Featured Canna Vet Extraordinaire:
Sarah Brandon, DVM
Feature: Dr. Sarah Brandon
Specialty: Eloquent on Pets and Cannabis
Website: Medicaljane.com (Contains very helpful/useful information.)
We are all watching this booming industry grow. Cannabis has become a number one topic as new and innovative products are helping people (and animals) all over the globe. The publicity on new products is at an all time high and while we all know people and cannabis go hand in hand we are starting to see cannabis and more of our furry loved ones working together just as much (paw in paw). The amount of pet products I have seen sneaking their way onto shelves is incredible and so exciting! I was so enthralled with the idea of pets and cannabis that I found a woman right in the mix of it all, Dr. Sarah Brandon. She was kind enough to elaborate on some topics we felt were important for the public to know about when getting your fluffy children on a diet involving cannabis.
CM: I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to answer some questions and chat about pets and cannabis! I have been so excited to do a piece on pets because I think the information is so important but people just don’t know enough about it. After much research I definitely found the right person for the job! Dr. Brandon, you have so much passion and knowledge to share with our readers but before we get too into it, can we start by diving into your backstory? (Where are you from? What did you go to school for?)
Dr. Sarah Brandon: How far back shall I go? I have a Veterinary Medical Degree from OSU (Oklahoma State University) 2002 with equine surgical lean and did a private internship in Washington. Equine practice did not work out and I found myself in feline medicine and surgery where I remained for 12 years. During veterinary school through current, my husband and CSO, Dr. Greg Copas, and I administered cannabis to dogs and cats. Greg used cannabis for joint pain (many sports injuries, allergies to prescription therapies) and we decided to administer it to our personal pets. As we had been in the veterinary field for some time, we knew how to manage marijuana toxicities and kept logs of all responses. Once we move to Washington, we were able to begin testing plant matter administered and titrate our dosing. Eventually we had consistent dosing and safety information and started branching out to friends’ pets, patients, fosters … if you knew us and had pets or were a furry friend in the home, cannabis was on the menu! As our database grew, we decided to start selling the product – adding to said database. At this time, we have over 6000 patients encompassing all ages, sex, conditions, responses, doses, etc. It’s a living database we draw from for product development, patient consultations and pet parent and veterinarian education.
CM: Wow, you have quite the background and 6000 patients, that is amazing! It is so great to hear how you got to this place in life, definitely a lot of work but it sounds so fulfilling! So you started introducing cannabis to animals but when was cannabis first introduced into your life and what role did it initially play for you?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: Well, I first used cannabis recreationally at 19. Medically, I started using it in my mid-20s (anxiety) and was more than pleased. Later, as we learned more about the ECS (endocannabinoid system), I would find certain strains which helped insomnia without leaving me exhausted the next day.
The big input it played in my life? Less is more!
I was and still am fascinated that it doesn’t take much for medical benefits to be seen.
CM: I can definitely agree with you there! So with your background of many veterinary studies I can see you already had a love for animals. What was it that initially sparked your interest in the industry and pushed you to start your research of animals and cannabis together?
Dr. Sarah Brandon:
We realized the cannabis plant fulfilled our medical oaths — harm none and help when you can.
We researched cannabis prohibition and discovered the truth had nothing to do with DARE and other such nonsensical organizations. Cannabis was used in veterinary medicine with great success until prohibition and we felt it was the right time to back up old history with new science. The new science was even better than we expected and patients responded quite favorably. Perhaps the best thing was no one needed to use one therapy over another; cannabis compliments other treatments while improving quality of life. How could we NOT make this available to pet parents and help educate them and our colleagues?
CM: So true, people have been taught their whole lives by these organizations that cannabis is just bad for you, plain and simple. Getting these scientific facts and knowledge out there is so important for peoples understanding and acceleration. Let’s dive right into the middle; talk to me about Cannabis and pet health issues…it is definitely a trending topic and I would love to hear about what we don’t know and what we need to know in this growing field!
Dr. Sarah Brandon: This is a complex topic and one best addressed via education. The ECS, endocannabinoid system (cannabis receptor system) is highly sensitive and adaptogenic. Its sole purpose is to listen to the body’s stress signals (chemicals put off by distressed cells) and take action in the form of up-regulation (making and activating more cannabis receptors in specific locations) to return the body to a healthier homeostasis. These distress signals occur all the time in our bodies and the ECS is listening to every one. For example, if I’m tossing the ball for Gnarls (one of our Belgian Malinois) and he ends up getting a scratch on his nose retrieving it from underneath the brambles, his ECS kicks into gear. Cells all along the scratch are now injured and sending out distress chemicals. The ECS hears the call and works to return things to normal, including reducing pain and inflammation and helping the immune system fight infection. When we administer external cannabis, we are simply providing the ECS with more compounds so it can do its job more efficiently and effectively.
On the cellular level, we understand a lot about how the ECS functions, and many are starting to realize this system prefers everything in balance. Cannabis receptors work off of negative feedback systems, which is a lot like our HVAC systems. Instead of hot and cold, the ECS receptors use THC and CBD to incite chemical reactions which result in improved cellular health. Over time, that improvement can lead to better quality of life for our furry and feathered friends. Because the ECS is designed to use both CBD and THC, we often see the best results when both are used together. However, dogs and cats prefer to not get high, thus using CBD:THC ratios; 2:1 is recommended.
Now, let’s add in another important part of the equation: terpenes. These compounds are what give plants their odors and make up the chemical structures of essential oils. When combined with CBD and THC, the ECS can now activate receptors in unique ways, furthering health benefits. This process is referred to as the entourage effect and allows for lowered dosages of all compounds for better results and few adverse effects.
This sounds all well and good but how does the pet parent know how much cannabis to administer to their pet? Right now, we lack double blinded studies which answer this question. However, it has been my experience using cannabis in dogs and cats for the past two decades that dosages as low as 0.1-1 mg/kg CBD:THC 2:1-7:1 are sufficient for most pets. When using CBD only products, one may have to go as high as 2.5 mg/kg and it is generally best to avoid anything >10 mg/kg due to how CBD affects receptors in large quantities. In non-medical terms, this translates to, “use pet-specific products unless directed by your veterinarian.” A half-grain of rice is not a dose and can result in significant sedation and GI upset.
CM: This is perfect, exactly what people need to be hearing and thank you for breaking it down so that it is easily understandable. I think a definite pullback from people curious about the topic is that they truly do not understand how and what it is doing in their system. But hey, that’s why I have you answering questions; What do you feel are some common misconceptions involving pets and cannabis?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: ‘THC is toxic …’ well, yes it is, but so is CBD and at lower doses than THC. At low doses both compounds are highly beneficial. At moderate dosages or when the ratios are unbalanced, mild to moderate adverse effects are seen, and at high doses, significant issues are observed. I’ll reiterate less is more.
‘It’s best to bypass the liver…’ 99% of the time, the answer is a resounding NO. We want the liver to metabolize these compounds. Each time the liver gets a crack at them (up to 3 times in most cases), the compounds on the other end (called metabolites) are slightly different than the parent compound and exert a different type of benefit. For example, one metabolite of THC is water-soluble and current research indicates it may reduce inflammation in kidney tissue, and at levels low enough the test subjects (rodents) did not act high. In addition, liver metabolism provides a more consistent distribution, onset of action and duration of action. When that metabolic process is bypassed, we see a short onset of action (minutes rather than an hour), inconsistent distribution (hits the bloodstream quickly and is taken up in amounts where cannabis receptors are in largest quantities — which does have potential benefits for certain conditions), and shorter duration of action (2-6 hr as compared to 8-12 hr for fully metabolized compounds).
‘It’s okay to blow smoke in/around your pet’s face if they are ill and need cannabis…’ Nope. Not okay, ever.
Presuming we’re talking about legal cannabis here, I do not see harm in lighting up while your pet is in the room … provided your pet is able to freely walk away anytime. How would you like it if your best friend, who smokes regularly, decided to blow a ton of smoke in your face despite your protests? Your dog or cat doesn’t understand what it feels like to get high from THC or have a disconnected feeling from CBD (yes, CBD heavy marijuana can make you feel a little off, though not high). That lack of understanding leads to anxiety as they try to process why they are unbalanced, vision and hearing are distorted, or they simply don’t feel ‘right.’
‘Only activated CBD is good for pets…’ Not true for anyone, human, dog, cat, etc.. The natural, acid forms of cannabinoids are quite beneficial on their own, as well as part of the entourage effect. The acid forms are often harder to extract from the plant and it can be difficult to find CBD, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help or isn’t as good as decarboxylated CBD.
CM: Well, there you have it! Thank you so much for clearing some of those up, all of this is so interesting, I really cannot wait to share it! I do want to touch on products, as the time goes on we are starting to see a lot of products popping up for pets relating to cannabis. Is there something people should be looking for or can you give us any tips on choosing products for our pets?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: Always ask for a COA – 3rd party test results proving a company’s claims are true. The supplement industry is mostly unregulated and companies are not required to test products for anything. There are some organizations, like NASC, which help companies maintain strict standards, including testing and claims. Call and speak to the company. Get a feel for who works there and how they comport themselves. If it feels hinky, move on. There are many good companies out there who are happy to help you and your pet, but beware the charlatans just trying to make a buck.
CM: What do you say to people who are skeptical of moving in this direction with their pets?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: My first question is why? Answers range from lack of education, to fear of legal action, to concerns over lack of double blinded studies. The first two responses are easy to address … simply provide education about the ECS and acknowledge that we are still learning about this great plant (it’s not a miracle cure to anything), and help people understand where the legal state of cannabis is at this time — it’s going to continue to change for several years. The last response is trickier as it is a very true statement. However, we over-emphasize double blinded studies in this country, particularly when there is an overwhelming amount of well-run studies in other countries and thousands of years of historical use (aka case studies or anecdotal evidence). I’m not saying we don’t need double blinded, FDA-based studies — we most assuredly do — but it is silly to ignore numbers like this … Google Scholar search for “cannabis” gives ~32,000 articles, while “phenobarbital” provides ~16,500. It is silly to ignore the fact we used cannabis in veterinary medicine with good success prior to prohibition and that it is common practice in many countries to graze cattle and goats in fields where wild cannabis grows. Those cattle and goats are comparatively healthier than herds within the same region not grazed in such pastures. The point is, we need to broaden our horizons and globalize our perspective when it comes to cannabis use.
CM: I couldn’t agree more! What obstacles do you feel you run into with this industry starting to progress so rapidly?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: Education. It’s hard to steer pet parents and veterinarians in the right direction when the internet makes ALL information readily available. Furthermore, when we have a grass-roots movement, things tend to get very large in a very short time frame and it’s hard to keep up. Normally, medical professionals are the ones to educate their clients about new therapies. In the case of medical cannabis, it’s the opposite. The movement is growing so fast, universities and postgraduate educational conferences are scrambling to provide accurate material.
This is compounded by hesitancy regarding legal affairs, and those companies out to make a buck > providing quality products.
CM: With everything growing so quickly what do you feel the future looks like for pets and cannabis? Where are you hoping to see it go in the next few years?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: Really good! Despite the challenges, it’s clear cannabis has a place in veterinary medicine. We don’t often come across ‘new’ therapies which have very few adverse effects and address a wide array of health concerns. I see better regulation for the industry, which helps pet parents feel more secure in their choice of cannabis for their pet. I also think we will see a number of species-specific double blinded studies on specific conditions. We lack quantitative data backing up case study reports and I think having them will greatly enrich the field. In short, cannabis therapy in veterinary medicine is here to stay!
CM: Well I think I can speak for most when I say I’m glad to hear it! On another note, I definitely want to touch on the fact that you are a woman in this mostly male driven industry. As a woman, and a doctor how do you feel this has helped or hindered you?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: Interesting question and one I’ve not been asked before 🙂 I don’t know that it has helped or harmed, mostly because of personal attitude. I just don’t care what sex a person is as long as they comport themselves in a respectful manner and do their best to provide accurate information while helping out our fellow people (people to me encompasses all creatures, two or four-legged, feathered or furred, scaled or spiny). The double standard set by our forefathers is fast falling away. Women demand more in the workplace and as they take on the same roles as men traditionally have, they carry a different perspective with them. The same perspective appears well-rooted in Millennials and younger and I think a more cooperative future is at hand for businessmen and women.
CM: I definitely do to! I cannot thank you enough for sharing all of your insightful information! We all want the best for our pets, as they are our children and mean the world to anyone with them. I truly believe you will be helping so many people especially the ones who are curious and just haven’t gotten their feet wet yet (including my mother)! Is there anything else you can think of that we didn’t cover?
Dr. Sarah Brandon: Oof! I think you covered it all. Let me know if you need anything else!