ALBANY, Ore. - Research has shown that marijuana provides effective medical treatment for humans, but what about pets? It's a conversation that's still in its infant stages. But with how fast the marijuana industry is growing, pets on pot could be a new thing.
Sue Hallberg has been a dog parent almost her entire life. When 15-year-old Maddie had a heart murmur and arthritis, veterinary medicine only helped for so long.
"She had been on arthritis medication and the trouble with veterinary medicine is probably the same as our medicine is it has side effects and I'm sure it was bad on her kidneys and liver, that was one of the side effects,” said Sue Hallberg, pet owner.
She was left with little options until her husband, Chuck was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and issued a medical marijuana card. When they met Rhea Graham, the owner of Albany's Canna Kitchen and Research. She suggested using medical marijuana to help with Maddie's pain too.
"They have the same endocannabinoid system that we do. Many people think that you're going to give a toxic substance to your dog, but that's just not true. It's the chocolate that makes them sick when they eat a cannabis brownie,” said Graham.
Sue started giving Maddie capsules three times a day. And sure enough, she saw a difference.
"We used to walk all the time. She used to walk and go to the beach. She's just got to the point later on in life where she couldn't do those things and I really think the marijuana helped her, considerably as far as pain was concerned,” said Hallberg.
She isn't the only pet parent with a success story. Graham says she's helped a number of her clients. When she recommended stem tincture in glycerin made with no THC for a dog who had asthma, the coughing and wheezing went away. Even the dog knew it was good stuff.
"And when the dog would need a dose, he would look at her and cough at her and look over at the bottle of the tincture and look back at her and so yeah, she caught right onto him and would dose him then and all was well,” said Graham.
Dogs have hundreds of times more THC receptors in their brain than humans, so the THC has a more dramatic effect. It's not likely to cause serious problems or death if you use the right dose.
Dr. Matthew Fricke says usually animals are taken to the emergency room when the cannabis is mixed with something else or if the dose is too high, altering the dog's normal reflexes and coordination, leaving them at risk for injury, aspiration, and dehydration.
"For example. The marijuana-infused butter or marijuana brownies. Those are containing things that can be dangerous to dogs in other ways,” said Dr. Fricke, Veterinarian at McKenzie Animal Hospital.
Not only can marijuana treat physical illness, Graham says it can also treat mental and behavioral problems.
"One time that it's wonderful to use for them with the right strain, high in CBG is like around the 4th of July or New Year when you know there's going to be fireworks and stuff that's very hard on pets and their anxiety,” said Graham.
So if marijuana has so many benefits, why don't veterinarians prescribe it for their patients? Right now, state statutes only allow M.D.s and doctors of osteopathy to recommend marijuana products. Veterinarian are not included. Plus, the federal government puts certain restrictions and limitations on marijuana because of its classification.
"At this point currently, the DEA still has marijuana classified as a category 1 drug, which means it's under their controlled substances act, which means it's a drug that doesn't have any known or any recognized medicinal benefit,” said Dr. Fricke.
And because cannabis is not legal on the federal level, it may be a while before pet advocacy groups have enough research to endorse medical marijuana.
"Although states have authorized it, the federal government still has that listed as a drug in that category, which has unfortunately limited the amount of research that has been possible to do so it's kind of a catch 22. There's not enough research but because it's illegal, you can't do any research on it,” said Dr. Fricke.
That means pet owners who want to try medical marijuana for their animals, will have to do it without the official medical recommendation of a veterinarian.
And while the OLCC says retail stores cannot sell any marijuana products marketed towards animals, Graham says there are no laws in Oregon that prohibit you from giving marijuana marketed for human use to your pets.
"Currently there are no rules and regulations on selling them to pets. I don't believe it's come up at the state level yet. The law isn't written against it, then you can do it. If it's not illegal, then it's legal, right?” said Graham.
She recommends smokeless remedies. Many of which are still very effective with low levels to no THC. Graham says the lack of understanding and negative stigma surrounding marijuana has left her frustrated.
"I don't know what their fear is but they obviously have fears. It can't kill people. Why are they so worried about cannabis? It's the reefer madness and it's rampant in Albany as well as all over the state. You know, especially Eastern Oregon is really backward about it. It's just a lack of education,” said Graham.
Especially when she's seen the evidence first hand that it works. For Sue Hallberg, she thinks it made a big difference in Maddie's life until she died more than three years ago.
"She was in a lot of pain and I think probably the last year of her life, it made her so much more comfortable,” said Hallberg.
And now, her dog, Sophie is also seeing the benefits to treat her separation anxiety - proof she says even though there's a lack of research, pot has proven effective for her pets.
"I think it's a great option, just like for people,” said Hallberg.
If your pet is sick or having medical problems, Dr. Fricke recommends talking to your veterinarian before immediately turning to marijuana. He says it's important to diagnose the illness before considering treatment options.