I recently read about a woman who planned to euthanize her dog who that had been suffering from chronic pain after veterinary specialists said it was an incurable condition. The dog would constantly lick her paws and the vets explained that was an involuntary reaction to pain.
In a last resort attempt to save her 15-year-old dog, the woman fed her dog a marijuana cookie specifically made for animals that she purchased at a medical marijuana dispensary. One cookie and 20 minutes later, the licking suddenly stopped.
She then fed her dog a second cookie and then a third. The dog, who had been listless and depressed, got up to drink some water and then walked outside, something she hadn’t been able to do for a long time without whimpering and showing obvious signs of pain.
Industry growth has created multiple sub-industries
Cannabis is becoming big business in the United States. This rapidly developing industry keeps sprouting out new sub-industries that solve a major need. When people think about the cannabis industry, their first thought is a retail dispensary. People are so fascinated with the idea of owning a dispensary that they forget to think about other cannabis related business opportunities. The expansion of the cannabis industry has created many opportunities that entrepreneurs and creative people can capitalize on.
The new cannabis pet industry is now being monitored by regulators like the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA recently released an alert about buying CBD products that are not lab tested. The opaque regulatory environment makes its challenging for companies who want to market and distribute cannabis-based products to animals. There’s also insufficient medical research and industry guidelines.
The FDA is watching
Because cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance, veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe cannabis products to pets. This presents an issue for companies who produce or sell these products because they do not want to attract the attention of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which recently began to send out warning letters to a number of companies who sell cannabis-based products for animals
Canna Companion, a company that sells cannabis edibles for animals, received a letter in February that said its product is an “unapproved new animal drug and your marketing of it violates the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”
Sarah Brandon, an owner of Canna Companion, had no idea such rules existed. She used language on her company’s website and social media accounts to describe the product more like a drug instead of as a supplement. The descriptions included innocent phrases such as “safe and effective” as well as claims that the product will “reduce cancer-associated symptoms.”
Canna-Pet is a Seattle based company that sells capsules and biscuits for dogs made with hemp; they too received a similar letter from the FDA. Peak Pharmaceuticals (PKPH) has an exclusive licensing agreement to sell Canna-Pet products.
“It’s not an unusual thing for the supplement industry where the marketer is making claims that might be going too far,” admits Soren Mogelsvang, CEO of Peak Pharmaceuticals. “We’re all a little guilty of that and were reprimanded by the FDA. We responded to the guidelines and adjusted our marketing materials accordingly.”
That said, the letter didn’t negatively impact sales. “If anything, it might have bumped it up a little,” he says. “Any PR is good PR.”
Peak Pharmaceuticals, which has a lab at the University of Colorado in Denver, is also doing its own research. It has partnered with a veterinary hospital to conduct clinical studies on the effects of cannabinoids on dogs with epilepsy. The company also entered into an agreement with a university to study the effects of cannabinoids on horses who suffer from joint pain and anxiety.
“If you think about it, universities are still in limbo,” says Mogelsvang. “They don’t know if they can research cannabinoids and are worried about losing grant funding. The hemp laws, the farm bills—there’s very little case law that defines what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Investor interest is growing
Despite the risks, investor interest hasn’t subsided. Dutchess Capital is a marijuana-focused investment firm in Boston that invested in Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, who is developing a line of cannabis pet products.
Some investors, however, are more cautious given how new the cannabis pet market is. They believe more research needs to be done before going forward.
Need to do more research
Veterinarians are only starting to learn about marijuana’s effects on animals. In March, the California Veterinary Medical Association held a conference in Yosemite National Park where one of the major themes was cannabis.
Dawn Boothe, a professor at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama, presented at the conference. Her department recently submitted a grant application to the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds scientific studies for animals, so as to conduct research on cannabinoids’ effects on dogs.
Boothe pointed to previous marijuana studies done with lab animals on existing human drugs on the market that contain cannabinoids. She specifically mentioned Sativex, an oral spray developed by GW Pharmaceutical (GWPH). The product helps treat multiple sclerosis and its listed active ingredients are THC and CBD.
“We can’t ignore the therapeutic benefits,” she says.
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