By Michelle Gerhard Jasny V.M.D.
Marijuana has been on my mind lately. I’m going to Jamaica soon with three teenage girls. (OK, one is technically in her 20s, but just barely.) Although marijuana is officially illegal there, we’ve heard that people openly sell ganja on the beach. I want to make sure these young women are prepared. Of course, it’s not just in Jamaica that marijuana is a hot topic. Over the past few weeks I have had the following conversations: My optometrist and I discussed patients who think marijuana cures just about everything, especially glaucoma; an insomniac friend tried an edible marijuana product as a sleep aid and, unprepared for the potency of modern products, had a distressingly disoriented evening, and I had an inquiry from a client who wondered if marijuana might reduce the size of a tumor on her cat’s leg.
With all the media talk about marijuana, and with changing state laws, cannabis is gaining acceptance for human medicinal use. Naturally, pet owners are interested in the veterinary possibilities. But when someone asks me about prescribing medical marijuana, I am faced with three major concerns — complicated legal status, lack of solid evidence-based information about veterinary medical use, and high risk in animals of adverse side effects and toxicity.
Marijuana is designated as a Schedule I controlled substance (defined by the DEA as drugs, substances, or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse). Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. By federal law, marijuana is illegal except in the most highly regulated circumstances, yet more than half of U.S. states have enacted legislation in direct opposition to this, permitting medicinal marijuana use in humans. Some states have also passed laws allowing recreational use, and in reality, marijuana is one of the most commonly used “illegal” drugs in the country.
Veterinarians are caught in the crossfire between state and federal law. We need our DEA licenses to practice medicine and prescribe medications. Prescribing medical marijuana could risk our licenses and our livelihoods.
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