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"I could tell you that when you have trouble making up your mind about something, tell yourself you’ll settle it by flipping a coin. But don’t go by how the coin flips; go by your emotional reaction to the coin flip. Are you happy or sad it came up heads or tails?"
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 6 June 2019  

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Dr. Jim Humphries

  Medical marijuana: a cure-all — or not?
  By Dr. Jim Humphries

   Pet owners have developed a “cure all” view of marijuana that is simply not backed up by science. I hear this every week in my veterinary hospice practice, and I completely understand — we want anything that will give us a few more precious moments with our dying pets. We are also looking for anything that will work better than traditional medications, especially when the disease is severe. 
   Along comes marijuana, and there is quite a mystique about it. Surely, if the legislators have approved this, it must be good — the “new” cure-all. It is easy to get and to give, but is it really helping anything, or are we fooling ourselves?
   I recently read the results of an online survey (Annals of Internal Medicine, July 23 issue) that found of the16,280 U.S. adults using some form of medical marijuana, those adults quickly assigned health benefits to medical marijuana that have not been proven.
   The public has a much more favorable point of view of what this will do for them — or for their pets — than what is warranted by the evidence. What I found most concerning is that people believe it also prevents health problems. The main problem here is that pet owners will tend to rely on marijuana/CBD for pain and other serious ailments with their pets, and they do not know the animal is suffering. This is often to the complete exclusion of having the benefit of proven medications that do work.
   Some studies have shown that cannabis can help with a few things. It can quiet seizures in children with hard-to-treat epilepsy; it can quell the nausea that is often seen with chemotherapy; but there is no evidence that it can help with the vast majority of other medical conditions. Yet, many are running to this new “drug,” thinking it is a cure-all. 
   If you look up “marijuana benefits,” you will find a story called “23 Health Benefits of Marijuana.” This survey looked at public perceptions of the benefits and risks of cannabis and found that more than one-third (36.9 percent) thought edible marijuana could prevent health problems, and more than a quarter (29.2 percent) believed smoking or vaping marijuana was protective. Where in the world did this come from? There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to prove this.
   A full 76 percent believed marijuana could be addictive, but 22.4 percent thought it had no addictive potential. Scientists have found that about 10 percent of people become addicted to cannabis after innocent use.
   A fair number of people believe it is safe in pregnancy, and about a third felt it was safe to drive while under the influence of marijuana, safer than drinking while drunk.  Again, where does this come from? None of this is true; and, if they feel this way about their own health; then, when their pets get sick, they will give the chemical to their pets and think they are doing some good. 
   There is a multitude of chemicals in medical marijuana and we do not know what they are doing –- if anything! This is crazy, especially when you consider the decades of research and legal hoops drug companies have to jump through to get a good product to market. This is a dangerous trend and our politicians have simply ignored all this rather key evidence. So for now the use of this chemical is somewhat a free-for-all with you or your pets taking the risk!
   Our pets are not immune to this foolishness. Just visit a pet store now and you will find things like canine cannabis and the like. Did the company do the research to prove the effects? I’m concerned about the potential harm to our pets.
   Of course, you know this is a multibillion-dollar industry, and it has been allowed to grow, unproven, for several years. I do not see this being walked back in any way.  Therefore, we are stuck with trying to explain to pet owners that the bottle of stuff they bought contains things we know nothing about and rarely, if at all, has any medical benefit. The stores that have popped up and the sales people are positioning this chemical as a dietary supplement rather than as a Schedule I narcotic drug with addiction potential. I guess it is the “Wild West!”
   It is too bad that the public and pet owners get their information from pop culture, television shows, celebrities, social media and cannabis conventions; rather than their medical professional who has read actual research data to prove some benefit. 
   Without research, our current laws are driven by politics, and that is far from being good for us. I would like to see science-based legislation, but I have always been an idealist. 

   Dr. Jim Humphries is a veterinarian in Colorado Springs and also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes.
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