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Dr. Katherine Kramer is daily navigating the sometimes frustrating and often absurd realities of the country’s cannabis regulations. As a veterinarian, medical director at the VCA-Canada Vancouver Animal Wellness Hospital and board member of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine, Kramer and others in her field have been left out of the legalization discussion, while more people than ever are turning to cannabis-based products to treat their pets. We caught up with Kramer from her office in Vancouver to discuss the irony of that reality, the increase in pet toxicity from cannabis, and the prospects for the future of cannabinoid therapy in animals. The following is an edited transcript of that interview. 

How important is it that veterinarians are given the same authority to discuss and prescribe cannabis-based products as other healthcare providers? 

It’s vastly important, and that’s what we’re working towards. We know from hundreds of lab studies in humans that there is quite a lot of medicinal benefit to this plant. North American vets haven’t been able to recommend it, prescribe it, or even talk about it, but there’s so much access to it that owners are getting it from pet stores and dispensaries, using it, and reporting anecdotally amazing things. Veterinarians need to be able to talk about this freely, be able to study it and, most importantly, be able to use it in our patients.

What steps need to be made for those changes to take shape?

One of the [cannabis] companies with lots of money needs to launch clinical trials and undertake the process of bringing a prescription product to market, or we need to convince Health Canada to put hemp and CBD-rich products on the supplement list, where they can be sold over the counter. In my mind it would be nice to have some prescription products that are CBD and THC combinations, and then have hemp products sold over the counter.

Isn’t it ironic that many of these products are already being sold? 

There are a ton of these out there. I can go next door to the pet store and get some, but all of those products are considered illegal. I think that’s what’s driven things on the veterinary medicine side of things – we have to be talking about this stuff, because our clients are already using it. Every mom-and-pop shop who has access to cannabis is coming up with a product, and I can get a selection from pet stores and dispensaries, all of which are carrying pet products. 

There’s an increase in reported animal toxicity from cannabis. How would you suggest improving that issue? 

There’s a lot of education to be done. Even vets don’t understand the difference between variations in cannabis. We know that cats and dogs are much more susceptible to THC than humans, so toxicity is definitely a problem. Vancouver has had the distinction over the last couple of years as being the number-one city in North America for accidental marijuana toxicity in dogs and cats. 

What problems are posed by the lack of available clinical research?

It puts us in a bad situation because we don’t have the research and our hands are tied by legality. We’re not really supposed to say, ‘here’s this product, this is how you use it.’ For us right now, it is experimental and, up until last year, we haven’t even been allowed to study it. But now with legalization and the passing of the Farm Bill in the U.S., the door has been opened a bit and this past year there have been a few studies that have come about and there are many other animal studies that are planned and going on right now. So I think one of the benefits of legalization is that it’s getting the ball rolling. 

Are you optimistic about the future of cannabinoid therapy in pets and animals?

I’m really optimistic that we’ll get to a point where I can go to my pharmacy and pull down a prescription and be able to explain the CBD and THC percentage, how to use it, and the effects of using the product. Personally what I’d like to see is that the hemp seed products with less than 0.3 percent THC become like nutraceuticals, over-the-counter supplements. Hopefully we’ll also have a cannabis THC and CBD prescription drug that vets will be able to prescribe freely.

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