New Michigan Law allows veterinarians to discuss CBD with pet owners. The deeper story is our laws prevent our pets from getting the help they need

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Are we at the point of having to take satirist Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America question seriously? Wednesday’s insanity in Washington – where, incredibly, one poll tells us that almost half the voting public approved of the mob storming the Capitol – certainly raises the question.

But take a look at the Michigan law that took effect the last day of 2020 allowing veterinarians to discuss the therapeutic use of CBD with pet owners and is based on the following rationale:

CBD … thought by many to have beneficial effects in humans … might also apply to pets. Hemp chews for dogs and cats are marketed as remedies for a number of health issues, from anxiety to joint pain to bladder control. However, veterinarians are currently unable to consult with pet owners on the use of marijuana or industrial hemp, even if it is to advise against their use.

Notice the last line – until the law was passed, Mich. vets couldn’t even counsel against giving THC to pets, which would constitute sage advice according to one cannabis expert:

But why would the legislature think veterinarians couldn’t express their honest opinion about any relevant issue with pet owners including the use of CBD?  

Yes, under federal law you still can’t grow, sell, or possess cannabis – but you can talk about it! As if common sense weren’t enough, Canna Law Blog points to a recent Supreme Court decision that says the First Amendment’s free speech clause prevents the state or federal state governments from telling health professional what they can and cannot say to their patients.

Which explains why, on the one hand, the FDA has yet to approve the use of CBD in pet products; but on the other hand, if you look at their cannabis FAQ, you’ll see it recommends people talk to their veterinarian about “appropriate treatment options” for their pets – their concession to the First Amendment.

The Michigan counterpart to the FDA is also at odds with itself: MDARD has outlawed the use of CBD in pet foods, yet they say that “a person can choose to supplement their own pet’s food with hemp or hemp-derived products like CBD oil.”

To summarize: State and federal regulatory agencies are speaking out of both sides of their mouths; the federal government prohibition on cannabis conflicts with Michigan’s law which legalized medical cannabis in 2008 and recreational cannabis in 2018; the Michigan legislature spent a lot of time and energy passing a law permitting veterinarians to say what the US Supreme Court said back in early 2018 was already permissible; and while Michigan’s new law permits vets to discuss CBD with their patients, they can neither use it to treat sick animals nor prescribe it.

Meanwhile, as the law remains at war with itself, the science tells a consistently promising story of CBD’s ability to help sick pets. The above photo, for instance, is from a Colorado study showing CBD significantly helps dogs with epilepsy. Canada’s Univ of Guelph has embarked on a 3 year project looking into CBD’s ability to treat bladder cancer in dogs, which their researchers say should have spillover effects for people. And some of the most compelling evidence to date comes from the recent work out of Cornell Univ that says giving CBD oil to dogs with osteoarthritis results in a “significant” decrease in pain, an increase in mobility, and does so without side effects. An interesting side note to the Cornell paper is what the authors say drove them to investigate CBD in the first place – the avalanche of glowing reports from CBD users saying that it helps treat a wide variety of ailments for them and their pets:

A recent survey reported that pet owners endorse hemp-based treats and products because of perceived improvement in numerous ailments, as hemp products were moderately to very helpful medicinally. Some of the conditions thought to be relieved by hemp consumption were: pain, inflammation, anxiety and phobia, digestive system issue, and pruritus [severe itching of the skin]. One immunohistochemical study suggested that cannabinoids could protect against the effects of immune-mediated and inflammatory allergic disorders in dogs whereas another uncontrolled study suggested that CBD has anticonvulsant and anti-epileptic properties in dogs.

The good news is there’s a way to resolve this massive conflict of laws: the Senate needs to pass and the President needs to sign into law the MORE Act which was passed by the House last month. It’s a bill that would decriminalize cannabis and thus harmonize federal law with states that have already done the same, and would act as an incentive for the few remaining prohibitionist states to get their laws in order.

Because until that’s done the legal conflicts that exist in Michigan will continue to exist in all 50 states – to the (needless) detriment of people and pets. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and prime sponsor of a cannabis research bill passed by the House last month levelled this charge during the floor debate: “Cannabis laws in this country are broken, especially those that deal with research. It’s insane.”

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