Why medical marijuana can work for your pets

In Feature Stories by KelliK

Humans aren’t the only species who can enjoy the medical benefits of marijuana. Find out how medical cannabis is helping sick dogs and cats, and giving hope to concerned pet owners who had nowhere else to turn.

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Toronto’s Sam Mellace saw nothing wrong in giving his elderly border collie some marijuana-laced doggie biscuits.

“I don’t look at this as a recreational issue,” he says. “This, to me, is a medical thing.”

When Mellace started administering the treatment, his 13-year-old dog Copper had been suffering. He endured painful arthritis and his hips were beginning to give. Mellace and his partner considered bringing the dog to Ontario’s University of Guelph for a pricey surgery, but opted instead to try something else: a homemade distillation of CBD and CBN—two of the chemical compounds found in marijuana plants—baked into the pooch’s favourite treats.

“We extracted the THC out so that the dog didn’t have any hallucinations,” Mellace explains, noting that the remaining CBD and CBN are strictly therapeutic components. “And believe it or not, after a couple of days he was up and walking around like there was no tomorrow.” The dog’s hip joint inflammation ceased and he ended up living an additional two and a half years.

As Mellace is one of Canada’s leading medical marijuana activists and the founder of Toronto’s New Age Medical Solutions dispensary, his course of action might not come as much of a surprise. But interest in veterinary medical marijuana is beginning to take hold beyond the realm of cannabis gurus.

Dr. Kathy Kramer, a veterinarian at the Vancouver Animal Wellness Hospital, wasn’t shocked when approached by clients earlier this year to help determine a medical marijuana dosage for their elderly cat, Sylvester. They were people she’d worked with for a long time and trusted, so she was happy to help.

“Most of the medications used for animals are derived from human doses,” says Dr. Kramer. “It stands to reason that if it works well for people, it will work well for pets.”

Sure enough, it did. Despite Sylvester’s many ailments, which include the appetite-diminishing and pain-inducing conditions of chronic kidney failure and pancreatitis, his condition has not only stabilized but improved since beginning a carefully monitored marijuana regimen (which is “just a tincture,” Dr. Kramer emphasizes). His lab charts have been commendable, and he’s been eating “like a champ.”

But Dr. Kramer, like all veterinarians across Canada, can’t legally prescribe marijuana. “If you choose to go that route, you have to obtain it,” she says. “I’m willing to help you find the right dose, but in order to keep my license safe I’m not able to prescribe it.”

Dr. Glenn Pettifer, Senior Partner for Quality Practice at the Ontario College of Veterinarians, reports having recently received “one inquiry about the veterinarian’s role in accessing medical marijuana.” But, in general, the College is not yet looking into the practice.

“The access of drugs to both humans and animals is controlled both federally and provincially by various pieces of legislation that are not ours,” says Jan Robinson, Registrar and CEO of the College. “But we expect veterinarians to abide by that legislation.”

In the U.S., at La Brea Compassionate Caregivers in Los Angeles, manager Megan Hanley said she recommends a drop of liquid marijuana extract marketed as Companion Cannabis for every 10 pounds of dog. It can be spread on cheese or bread to make the medicine more palatable.

“It’s a revolutionary product and response to it has been tremendous in the last year,” she said.

Dr. Kramer thinks that the use of veterinary medicinal marijuana is something that can, and should, gain momentum in Canada. She hopes to see further studies around the issue.

“If we can find a natural substance as another option for pain relief, we’d be silly not to explore it,” she says.

Sam Mellace agrees. When asked whether veterinary medical marijuana is something he would recommend to pet owners, his answer is simple: “Well, why not?”

Flickr photo courtesy  Mike_fj40


Kelli Korducki is a writer and reporter in Toronto. Her byline can be frequently found in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Hazlitt Magazine, The New Inquiry, and other places in print and online.