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Should We Give Pot to Suffering Pets? Animal Expert Darlene Arden Says Yes

Medical cannabis benefits human patients in pain, so why not give it to animals?
 
 
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Darlene Arden is a certified animal behavior consultant who recently began to advocate for medical marijuana—on behalf of pets. She says her purpose in life is to speak for the voiceless, so who better to defend than our furriest companions?

“Pets cannot speak up and say 'Hey, this hurts,'” she says, noting that just decades ago it was common veterinary practice not to provide any pain medication for pets. “There was a time when veterinarians would do surgery and not give the poor animals any kind of pain control in the belief that if the animals felt pain, they wouldn't move that body part.”

Of course, cats and dogs do feel pain just as humans do, and they function far better with pain medication. Arden says pet owners should do everything possible to relieve their animal's pain.  

“I think we should be living in a kinder, gentler society,” says Arden. “Animals need love and they give us unconditional love, so the least we can do is help them.”

Arden is an authority on the care of toy breeds and has written several books on pet care. In lectures around the world and in regular animal care columns she speaks on behalf of our pets. After recognizing the benefits medical cannabis can have for human patients in pain, she says it’s time to think about using the herb to treat pets, too.

“You think about how much good this has done for cancer patients, and yet in most of the country not only is it withheld from pets, it’s withheld from people who desperately need a drug that has been proven to work, because [the government is] afraid of the drug people, the 'potheads,'” she says. “That means they’re punishing sick people because they don't want well people to get it. That, to me, is crazy.”

Arden is neither liberal nor conservative. She says she simply votes for whichever policies make the most sense. While she has never smoked weed, after researching the topic extensively she became an advocate. Between the relief cannabis can provide to medical patients, and the negative historical impacts of prohibition on society, she says legalization seemed an obvious choice.  

When a ballot initiative was up for the vote to legalize medical marijuana in Arden’s home state of Massachusetts in 2012, she voted for it. While the initiative passed, Massachusetts has yet to open a dispensary due to ongoing rhubarb over regulation and location.  

Jump over to California, where medical marijuana dispensaries have operated since 1996 when Proposition 215 legalized the drug for medical purposes, and you’ll find a few animals already being treated with cannabis via an ingestible “magic cheese."

Los Angeles veterinarian Doug Kramer, who runs the Vet Guru animal center, became the first vet in the nation to offer medical cannabis to animals, he told New York Daily News, when he treated his elderly husky, Nikita, with marijuana. He said after he gave the dog cannabis, she "stopped whimpering and started eating, gaining weight and meeting him at the door again." While the dog passed away weeks later, he was able to improve the quality of the end of her life. 

Kramer also told New York Daily News he believes that the active ingredient in pot, THC, could be the key to mitigating pain for dogs in particular. In an interview with the Missoulian, Kramer said he’d grown "tired of euthanizing pets" when he thought there was more he could do to help them feel better. 

“I felt like I was letting them down,” he said in the article.

So far Kramer has only treated dogs, using a calculated dosage. 

survey in Colorado veterinary hospitals, released in 2012 by the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, linked the death of two dogs to cannabis found in their systems. As the conversation about medical cannabis for pets expands,  a number of vets are calling for further study before recommending or advocating for the drug's use on animals. 

Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary adviser to the Humane Society of the U.S., told the Associated Press in June that sometimes public sentiment and activity gets ahead of the scientific background and that can be dangerous."

In the same article, the AP reported that the pot clinic La Brea Compassionate Caregivers in Los Angeles markets "Companion Cannabis" to dog owners. The clinic's manager, Megan Hanley, "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," according to AP.

"It's a revolutionary product and response to it has been tremendous in the last year," Hanley told AP.

Arden says while it is possible that dogs can overdose from cannabis, like any other substance it is the responsibility of the owner and veteranarians to keep the drug out of reach of pets unless it is being administered at a safe dosage. 

"Can dogs get their teeth into it if it’s lying around?" she says. "Yes, but why would you do that? ... There are things like antifreeze that's poisonous, xylitol in chewing gum is poisonous to pets. The point is if you're a responsible owner you don't leave [out] anything that can be dangerous to them, like children. And if you do, you shouldn't be allowed to have pets and children. Be responsible. Who's the grownup here?"

Darlene Arden says reading about people like Kramer gives her hope that medical cannabis may soon be available to pets on a wider scale.

“Doug Kramer has been using cannabis on his patients when they're in extreme pain. ... And dogs who couldn't get out to eliminate because they were in so much pain that their owners had to take them out with sling apparatus and hold them up, are now running around like puppies,” she says.

Arden hopes researchers will look into the long-term effects of medical cannabis on dogs and cats. She anticipates that researchers like Duncan Lascelles, a professor of surgery and pain management at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, who thought about studying marijuana a decade ago, will pursue studies now that the conversation is opening up.

In the meantime, she encourages pet owners to give their pets cannabis responsibly, if they’re in serious pain.

“If you have a way to keep pain from helpless animals who can’t speak up, do it,” she says. “Do it safely, do it with a veterinarian, under his license, in an approved state. But don’t let your animals suffer. You wouldn't want your family members to suffer. You wouldn’t want to suffer. What is it going to take for people to finally realize we can stop hideous pain?”

April M. Short is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @AprilMShort.