Does Medical Marijuana Work for Pets?

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Lara the Cat had a long white coat and silver-tipped tail, and her jade eyes had seen a world of abuse and neglect.  She weighed six pounds and came into this writer’s life by way of a friend’s grooming shop, where she’d appeared one day and claimed residence on a high shelf in the back room.

The shop was a hub of activity and, after a few months, my groomer friend decided the 14-year old, declawed feline would be better off at my then-petless home.

Within a week we made our first emergency vet run.  Lara had fallen and lay twitching for 10 minutes. She had obvious neurological problems, and another $1,000 might have given us an exact diagnosis, but, as my vet put it, if I wasn’t planning on meds or surgery, it might just be best to keep Lara comfortable.

A month and three seizures later, a 10-day business trip intervened — Laura would stay at the groomer’s in my absence.  I was both thrilled and concerned to hear the cat had had no issues while there.  Was it my house, I wondered, or had I fed her something toxic?  Was I simply a bad mother?

Upon my return I went to see her straightaway.  Entering the shop through the back door, I drank in a scene that amazed me.  My friend and her buddies sat, sharing a giant stogie.  Behind them, on her shelf, Lara leaned into the marijuana cloud, inhaling to her damaged brain’s content.

“A medical marijuana kitty!” I cried.  Indeed, maybe the only detractor to my home or parenting was my utter lack of interest in marijuana.  After a long discussion, my friend agreed to re-foster Lara, and I left, forlorn but relieved, leaving behind my stoned silver puffball.

The subject of medical marijuana remains controversial.  Studies vary on its medicinal effectiveness for humans, though anecdotal theories abound.

The discussion of pot for pets is a timely one.  Seattle businessman Jim Alekson’s Medical Marijuana Delivery Systems LLC patented a new “Pot Patch,” in February, aiming to get it to market this year.  He plans to promote the patch to humans and pets who suffer from arthritis, cancer, and other debilitating diseases.  In a press release, he called marijuana a “more mellow” painkiller, with less potential risk than pharmaceuticals, and, as the owner of three Papillons, he said, “I’d . . . rather they were on something holistic rather than something chemical that I know is breaking down some of the organs in their bodies.”

The product, called Tetracan, is apt to run into trouble.  Even the 15 U.S. states with medical marijuana laws would have to expand them to include companion animals, which is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Jeffrey Judkins, DVM/Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA), owner of Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic, specializes in Western and Chinese herbal medicine and surgery.  He advises against this remedy.  “I’ve seen quite a few dogs accidentally overdosed and . . . they were not having a good time,” he says, citing dogs who ate brownies and became disoriented.  “My inclination is that it’s ill-advised and maybe even cruel to the animal.”

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Judkins maintains that there are better approaches for canine/feline pain treatment, including legal herbs.  As he explains it, pain is not generic.  “There is tension, trauma . . . chronic Corydalis is practically narcotic-like, licorice is good for stomach cramps, and ginger or turmeric are excellent anti-inflammatories.  The doctor uses Apis for bee stings and Kantharis for burns.  When using Chinese herbs, Judkins says, “It’s amazing how specific you can get.  [Chinese medicine] has been 3,000 years in the making.”  When asked about Lara the Cat, he says he would have likely prescribed Chinese herbs, but that even Valerian root can work for seizures.

As far as the marijuana argument, Judkins points to (over)dosing issues.  While he admits that, “In some cases it might be of benefit,” he says, “the application of it would be where the problems lie.”  Judkins also offers this important clarification:  “In humans, there is an emotional component with pain,” and marijuana can help.  Not so in animals.

For Lara, maybe an emotional component did exist, as it was obvious she had met with deep cruelty in her long life.  All I know is, she remained seizure-free for eight months before I got “the call.”  My friend told me gravely that our Chinchilla Persian named for the Dr. Zhivago character had slipped from the grooming shop the previous night.  She was found in the alley, curled up and at peace, having died on her own dignified terms.

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Meryl Lipman is a freelance writer and PR consultant who has no public stance on the medical marijuana issue, except to say it alleviated her mother’s nausea during chemotherapy and it helped her ailing foster cat near the end of her life.