Sometimes it’s hard to come forward, even when it’s the right thing to do.
Marijuana.com has spent a significant amount of time trying to find a veterinarian who was bold enough to try needed cannabis treatments on animals, and then brave enough to talk about it.
Thankfully, we have found that veterinarian.
As we all know, animals can be many things. They’re our pets, companions, friends, and family members. They are there for us even when seemingly no one else is. So when they get sick with something as horrible as cancer, or they are debilitated because of arthritis, or even suffer from anxiety, we want to help in any way possible.
Doctor Shawn Smith is a trusted veterinarian in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Although he has never publicly admitted to using cannabis on animals, his website states that he is “passionate about offering alternative solutions, in addition to conventional medicine.” He took the time to sit down with us and talk about this new forefront of treatment for our furry friends and why, even now, it is a struggle for people to understand how much it helps.
Dr. Smith, thank you for taking the time. So first let’s get the big question out of the way, have you used cannabis as medicine on pets?
Yes, and I find this whole situation upsetting. You know, I can phone my pharmacist down the street and I can order Oxycontin or any other drug, put it on my credit card and that’s it. But the federal government is limiting me from getting [cannabis] for pets. Medical doctors can write a prescription for it, but veterinarians are having difficulty getting it.
I think it has use in cancer, I think it has use in anxiety, and I think it has use in seizures.
Are we talking dogs, cats, various pets?
Why has this not come to light? If it works in pets, why are veterinarians not using cannabis as a viable option?
One of the reasons is that we haven’t been able to get a hold of it. If I try to get it from a grower by writing a prescription for one of my clients, they won’t accept it.
What would need to change for vets to be allowed to prescribe cannabis? Is it a Veterinary Association decision?
It’s a federal problem, it’s the federal department of health. Medical doctors can write a prescription for marijuana, veterinarians can’t, so [Health Canada] should change that. It has nothing to do with the associations, except that they should be lobbying for this.
Let’s look at cancer. In veterinary medicine, radiation is really not an option. Some vets do chemotherapy although I’m not a chemotherapy fan because of the toxicity involved to the animal.
I should point out that I’m using the term marijuana and hemp interchangeably but really they’re not. I can get CBD from hemp oil which I can’t see anything illegal about. It’s been marketed legally so why can’t I use it?
The issue is the THC part. So in thinking about cancer, it’s my understanding that CBD has an anti-cancer effect and THC has an anti-cancer effect. My research so far indicates that when you combine them together they are synergistic and you get a better effect than THC or CBD alone.
Based on your efforts to obtain whatever cannabis medicine is available, what results have you seen with pets who have received your treatments?
I have only got a few pets on it. [It] tends to increase appetite in cancer dogs. One dog I’m treating is my own dog. She had mammary cancer which I physically removed, but the cancer metastasized. But she’s feeling fine though, and her appetite has increased.
How do you administer the medicine? Is it an oil that you put under the tongue?
I’ve done it a couple of ways. You can just put it on the gums and swallow it, or better still you can put it on the food if they’re eating and you’ll get a much more prolonged effect.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but cannabis seemingly has a similar therapeutic effect on animals as it does on humans.
Yes. I’m dealing with a limited sample and taking research on what it does for people, and saying that if it worked there then why wouldn’t it work for animals? I haven’t found any contrary indications.
I’ve treated three animals on a regular basis [with cannabis]. When I started with the treatment, their appetites improved and they felt better and they were eating better.
So you’ve treated three dogs so far?
Actually two dogs and a hamster.
And how did the hamster react?
The hamsters appetite improved, and the [cancer] lumps were decreasing in size. In the hamsters case it was skin tumours and I was putting the drops right on the tumours. In the case of a dog I’m treating with thyroid cancer, the tumour hasn’t grown.
I also have one cat that I’m using it on, it’s a seventeen-year-old cat. [Its cancer] is inoperable. So for the cat it’s one drop, twice daily on the gums. The cat did show [improvement].
So for you to get actual approval for all this, who is the gatekeeper?
It’s Health Canada. Health Canada is contributing to the death of pets because they are restricting medication. By restricting the product they are restricting research and when you are dealing with cancer there is no tomorrow anyway, so what the heck is going on?
Anything we can do to alleviate pain, increase appetite, increase longevity, perhaps reduce the size of the tumour and/or eliminate cancer, and document that would be beneficial.
The fact that Health Canada is standing in the way is ludicrous.
So if you had a message for Health Canada today, right now, what would it be?
There’s no reason to restrict the use of medical marijuana for pets.
The veterinary profession has always been on the forefront. In a lot of cases we have been ahead of the medical profession as far as treatment therapies and ways to approach things. I’m surprised [my colleagues]haven’t stood up and said to the federal government to move over, step aside and let us use this.
Where are the professional associations on this? It really comes down to politics, money, and ego.
Despite Health Canada’s lack of movement on this, are you continuing your research?
Yes, I am looking for patients with cancer. Not that I would wish cancer on anybody, but I’m looking to help them. I would like some skin cancers in here where I could topically apply cannabis to the skin cancer and actually measure, and photograph and easily biopsy that tumour and see what effect it has.
Can Marijuana.com say that you are looking for other vets to refer patients to you for this treatment?
In order to get their official stance on the subject, Marijuana.com contacted the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association to see when and even if veterinarians may be able to use cannabis as a viable treatment option in the near future.
Tanya Frye, their Manager of Communications issued this statement:
As you may be aware, cannabis is not legally available for use by veterinarians in animals. Research is just now beginning on the use of marijuana in animals. There is considerable interest, but it will be some time before answers will be available.
As with any veterinary drug, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association would support a cautious approach to ensure safety and efficacy through the application of sound science.
We are aware, however, of Canadian companies who have an interest in developing oral veterinary products, especially for use in companion animals. We acknowledge that we are in the midst of rapid change in this area and will consider developing a position as we move forward.
Although it seems the powers that be understand cannabis could be of incredible use for treatment in the future, the fact remains that many pets have debilitating diseases now and need treatment as we speak.
Doctors like Smith are on the precipice of a new age of treatment for our furry friends and the chances taken for them today will lead to treatment options tomorrow.
Good luck Dr. Smith, we support your efforts wholeheartedly.