our way up, so it gives us scalability. It also gives consistency that is harder to find in the treats. For the cases that we usually see, tinctures tend to be the best, most consistent, most accurate, and scalable.
Topicals are hard to use because of fur, although we probably will see that soon in more rehab or surgical patients. There is a lot of application potential for vaporizing, for exposure of inhalation of cannabis. I have a friend in Canada who’s done some of this with her own cat, some cannabis vapor, and it did fantastic. It couldn’t eat, so we couldn’t use any oral administration, but we could still modulate that endocannabinoid system with inhalation.