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health | 12.05.2019

Should Doctors Prescribe Cannabis for Epileptic Dogs?

Dr. Ilo Leppik wants to amend his state’s cannabis laws to allow veterinarians to prescribe cannabis pills to epileptic dogs.

In humans, epilepsy is incredibly difficult to treat. The available treatment options often involve powerful pharmaceutical tranquilizers that come with a host of side effects. In pets, finding safe, affordable, and effective treatments for epilepsy is much harder. This fact has inspired one Minnesota doctor to push for cannabis reform. Dr. Ilo Leppik wants to amend his state’s cannabis laws to allow veterinarians to prescribe cannabis pills to epileptic dogs.

Cannabis for epileptic dogs

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Leppik is no veterinarian. But, his work at the University of Minnesota has made him a cannabis convert. Many of Leppik’s patients are now taking cannabis pills to control their seizures. He tells the Pueblo Chieftain,

My passion is to find a better treatment for this condition.

One of his patients, Plymouth resident Dawn Swanson, was able to drastically reduce seizures and severe pain from contestant muscle spasms after incorporating medical cannabis into her treatment plan.

While Swanson has taken over 20 different pharmaceutical medications to control her condition, she has been seizure free since switching to the herb. For the past year, she has stuck to a strict regimen of three cannabis pills per day. Since beginning the program, she has seen a dramatic improvement.

Swanson isn’t alone in her seizure condition. Her dog, CJ, also has epilepsy. Unfortunately, while Swanson has medical cannabis access, CJ does not. The legal status of the herb prevents Swanson from experimenting with veterinary cannabis for her pooch. She explains,

Would I rather him take medication that’s more natural than the ones he’s taking right now? Sure, why not? Personally, after everything I’ve been through, I can’t see a reason why they shouldn’t open it up to more things.  -Swanson

Recent trials of cannabis-based seizure medication, Epidiolex, have had positive results. Yet, clinical studies on cannabis extracts for both humans and epileptic dogs are lacking.

Anecdotal evidence like Swanson’s is certainly a positive sign. Yet, when it comes to furry friends, strict restrictions on veterinary prescriptions and cannabis research block doctors from experimenting with canine cannabis in a safe setting.

Research restrictions hinder development

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Leppik hopes that Minnesota cannabis reform will shed light on both the potential veterinary uses of the herb and help spur further understanding of the impact of cannabis medicines in humans.

As Swanson’s case shows, it’s not uncommon for human epilepsy patients to go through what seems like an entire pharmacy with only marginal symptom relief. In epileptic dogs, quality treatment options are even more a is abysmal.

One of the most commonly prescribed anti-seizure medications for canines is phenobarbital, which can cause liver damage after long-term use.

Surprisingly, dogs have higher rates of epilepsy than humans do. Expanding medical cannabis programs to include veterinary application could open new doors for safe and effective treatments without extreme side effects like liver failure.

From humans to canines

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In high doses, cannabis is toxic to household pets. Dogs are extremely sensitive to THC, the primary psychoactive in the plant. Yet, the human and anecdotal evidence thus far shows that nonpsychoactive CBD or extremely low doses of THC can significantly reduce symptoms of various conditions, like seizures in epileptic dogs, and cancer pain.

Leppik is onto something. His initiative to include veterinary applications for medical cannabis is the first of its kind. As marijuana reform continues to rocket across the United States, new applications for the herb are sure to develop.

Veterinary medicine seems like a natural and much-needed expansion of the cannabis industry.

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