Politics & Policy columnist Mark Cushing is a political strategist, lawyer, founding partner of the Animal Policy Group and founding member of the Veterinary Virtual Care Association. Since 2004, he has specialized in animal health, animal welfare, and veterinary educational issues and accreditation. He is the author of “Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Companion Animals Are Transforming Our Homes, Culture and Economy.”Read Articles Written by Mark Cushing
We enter the fourth quarter of 2022 with questions aplenty about what veterinarians may do with CBD and other cannabinoids for patients, but encouraging precedents and momentum are underway. I want to clarify matters and point us toward the steps needed to advance a veterinarian’s ability to use the products to help clients’ pets.
Where Things Stand
Let me summarize and then discuss.
- Most veterinarians are unsure what they can or cannot do and can or cannot say about the use of CBD and other cannabinoids for pets.
- CBD and related supplements are available through retail channels.
- Federal law is clear but, in one respect, uncertain (silent).
- Nevada passed a law that should serve as a powerful precedent.
- California is close to passing friendly legislation that does not go as far as Nevada’s but still helps.
- One company, Chou2 Pharma, is in clinical trials with the University of Pennsylvania and beginning the FDA approval process. Competitors might be engaged in trials, too.
- Surveys indicate that people want guidance and access to CBD and cannabinoid supplements for their pets. Their key concerns are safety, appropriate dosages, and the products’ success or efficacy.
Free-speech provisions in the U.S. Constitution protect all Americans, so there shouldn’t be debate or uncertainty about discussing CBD and other cannabinoids with clients. The issue isn’t the legality of such a conversation or whether permission is required from a legislature or veterinary medical board. It’s whether veterinarians are satisfied that they know enough to help. Veterinarians must decide if they are comfortable providing advice to clients, though it’s not illegal to do so.
A variety of CBD and cannabinoid supplements or products are sold in brick-and-mortar stores and online outlets. What’s not available is an authoritative consumer guide. Too often, veterinarians and their clients must rely on anecdotal information, which is not always ideal. The National Animal Supplement Council website (nasc.cc) is useful.
The 2018 Farm Bill makes unequivocally clear that hemp-based products with less than 0.3% TCH (tetrahydrocannabinol) are legal in the United States. Such products are not psychoactive, and no federal laws or regulations prohibit their use or recommendation.
Here are excerpts from the bill:
- Hemp: The term “hemp” means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis. (Emphasis added.)
- Rule of construction: Nothing … prohibits the interstate commerce of hemp … or hemp products.
- Transportation of hemp and hemp products: No state or Indian tribe shall prohibit the transportation or shipment of hemp or hemp products produced in accordance with … the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 … through the state or the territory of the Indian tribe.
A Foot-Dragging FDA
What remains frustrating is the refusal or reluctance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reference the Farm Bill language in any manner. The FDA’s silence leaves some veterinarians and lawyers uncertain where things stand for pet CBD and cannabinoid supplements that meet the dual threshold of hemp-based and less than 0.3% TCH. What we’ve seen is an occasional cease-and-desist letter to certain companies when the FDA thinks marketing materials make improper therapeutic claims for a supplement, which isn’t allowed without official FDA approval and after clinical trials.
Until the FDA adopts regulations or proclaims otherwise, I view Farm Bill-compliant supplements and products as legal, which explains why so many are on retail shelves. Why the FDA is reluctant to take the step is understandable in our current political environment. However, the federal government confirmed the legality of hemp-based products with less than 0.3% THC, so an FDA stamp of approval is not required.
Let’s move on to the states. Nevada took an important first step by authorizing veterinarians to recommend and administer hemp-based products. Here’s an excerpt of the law, which went into effect in October 2021:
1. A licensed veterinarian may administer to an animal a product containing hemp or CBD if it:
- Has THC concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis.
- Is intended for use or consumption through means other than inhalation to treat a condition of the animal.
2. The veterinarian may recommend to the animal owner the use of such a product to treat a condition.
3. The board shall not take any disciplinary action against a licensed veterinarian or the facility … for administering or recommending the use of [such] products. (Emphasis added.)
To be sure, Nevada law explicitly allows a veterinarian to recommend and administer a hemp-based cannabinoid product. The only question in Nevada is whether a veterinarian may dispense (i.e. sell) such products to a pet owner. One would think that’s the case since a veterinarian may recommend and administer. Veterinarians sell many products and over-the-counter items without the Legislature’s express approval. What’s different here? The issue has yet to be tested in any public proceeding that I could access, so we’ll wait and see what unfolds in Nevada.
In California, Assembly Bill 1885 takes an additional but cautious next step from current law, which allows a veterinarian to discuss cannabis-related products with a client. AB1885 authorizes a veterinarian to recommend to a client the use of a cannabis-related product. (Emphasis added.) It doesn’t go as far as Nevada, but the careful methodology of the California Veterinary Medical Board and Legislature portend progress toward administrating and, may we hope, dispensing privileges.
On the federal level, one or both of the following FDA actions would be welcome:
- FDA approval of a pet-specific cannabinoid drug like the one Chou2 Pharma is pushing through trials and the approval process.
- FDA rule-making that specifically recognizes and approves as animal supplements products that are hemp-based and less than 0.3% THC.
Each of those steps would involve a long, deliberative process measured in years, not months.
For its part, the industry could offer up to friendly states the Nevada law and urge the explicit recognition of dispensing privileges. Such a move would involve simply adding to the Nevada law the phrase “and dispense” after “recommend.”
Colorado, Washington and Oregon, with Democrat-controlled governments, are well situated to entertain such legislation after years of experience with the legal sale of medicinal and recreational marijuana. The key is whether those states’ veterinary medical associations are supportive or at least neutral. One hopes this is the case and that Nevada’s precedent of deferring to the veterinarian’s judgment is honored.
We have federal law, the Nevada precedent and the First Amendment on our side, so veterinarians may include CBD and other cannabinoids in their client toolkit.
Chou2 Pharma’s Scientific Studies Reference List is a good foundation for any veterinarian interested in learning more about CBD and cannabinoid solutions for pets. Visit bit.ly/3Afy2Yf for details.