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Answering Questions on the Legalization of Cannabis and What it Means for the Veterinary Profession

September 5, 2018

The new Cannabis Act and regulations comes into effect on October 17, 2018. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) is working closely with Health Canada to make progress in terms of increasing clarity on what this means for the veterinary profession, and also with respect to making progress in advancing veterinarians’ ability to grant access to medical cannabis to their patents; product safety for pets (via labelling); and availability of registered veterinary health products.

The CVMA wishes to share information as it becomes available, which also means providing answers to questions received from CVMA members.

Given that Cannabis in all its forms will be legally available to Canadians from October 17, 2018, what is to stop any Canadian, over the provincially regulated age, from calling into their favourite Cannabis product supplier and purchasing Cannabis, in all of its strain varieties, for use in their pets? 

Unfortunately, nothing will stop this from happening. As of October 17, 2018, all adult Canadians will have legal access to a wide range of cannabis products available through licensed retailers. However, without the appropriate guidance and education, pet owners may inadvertently administer an inappropriate product to their pets, administer an inappropriate dose, or simply not be aware of the risks of having cannabis products left out resulting in an increased health risk to their animals. These products will, of course, not be veterinary products (may contain unsuitable levels of THC, for example). The CVMA is aware that this may result in increased number of patients being presented to veterinarians with toxicosis. This is why the CVMA believes veterinarians should have the ability to have open discussions about cannabis and remain the leading source of all health-related information about pets.

Given that Cannabis in all its forms will be legally available to Canadians from October 17, 2018, what is the problem of any veterinarian from suggesting, confirming or recommending a strain of Cannabis to a client for their patient (along with dose and safety advice)?

Post-Oct 17, any recommendations would need to take into account the slim body of scientific evidence around dose and safety in animals as well as the lack of availability currently of prescription human and/or veterinary prescription products, and registered veterinary health products with known quality and safety. The matter of potential liability is something that veterinarians would need to consider in such an environment. Plant material such as cannabis can vary considerably from plant to plant in terms of components such as CBD, THC and terpenes etc. 

Veterinarians have a long history of extra-label drug use in practice. CVMA believes that veterinarians should be able to recommend specific products, and provide dosing guidelines for cannabis products available legally under the Cannabis Act. Decisions on these recommendations and guidelines fall under the provincial veterinary regulatory bodies. Currently, the Canadian Council of Veterinary Registrars are reviewing these issues.

Should veterinarians not be permitted to make recommendations for products available under the Cannabis Act, CVMA and other key stakeholders will continue to advocate for inclusion under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) to allow a legal pathway for recommending cannabis for our patients.

How will veterinarians recommending a specific strain of Cannabis to their client for their patient be any different from recommending a dose of Melatonin or Glucosamines? 

Veterinarians have a long history of using numerous products in an extra-label manner. This includes both prescription and non-prescription products. Products such as melatonin and glucosamine, for example, are generally formulated as registered products with known concentrations of active ingredients. 

In cannabis, THC and CBD are only two components that need to be considered for their potential therapeutic use. Cannabis is not a single compound, but rather a genus of plant with numerous possible compositions, none of which are currently approved by Health Canada as either a prescription or non-prescription product, or Natural Health Product. (The exception being Sativex – a Rx drug derived from isolated cannabis extracts).  

Re-classification may come at some point in the future, but as it is only now being removed from Schedule II listing of the Control Drug and Substances Act, these changes may take more time. The development of prescription veterinary products formulated for animals will be something CVMA will continue to encourage. A veterinarian will be able to make such recommendations after considering the information from the above question, including potential liability.

As Cannabis will be legal, why does the CVMA need a policy?  

While the CVMA does not have a policy or position statement regarding cannabis, we are committed to seeking clarification from the numerous stakeholders and keeping members informed during this period of rapid change and development. 

We will continue to facilitate discussions with Health Canada, advocate for inclusion of veterinarians among medical professional under the ACMPR, encourage Health Canada to require labelling of human products to protect pets, and encourage the development and registration of veterinary health products and prescription products for use in animals.

Our website does contain information for pet owners cautioning them on toxicity, and we are in the process of updating two articles on our website that were originally posted in December 2017 to keep them as current as possible.

To further help answer questions, please listen to the audio recording from the 2018 CVMA National Issues Forum on July 5 in Vancouver, which includes the Q&A session and the Powerpoint presentations: