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California Legalizes Medical Cannabis for Pets

Medical cannabis for cats and dogs is now legal in California.



According to a new report, veterinarians in California will now be allowed to “recommend” medical cannabis products for their furry patients. Before the law (AB 1885), which Governor Gavin Newsom signed on September 18, 2022, vets could only “discuss” such products with their patients’ owners. So rather than risk losing their license, many would avoid the topic. With the new measure now enacted, they no longer need to fear such repercussions.


Dr. Tim Shu, Pet Cannabis Coalition President, and a Los Angeles-based DVM and Founder/CEO of VetCBD, shares, “It’s a huge shift. This is the first bill of its kind in the world. My goal is for other states and countries to see this as a framework.”


"It’s a huge shift. This is the first bill of its kind in the world. My goal is for other states and countries to see this as a framework.”

- Dr. Tim Shu, Pet Cannabis Coalition President


The bill, sponsored by San Jose, CA, Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D), received the full backing of the state’s Veterinary Medical Board and passed both houses of the California legislature unanimously with little to no opposition.


Of course, this law does not mean that pet parents should start giving their puppies cannabis chocolates or start “hot-boxing” their kitties. However, it does empower animal medicine experts to guide potential caregiving through approved medical cannabis options for sick animals. Currently, desperate pet owners must turn to internet forums for direction or possibly dangerous pet dosing DIY style.


As Rep. Kalra states, “In short, AB 1885 will ensure that pet owners receive proper guidance when they bestow the benefits of safe, regulated therapeutic cannabis upon their pets.”


"In short, AB 1885 will ensure that pet owners receive proper guidance when they bestow the benefits of safe, regulated therapeutic cannabis upon their pets.”

- Rep. Ash Kalra (D), CA Assembly Member (San Jose)


Before AB 1885, vets have been ‘discussing’ using cannabidiol (CBD) to potentially treat seizures, arthritis pain, anxiety, and appetite in animals with cancer. Many humans use CBD to treat the same conditions, and there’s a reason for that. All vertebrates possess an endocannabinoid system that responds to the active ingredients in cannabis.


From his own practice observations, Dr. Shu says, “We have seen cannabinoids, primarily CBD, drastically reduce the number of seizures a pet is having, and in some cases completely eliminate them. In addition, dogs on CBD show decreased pain and inflammation, or decreased itchiness.”


"We have seen cannabinoids, primarily CBD, drastically reduce the number of seizures a pet is having, and in some cases completely eliminate them. In addition, dogs on CBD show decreased pain and inflammation, or decreased itchiness.”

- Dr. Tim Shu, Founder/CEO of VetCBD


But the issue is not as cut and dried as passing a few laws. Pets are vital and beloved members of over 70% of American households, becoming substitutes for spouses or children for many. Treating their medical conditions and disorders provokes intense emotions. But with marijuana’s federally illegal schedule one status blocking basic research into drug efficacy, many vets are compelled to use expensive and sometimes dangerous pharmaceuticals on conditions that could be managed less expensively and arguably safer with cannabinoids.


According to state records, “There are no cannabis-derived products approved for use in animals by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” Many experts attribute this to the fact that raw cannabis is too cheap and difficult to obtain patents for drug companies to exploit.


The CA State Vet Board also laments, “The Board wishes animal cannabis research funding could be obtained.” But, unfortunately, much like with human applications, until the FDA greenlights more scientific studies on the potential health benefits and uses of cannabinoids, there can be no allocation of nationwide scientifically proven cannabis-based products to treat many of the conditions for which large amounts of anecdotal evidence already exist.


"The Board wishes animal cannabis research funding could be obtained.”

- California Veterinary State Board


As with most advances in society, animal rights and protections follow those of their human parents and caregivers. For example, medical cannabis was legalized in California in 1996, and doctors, much like their vet counterparts today, feared having their licenses revoked if they recommended a plant considered equivalent to deadly drugs such as heroin. Fortunately, a series of legal decisions affirmed a physician’s First Amendment right to “recommend” cannabis even though they could not prescribe it.


Hopefully, this new law will remove those same fears for veterinarians, paving the way for new, more organic, and inexpensive treatments for California pets. And if this program can produce positive results, it could open the door for more states to adopt similar laws and guidelines.


The bill requires the vet board to adopt and publish recommendation guidelines by January 1, 2024. And thoroughly tested, state-approved medical cannabis pet products will be coming to dispensaries under new rules from the Department of Cannabis Control no later than July 1, 2025.


As with most legislation and subsequent enactments related to cannabis, this news from California is just one more positive step toward nationwide acceptance of the physical and mental wellness benefits of cannabis. And who knows? Maybe someday in the not-too-distant future, the pet aisle at the local grocery or corner market will have its own cannabis section for all those precious puppies and kitties, making life so wonderful for their human mommies and daddies.


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