Michigan’s dogs, cats, bunnies and hamsters won’t likely soon be getting high on marijuana edibles prescribed by their veterinarian, but a new law opens the door to the possibility of that potentially awkward discussion.
While medical marijuana has been legal for Michigan humans since 2008, prior to the passage of House Bill 5085, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed on Dec. 29, veterinarians say the cross-wiring of state and federal laws related to marijuana barred them from even talking about treatments with increasingly curious pet owners.
The new law, which takes effect in April, untangles things a bit, but still doesn’t allow veterinarians to directly prescribe marijuana or other cannabis-related medicine. It does allow consultation.
The legislation really addresses two very distinct treatment possibilities: CBD, or cannabidiol, a compound derived from the cannabis plant that doesn’t have psychoactive properties; and THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the marijuana compound that gets one high.
The federal government legalized CBD for human consumption in 2018, and while Michigan legalized marijuana for adult, recreational use in 2018, it remains banned federally.
CBD products for pets have become a popular option for treating various ailments. However, the overwhelming majority of veterinarians discourage treating pets with anything containing significant amounts of THC.
“We’ve found (CBD) to be helpful for anxiety, arthritis and the general well being of animals,” said Dr. Jeff Powers, who operates multiple veterinary clinics in northwest Michigan and sits on professional boards looking into cannabis treatment. “A lot of clients are already trying these products. The problem is a lot of it is being used without veterinary guidance, so they may be (improperly) dosing their pets.”
Powers is a big believer in the therapeutic value of CBD products for humans and animals, so much so that he’s started farming and processing hemp cannabis for CBD product lines he sells.
In most cases, Powers said there are existing, conventional veterinary medications to treat the same ailments as CBD, but sometimes owners prefer natural remedies. There are other cases in which traditional medications prove ineffective or cause adverse reactions in animals, Powers said.
Because CBD was designated illegal marijuana by the federal government until 2018, there’s still not a lot of data regarding its effectiveness and safety for animal consumption.
Prior to passage of the new law, “the recommendation from a legal standpoint was simply to decline to discuss it with owners,” said Dr. Christian Ast, an 18-year veterinarian at Plaza Veterinary Hospital in Farmington. “It’s a difficult spot because it meant you weren’t able to inform owners about how to use the products safely.”
Asked whether CBD products are generally safe, Ast said: “I’m going to defer on that one.”
“The reason I’m cautious about answering that is because it all comes down to the quality of the product and those products are very poorly regulated,” he said. “If people are choosing to buy them, they are relying on the reputation of the company.”
He said CBD products frequently test positive for contaminants and don’t contain the levels of CBD that they often claim.
John P Buchweitz, an associate professor and veterinary toxicologist with the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, believes the new law will promote useful conversations and further study of cannabis-based pet treatments, where as previously, most pet owner information came from a Google search or word of mouth.
“I think it’s important that we have a good, common-sense medical approach from a veterinarian,” he said. “These (CBD) products are available, but they’re just not going to receive the FDA blessing as something that has been controlled in the manufacturing process.”
Buchweitz has only seen the negative impacts of THC on pets, usually when they unintentionally, for instance, eat a batch of infused brownies, a trend that veterinarians say initially increased with the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.
“Generally speaking, unlike the general human population, there is no recognized therapeutic benefit for the use of marijuana with pets,” Buchweitz said. “The psychoactive properties are more likely to present more concerns for the pet and its owners than is wanted.”
Additionally, he said, when animals consume THC in edible form — butter, baked goods or candy — “they may contain other ingredients that could be equally if not more detrimental to the animal’s health.”
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