By Gary Richter, MS, DVM
As an integrative veterinarian in Oakland, California, it was inevitable questions would arise about the use of cannabis for pets. After Prop 215 passed in 1996 and people had legal access to medical cannabis, and then Prop 64 introduced adult-use recreational cannabis in 2016, many Californians experienced profoundly positive health benefits from cannabis. When those people saw their pets suffering from medical conditions, they naturally turned to their veterinarian to ask if cannabis could provide relief in similar ways.
At the time, none of us had the answers. There was no research on the therapeutic use of cannabis for animals and nowhere to find the information we needed. Veterinarians had to blaze their own trail. What we found was that animals benefit from medical cannabis in all the same ways humans do. That seems like an obvious statement now, but back then no one knew for sure.
Shortly after recreational cannabis became available in California in 2016, the California Veterinary Medical Board issued a statement informing veterinarians that any mention of the medicinal use of cannabis for our patients could result in disciplinary action. Every veterinarian in the state was “put on notice” that our licenses were on the line should we discuss or recommend cannabis for animals.
What followed were years of veterinary board meetings attended by concerned veterinarians and pet owners imploring the board to allow vets to do their jobs, practice medicine, and provide pet owners with information about cannabis for animals so owners didn’t feel forced to get medical advice from pet store employees, budtenders, and the internet. Six years of countless meetings and the passage of two pieces of legislation later, California is now the first state to allow veterinarians to discuss and recommend cannabis products for their patients.
Since those early days of veterinarians exploring the use of cannabis for pets, multiple research papers have been published evaluating the efficacy of cannabis for a variety of medical conditions including arthritis, epilepsy, and anxiety. Cannabis, particularly cannabinoids found in hemp extracts, are effective in treating these conditions and show promise in the treatment of the same spectrum of conditions for which cannabis is routinely used in humans. Much of the veterinary-specific research was summarized in “Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine: A Critical Review,” published in 2020, and “Pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and safety of cannabidiol in dogs: an update of current knowledge,” published in 2023.
The hard-fought victory in California highlighted the challenges facing veterinarians and pet owners throughout the country. In response, the core group of veterinarians and industry professionals who worked for years to foment change in California, allied and collaborated to create the Veterinary Cannabis Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to education and advocacy to benefit pets, their owners, and the veterinary profession.
Since its foundation, the Veterinary Cannabis Society (VCS) has played an active role in promoting policy and legislative changes in multiple states. Additionally, VCS provides educational resources for veterinarians and pet owners through its website, VCS.pet, and through educational courses provided both live and online. VCS educational content is created by the most knowledgeable resources on the use of cannabis in veterinary medicine and has been made available throughout North and South America. VCS has recently collaborated with the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), the world’s largest online educational platform for veterinarians, to provide a six-module medical cannabis course for veterinarians that will be available worldwide in September and October 2023.
This article first appeared in Volume 5 Issue 2 of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read the full issue here.