I’ve been told some of the most common questions readers of this site and The Dog Cancer Survival Guide ask are about the intersection of three things: CBD oil, dogs, cancer.
- Should I use CBD oil to help kill my dog’s cancer cells?
- Would CBD oil help with appetite during chemotherapy?
- What about for vomiting?
- My dog is in pain…should I use CBD oil?
- How about some of my own medical marijuana, can I use it with my dog?
- Would CBD oil be good for life quality?
So let’s talk a little about hemp, marijuana, THC. CBD oil, dogs, cancer.
More importantly, let’s talk about why we’re NOT talking about them. Or more accurately, why you haven’t heard about these options from me or your own veterinarian.
Marijuana, CBD Oil, Dogs, Cancer
Marijuana products have been gaining a huge amount of attention in recent years. And rightly so, since there has been an expansion in state-level legalization of marijuana and associated CBD products.
CBD is an abbreviation for cannabidiol, an active substance found in marijuana plants. It usually doesn’t have any THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the major marijuana intoxicant. If it does, it is only trace amounts.
CBD oil is also extracted from hemp, a cousin of marijuana.
You probably know that marijuana is illegal at the federal level. But you may not know that hemp is also a problematic plant from the fed’s perspective. More on both of those later.
Now, on a state level, it’s a little different. As I write, thirty-three states have enacted expansive marijuana use laws. Ten of those states have even legalized recreational use, and ten more states may join them this year. With full legalization on the table, and expanding rapidly, the health benefits of marijuana are finally up for discussion.
And, of course, dog lovers want to know: can CBD oil (and other marijuana/hemp products) help dogs with cancer?
Dear reader, I’m not going to answer that very good question. Instead, I’m going to tell you why I won’t, and why your vet probably won’t either.
When it comes to marijuana and CBD, we’re in the Wild West.
Let’s look at why we are still in the Wild West when it comes to marijuana and CBD products in veterinary medicine.
Gagged and Bound by Federal Law
The first thing for you to realize is that there are some very sticky legal issues going on now for veterinarians.
If you’re the sort of person who gets mad about inefficient bureaucracy, take a few deep breaths now, because what I’m about to tell you often shocks readers.
What I Can Discuss with Clients
When I got my veterinary license over two decades ago, there were zero instructions for us about what to do, or even discuss, about things like CBD oil and medical marijuana.
Back then, those substances did not exist as medical options. They weren’t even imagined.
Today, its different (and not in a good way). Let me explain.
If I want to advise a client about whether to use plant-derived therapies for a pet’s health issue, I (almost always) can legally do so.
- You and I could legally talk about milk thistle to protect the liver, and I would be free to advise you to get a milk thistle extract.
- I am legally permitted to advise a dog lover on how to use dietary apoptogens from plants to benefit a loved dog.
- Tea tree oil as an anti-staph remedy? Okay.
- We could talk about medical mushrooms and their effects on cancer and the immune system, and I could suggest them.
- Have a question about how Jerusalem artichoke supports Fluffy’s healthy gut bacteria? No problem. Ask away and I’ll give you the scoop…including how to use it when you give Fluffy her probiotic.
What I Cannot Discuss with Clients
There are other things, however, that I cannot discuss with you without risking my DEA license.
Fun Fact: I have a DEA License, not just a Veterinary License!
Yes, I have a license from the Drug Enforcement Agency. I must have one in order to prescribe and dispense medications in my veterinary hospital. Bet you didn’t know that your veterinarian may have been licensed by the DEA, as well as the state veterinary board!
So, in order to keep my license, I must follow all federal laws to the letter, because the DEA license is a federal license.
Marijuana is illegal at the federal level so I cannot discuss it with you. Not unless I want to lose the ability to prescribe drugs. Yes: by discussing marijuana products with you, I am risking losing the ability to treat animals in my practice with all OTHER drugs. That would basically put me out of business as a clinician.
Veterinarians are literally gag ordered when it comes to CBD and marijuana.
If that sounds insane to you, you are not alone. But it’s true. Veterinarians are literally gag ordered as to CBD or marijuana recommendations. I’m not a lawyer, but that sure seems like a First Amendment violation. Doesn’t it?
Not only are veterinarians disallowed from recommending medical marijuana or products derived from it, we can’t even recommend products from hemp!
Don’t despair: there is plenty Dr. Dressler CAN write about, and DOES write about, in his comprehensive book. You’ll learn the best information on supplements, nutraceuticals, diet, mind-body, and of course, conventional treatments!
Yes, That Includes Hemp Products!
Yes, it’s true. Hemp is a cousin of marijuana, and even though we use it to make rope, and it contains virtually no intoxicating substances, it’s illegal to sell or grow it until just a couple of weeks ago! Even now that it’s been legalized, it’s really unclear whether CBD oil extracted from hemp will be legalized as well.
The gag is so severe I’m not sure I am permitted to discuss the use of a hemp rope as part of, say, farm animal care.
Schedule One Substances …
That is not the only crazy aspect of this legal quagmire. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) lists marijuana and substances from the plant (THC and CBD) as Schedule 1 substances.
What are Schedule 1 substances? Those with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. You know, like heroin or LSD, which are also Schedule 1.
Keep in mind that crystal meth and cocaine are Schedule 2 substances … a notch lower in the existing legal framework.
Crystal Meth, Cocaine = Schedule 2. Marijuana, Heroin = Schedule 1.
Go ahead, take a sip of water and a few deep breaths. I’ll wait.
Since I can’t legally prescribe your dog heroin, I can’t prescribe CBD oil either.
It’s illegal to prescribe your dog heroin … and, CBD oil.
But I can prescribe pills that are part of the opioid epidemic. By the way, poppies are the original source of those opioids. And what else is derived from poppies? Heroin.
Are you shaking your head yet?
… And Yet Cannabinoids Are Patented.
Here’s another headscratcher: the United States Government owns patents for drugs using marijuana’s active molecules, specifically patent 6,630,507 , entitled “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants”.
The patent’s language plainly states some medical uses of marijuana-derived compounds:
“The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses …”
But don’t go away mad, because there is more.
Marijuana Drugs Already Approved – and Yet Illegal?
Truth is, the FDA approved marijuana-compound based drugs for international and domestic use. For example, Epidiolex addresses certain seizures in humans. That’s clearly a medical use of a marijuana compound. In the USA!
What the heck?
Since DEA’s Schedule 1 classification specifies that substances from marijuana legally have “no accepted medical use,” and since the United States Federal Drug Administration approved Epidiolex in June 2018, for medical use … Schedule 1 classification seems a wee bit problematic.
The DEA and the FDA should probably put their heads together on this.
At least the FDA thinks so. Consider the following quote:
“This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies. And, the FDA is committed to this kind of careful scientific research and drug development.” – FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD
In other words, the head of the FDA thinks medical applications for marijuana exist. But the DEA still thinks it’s worse than crystal meth, and as bad as heroin (a cousin to opiods, which are legal).
Dazed and Confused
The legal situation overall strikes me as just awful, confusing, and logically upside down.
Marijuana and CBD oil are illegal at the federal level. Meanwhile, they are legal in some fashion in some states. Who wins that argument?
When it comes right down to it, the feds do. And that’s why I and most veterinarians I know just don’t discuss these topics. If you feel frustrated, I understand.
I share your frustration. And I hope you understand our position.
There are countless manufacturers and forums operating in the gray area between legal and illegal advice. But we veterinarians are really unlikely to join you in that gray area. It’s just too risky for us.
Until this gets sorted out at the federal level, we are risking losing our business altogether. That’s a lot of people out of work, and a lot of pets without care. Even in states where marijuana and/or CBD products are legal. Not all veterinarians have DEA licenses, but it’s tough to ask any vet to skirt the law. I hope you understand.
Looking forward, I’d like to give you more information on CBD oil and marijuana products. But, as you can imagine, I really don’t want to have my drug license jeopardized, which means I need to proceed very, very cautiously.
Believe me, as the situation changes, I will be writing about it.
So, for now, for readers as well as any regulatory enforcement out there, for the official record:
**I am not advising people with pets to use marijuana or marijuana-related products for their pets**
Further Reading and References:
Many articles re: marijuana and medical marijuana at the paper of record: https://www.nytimes.com/topic/subject/marijuana-and-medical-marijuana
Hemp is now legal. That’s huge for the CBD industry, Chavie Lieber, Vox.com https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/12/13/18139678/cbd-industry-hemp-legalization-farm-bill
Marijuana is illegal under federal law even in states that legalize it, German Lopez, Vox.com, Nov 14, 2018, https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/8/20/17938372/marijuana-legalization-federal-prohibition-drug-scheduling-system
Drug Scheduling, DEA, https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling
First Amendment explainer, Cornell Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment
State Medical Marijuana Laws, National Conference of State Legislatures, http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx
These States Are Most Likely to Pass Marijuana Legalization Bills in 2019, Marijuana Moment, January 28. 2019, Boston Globe https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/marijuana/2019/01/28/these-states-are-most-likely-pass-marijuana-legalization-bills/R6zJMBCjoCQ7HKSHV0mk3I/story.html
FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy, June 25, 2018, https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm611046.htm
United States Patent 6,630,507, Hampson, et al., Cannibinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants, http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6630507.PN.&OS=PN/6630507&RS=PN/6630507
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.
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