From Stoned Bunnies to Cannabis-Based Pet Care: What's the Effect of Pot on Animals?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It appears that the DEA will stop at nothing to slow down and frustrate medical marijuana reform. That said, the latest "health warning" from the agency, this time in Utah, borders on the bizarre.

Special Agent Matt Fairbanks, a member of Utah's DEA marijuana eradication team, told a state panel of lawmakers in early March that stoned bunnies pose a major threat to public safety and as a result, should impede the current cannabis legalization initiative now the table in the state authorizing medical use for specific conditions.

"I come to represent the actual science and I come with some severe concerns," Fairbanks told lawmakers during his testimony. According to the concerned agent, "even rabbits...had cultivated a taste for the marijuana, where one of them refused to leave us." Apparently this keen-eyed member of DEA enforcement also thought it was distressing that the rabbit's "natural instincts to run were somehow gone."

The idea of wildlife "getting high" from eating the live, raw plant, is actually scientifically untrue.  Furthermore, cannabinoid-based pet care is not a new idea. Cannabis appears to have a similar effect on animals as it does on humans. Some cats react to pot the same way they do to catnip (although catnip does not work on people). While the ASPCA at least for now recommends against feeding cannabis to pets, there are many credible reports of the efficacious treatment of sick animals with the plant - both historical and recent.

According to Julianna Carella, the CEO of Auntie Dolores and Treat-ibles, a company that produces medical edibles for pets, "Unless rabbits have learned how to use fire - they aren't going to be getting high.  It's simple chemistry! In the living plant, the cannabinoid THC is in its acid form - known as THCA. This compound isn't psychoactive until it goes through a process called decarboxylation; this occurs with heat exposure. Since rabbits would eat the living plant - they wouldn't be in any danger of experiencing euphoria or any result caused by the psychoactive nature of Delta-9-THC."

As amusing as this most recent DEA anecdote is, however, misinformation about marijuana is not new. According to Marc Ross of Sichenzia Ross Friedman Ference LLP, "Starting in the 1930s, Harry J. Ainslinger, who later became the first Commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics, embarked on a fabricated propaganda campaign that vilified marijuana to the public. This campaign described marijuana as causing murder, depravity and insanity. This time, however, I don't see their tales gaining traction in people's minds, as it did in the 1930s."

That's the history of Reefer Madness.

In fact, the Utah state panel of 2015 found no traction with the argument. It approved the bill for expanded medical use and sent it to the full Senate.

In Nevada, however, things are a bit more formal. In the middle of March, a state lawmaker, Democratic State Senator Tick Segerblom, proposed a medical marijuana bill for pets. Given the number of medical tourists Nevada is now lining up to serve as the only reciprocal medical marijuana state, this may be an idea whose time has come. Many older people and medical tourists with therapy animals, for example, may find the concept not only comforting but convenient.

Currently, there is not a lot of contemporary animal research studies available. The Schedule I classification of marijuana has limited all research in the US, on both animals and people since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act. That said, as marijuana becomes more legit for humans, ganja-based pet care is sure to follow.

--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet

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