In addition to my role as Director of Retailer and Consumer Relations at Steve’s Real food, I also teach evening history classes at a local university, and I begin every class the same way – talking about marijuana.
Now I don’t use marijuana, and it isn’t legal where I live in Utah. The school I teach at is in a county that is 88% Mormon, and the majority of my students are as well. Most of them have probably never even considered trying it. So why do I talk about it?
I use it as an exercise about why history matters, and how knowing the story of the past can inform the debate about the present. The banning of marijuana in the US was part of a long chain of measures to attempt to control immigrant populations of Asian and Mexican descent. Fearmongering in sensationalist newspapers helped fan the flames, using their influence to terrorize people with accounts of those who were racially-other (and therefore “un-American”) committing unspeakable crimes against white people under the effect of the drug. Wild suppositions about a link to marijuana were enough to inspire fear, and in 1937 a set of hearings in Congress (in which a member of the American Medical Association testified that all the evidence against the plant was based on sensationalist accounts and not scientific fact) led to its’ ban.
It is important to understand this because it took from 1937 to 1996 for America to move toward a more realistic view of the plant. That was when California passed Proposition 215, which legalized medical cannabis. Since then, progress has been made in the cultivation of strains of the plant that have a very low THC content (the psychoactive element) and high cannabidiol content (the medically beneficial factor). Strains like Charlotte’s Web, designed for children with epileptic seizures, have anecdotally proven to be a tremendous benefit for those suffering from debilitating medical conditions. This low THC strain allows for all the advantages of medicinal use without the worry of getting “high.”
The main issue with medical marijuana is that the government’s stance has made it impossible to do any long-term studies about the medicinal benefits of cannabis products on various diseases. Therefore, they can argue that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims of cannabis proponents while effectively blocking any ability for researchers to produce that evidence. The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and even PETA are advocating that marijuana is moved to a Schedule II drug, allowing for more research opportunities. Fortunately, despite our closed American thinking, we are not the only country in the world (gasp!), and researchers all over the globe have done the studies that are near-impossible to do here. Their results have found a clear homeopathic link to better health, pain relief, and function for a myriad of health issues.
Though small, there is a growing niche for cannabis products in the Pet market, as well. The AVMA has published a near-glowing article https://www.avma.org/news/javmanews/pages/130615a.aspx about the benefits of cannabis for pets, with multiple accounts of how it has helped animals in pain and calls for the Veterinarian community to become involved in the debate around cannabis. Dr. Karen Becker interviewed Dr. Rob Silver in February of 2015 and discussed medical marijuana for animal companions. On the down side, he notes that dogs have higher numbers of receptors in their brain that react to cannabis, and high THC strains can make them uncomfortable. Some dogs have eaten “edibles” for humans that have made them sick (especially when combined with chocolate). He is an active supporter of low-THC strains that can benefit end-of-life pain, anxiety, and more. So the evidence suggests that it would be beneficial for dogs and cats to have cannabis products designed especially for them, rather than sharing their owner’s stores, which can cause unforeseen effects. These are starting to come on the market, but they are still few and far between because of marijuana being illegal in many states for humans. There is, however, a loophole.
The Cannabis plant has many strains, but two broad sub-categories are Marijuana and Hemp. Marijuana is defined as a cannabis plant that has a level of THC higher than .3%. Hemp is a cannabis plant with a THC content lower than that marker. It is the THC component that makes marijuana illegal in most states, but hemp products are legal in all 50 states. Because the THC content is so low as to be virtually non-existent – kind of like the alcohol in Kefir – pet products that do not contain THC are 100% legal in all 50 states. More and more people recognize the loophole inherent in this – hemp still contains CBD, the medically beneficial element, and, therefore, much of the illegality surrounding medical marijuana can be avoided by sourcing from hemp. Dogs and cats are likely to be among the first to benefit from this because the emotionally-charged political debate surrounding cannabis is not nearly as heated in the pet industry. We here at Steve’s Real Food predict that more and more cannabis products will soon arrive on the pet market, to benefit pets everywhere.