In the latest episode of 'Cannabis & Main,' host Ricardo Baca is joined by Dr. Tim Shu - one of the foremost experts in marijuana-derived medications for pets. Ricardo and Dr. Shu discussed how cannabis could help your cat or dog through tough times, and how changing laws mean pet owners have ever greater access to safe cannabis treatments for their furry friends.
This season 'Cannabis & Main' is brought to you in part by Fluent Cannabis.
Ricardo: Hello, hello and welcome to Cannabis & Main, a Civilized podcast where we extract one element from today's cannabis cape and go deep. I'm your host Ricardo Baca, founder of Grasslands, a journalism minded agency. It's so great to be with you today. You can learn more about this show alongside the marijuana news and cannabis lifestyle coverage you crave from Civilized found on the worldwide web at Civilized.life.
Now, this week we are going to dive deep into cannabis and pet medicine. With a guest who is an entrepreneur and a veterinarian who practiced emergency, critical care and general medicine on all types of animals.
Who among us hasn't thought about treating our elderly or struggling animals with a small dose of CBD? Maybe you heard from a friend that cannabidiol was helping their old dog or maybe you felt the regenerative effects of CBD yourself and you wondered if it might help your cat too. The field of cannabis in animals is still very much in its infancy and most of us should not be dosing any cannabinoids to our pets without the advice of a professional veterinarian. That's where my guest this week comes in. He has a doctorate in veterinary medicine, years of IRL practice under his belt, and a deep knowledge of medical cannabis.
He has developed products that are formulated specifically for animals, ensuring that they're safe and efficacious for our furry friends.
Denise Loehr [Sound Bite]: For pets, we've got dog treats and then cat treats as well and then we have a tincture for both of them. My 14 year old, she's a chocolate lab, if we miss a dose, she is moaning and groaning. It's a pain thing or anxiety or the seizures or things like that that are going to benefit.
Ricardo: So, cannabis and pet medicine? Let's talk about it right here on Cannabis & Main. Dr. Tim Shu is the founder and CEO of pet cannabis company, VETCBD, and pet hemp company, Dr. Shu's Pet Care. Tim, thanks so much for joining us today on the episode.
Tim: Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to do this.
Ricardo: Right on, man. You are not a practicing veterinarian now, but you have in the past.
Tim: Right. Prior to starting the company, I practiced in general, emergency and critical care medicine.
Ricardo: Oh, cool. In all types of animals? Was it mostly pets? Did you ever do like farm animals or stuff beyond that?
Tim: In practice, it was mostly dogs and cats, but we did see all kinds of animals. We saw birds, snakes, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, ferrets, you name it. When I was in school, we worked with horses, cattle, farm animals. A lot of different species.
Ricardo: You love animals. You must love animals if you get into this field, right?
Ricardo: Every veterinarian I've ever met has such a singular love of animals that I've always appreciated because, of course, you're trusting them with your animal's care and their lives ultimately. I'm curious how did your path lead you to the weird and wonderful cannabis industry?
Tim: Well, as a veterinarian, I always have had a moral and ethical obligation for pet owners to be able to explore all potential therapeutic options for them. My approach has always been that if cannabis has therapeutic benefits, then we really owe to it the pets and to the owners to be able to explore those therapeutic benefits. Even if it didn't have any therapeutic benefits, we need to be able to find that out. That way we can provide them the information. That way they can make the most informed decisions on their pet's healthcare.
Ricardo: I'm guessing at some point you had patients whose owners were ultimately asking you questions about incorporating cannabinoids into the care of their animals. When did those questions start coming in?
Tim: Well, they actually didn't start until after I started the company. I actually started in late 2014 and officially the company was formed in 2015, which by cannabis standards is a long time ago even though it was only four or five years ago. At that point, it was still a lot of what we were taught in school. They didn't teach about medicinal uses of cannabis. What we're taught about was the intoxicated aspects of THC and what to do if a dog or a cat accidentally got into their owner's stash and how to treat it. No one was really teaching about the medical aspects of it.
Owners had heard about the dangers of cannabis and the dangers of animals getting into the owner's cannabis, but there wasn't a lot of information about how it can be used medicinally for pets and their health problems.
Ricardo: Were you practicing veterinary science here in California?
Tim: I graduated school in Texas, right after that I moved immediately over to California.
Ricardo: You didn't get questions about incorporating weed into pet care even up until 2014? That's surprising.
Tim: Well, you know, growing up in Texas was a very, very different story than California.
In Texas, we grew up hearing horror stories about someone smoking a joint and getting caught with a gram of flower and going to jail for it. Then you come out here to California and there's medical dispensaries everywhere. It is a very, very different reality. That really sparked my interest. I had to ask myself why there was such a stark dichotomy. Why in one area of the country was weed seen as the devil's lettuce and then another part of the country it was seen as cannabis, this medicine that we can use to improve our health.
I always felt that it was our duty, our obligation as veterinarians and healthcare professionals to be able to really take a deep dive and find out the truth behind it and to find out if any benefits we're able to utilize so that way we can improve the health of our patients.
Ricardo: It's the do no harm mentality of traditional medicine, right? I'm really encouraged to hear that you were brought to that place in addition to so many traditional physicians who had patients who were bringing printouts of random studies to them and saying, "Hey, maybe this can help with my anxiety, my epilepsy, my PTSD." Finally, those physicians were forced to consider this as a legitimately opportunity and here you are on the flip side, on the pet side, and you recognized that as your responsibility before it was even brought up to you.
Tim: Yeah. It's been actually very difficult for veterinarians because up until January 1st of this year, veterinarians were not even allowed to discuss cannabis with their clients. They face legal repercussions for doing so. But AB 2215, which was signed into law last year, actually allows for California veterinarians to discuss cannabis with their clients.
Veterinarians have always been put in this very, very difficult position because they always want to do what's best for their patients. We talk to so many clients over the years that have said, "I tried to talk to my veterinarian about this, but either they said they don't have any information about it or they just don't feel comfortable discussing it." Really when those situations arise, we're doing a disservice to our clients because if they're not able to get the medical information that they need from their main medical provider, then they're forced to find that information elsewhere because pet owners are always going to want to do what's best for their pets.
If they hear that cannabis has benefits and can help their pets, they're going to look for that information. If they can't get it from their veterinarians, they're going to look online. They're going to ask friends, family, people that are not medical professionals.
Ricardo: Earlier in my intro I mentioned that I believe people shouldn't be dosing their animals with cannabinoids without the advice of somebody who knows better than they do. Would you agree with that sentiment?
Tim: Absolutely. Because when it comes to cannabinoid therapeutics, it's incredibly complex. It's as complicated as the endocannabinoid system is. It's not a one size fits all model where if you weigh this much, you get exactly this much. What we found is that there can be quite a range of dose compared to the weight or the condition of an animal. It's just like with people, some people are more sensitive to certain cannabinoids, some people less so. We see that in animals too. We can have two dogs that weigh the same size that are using cannabinoids for things like seizure control. One maybe using a smaller amount only once a day where another one maybe using a larger amount two or three times a day.
It really is important to be able to have some sort of professional guidance.
Ricardo: I covered the implementation of legal marijuana markets in Colorado, Washington, Uruguay, Oregon and Alaska. In that time, inevitably this conversation came up a lot. I remember I had multiple freelance writers who wanted to write stories about this. Ultimately what we found at that time in 2013–2014 was that most veterinarians were not having anything to do with this conversation especially publicly.
But as we talked to pet owners who were cannabinoid curious, they were having side conversations with their vets who basically were telling them, "I can't say anything officially legally, but between us, if you want to do this..." which is very similar to a lot of the conversations happening between GPs—general physicians—and their patients, their human patients in those early days as these individuals were wanting to try different forms of cannabis for what was ailing them. What it's like being a veterinarian and now an entrepreneur who can actually talk openly about this? I imagine that's been pretty freeing for you.
Tim: Absolutely. It's been very, very liberating because when you think about the different conditions that we utilize cannabis for. For example, we use it for anxiety in humans and also in animals, but there are other things that we use it for that are more critical, that are more life threatening. For example, we've had a number of clients that use our product and they came to our product, they came to cannabis, really as a last resort. A lot of times what happened was they had a severely epileptic dog that the seizures just weren't able to be controlled with traditional pharmaceuticals. They were having full blown grand mal seizures on a daily basis.
The quality of life really suffers in those situations. Not just for the pet, but also for the owners because it pains them to see their pet going through that on a daily basis.
A lot of these pet owners were considering euthanasia because they just didn't want to see their animals suffer like that. They had heard about cannabis and they had heard about its use in controlling seizures in children. They said, "Why not? Why not try this? We've run out of all other options. We should at least give cannabis a shot." It's been a game changer for so many of these patients. It's been night and day. They've gone from having full blown seizures on a daily basis to severe reductions in the number of seizures that they're having to maybe once a month, once every few months. What we've also seen is that the seizure intensity also goes down.
Where they were having these full blown grand mal seizures before, they're having much milder seizures. Literally cannabis has saved a lot of these patient's lives. We're talking about other conditions like cancer. We've seen some really remarkable cases as well. Patients that the prognosis was only weeks left to live. The owner said, "Well, we've got nothing to lose really." This is about maintaining quality of life for the little amount of time that we have. Once they incorporated cannabis into therapy, they saw an extended lifespan. Many of these patients that were only expected to live for weeks, they lived for months out.
We haven't seen anything curative, but when you're talking about maybe months to a year of extra time for these pet owners, sometimes that's ten percent of that pet's lifespan. That's quality of time that the owner would not have had would it not be for cannabis.
Ricardo: Hold that thought. We're going to take a very quick break. But in the meantime, hit that subscribe button. If you'd be so kind to leave us a review, we'd really appreciate it. Thanks.
Hi, it's Derek Riedle, publisher of Civilized. Today's episode of Cannabis & Main is brought to you again by our friends at Fluent Cannabis Care. At Fluent, they have a full line of CO2 extracted full spectrum products that have been praised by customers and experts alike. Now they're welcoming premium whole flower and pre-rolls to their product line. They're based in sunny South Florida where they have ten locations and more on the way. They're also open in Puerto Rico, in Pennsylvania and in Texas and exciting for me as a Canadian, they're coming to Canada soon. You can check them out on Instagram and Facebook, but they can't show you all the products and give you all the information they want to.
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Tim, every human being has an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Do dogs and cats have ECS?
Tim: Absolutely. In fact, all vertebrae animals have endocannabinoid systems. Mammals, birds, reptile, fish, they all have endocannabinoid systems. Even very, very, very small creatures like the hydra, which is a tiny, tiny little marine creature, has been found to have an endocannabinoid system. All these animals stand to potentially benefit from cannabinoid therapeutics. We have seen a lot of different species benefit. Primarily we work with dogs and cats, but we've also had people use it for their horses, for donkeys. We've had people use it for goats, pigs, ferrets, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs.
The list goes on and on because all these species they have endocannabinoid systems and they're able to benefit from cannabinoid therapeutics.
Ricardo: Oh wow. Do you give dosing instructions for animals based on type and weight? Do you give dosing instructions for canaries and parakeets?
Tim: In terms of dogs and cats, we provide general guidelines.
The general guidelines are based off of weight. Now, what we always tell owners is that there is individual variability. Some patients may require less, some patients may require more. What we tell them to do is start at half of the dosage guideline and gradually work your way up because what we want to do is we want to find the minimal amount that we can use that provides the maximal effect. The general mantra of cannabis therapeutics is to start low and gradually work your way up until you find the right dose. We find that to be applicable for animals also. Certainly in animals like birds and rabbits, we use much, much smaller doses.
Ricardo: Wow. I guess I'm just fascinated because everything you're saying is exactly the same way as it is with humans. I mean for the children suffering from epilepsy, that's exactly how they self-titrate up to determining their dose of CBD medicine, their full spectrum medicine.
Ricardo: It's the same with kitty cats.
Tim: Right. Right. Exactly.
One of the things that we talk about is, like you mentioned, full spectrum products. Everybody talks about CBD nowadays, but CBD is just one cannabinoid out of over a hundred different cannabinoids that come from the cannabis plant. THC, it does have medical benefits. That's something that we've always talked to people about because every single dose of that CBD that we've ever created has a small amount of THC in there. THC can be very useful for things like pain, appetite stimulation, nausea and inflammation. But what's key is that it'd be dose and formulated properly so that these animals don't get any of the intoxicating side effects of THC, but they receive the medical benefits of it.
Ricardo: That's a great point and something I would like to discuss because I got a lot of pushback years ago. I think it was 2015. This video appeared on YouTube from some Colorado pet owner. The title of the video on YouTube was something like 'LOL my dog got stoned,' and it was a husky just stumbling around completely discombobulated. I posted the video on the site that I was running at the time, The Cannabist, which was the marijuana standalone news vertical at The Denver Post and I straight up called it animal abuse because this person had intentionally dosed their animal with THC edibles. You know this space a lot better than I do.
Would you consider that animal abuse if somebody is dosing their dog or cat with THC itself and that being a lot of it too like a human dose?
Tim: Absolutely. It's all about using this responsibly for the benefit of the animal. In situations like that when they're doing it for entertainment purposes at the expense of the animal, that's cruelty straightforward. There's no question about that. That can be considered animal abuse. If someone did that to a child, we would think it's just as absurd, just as ridiculous. If someone's doing that to an animal where the animal is not aware of what's going on, it's not for any sort of medicinal purposes, it's purely for someone's entertainment at the expense of the animal, that is absolutely cruel, inhumane and completely uncalled for.
Ricardo: I guess more common is accidental ingestions and especially with edibles, delicious pieces of chocolate or gummy bears or whatever it is, that they forget to leave out on a low coffee table or something. Did you see a lot of that in practice or do you hear from colleagues that they see a lot of that especially increasing in numbers as legalization sets in and is implemented?
Tim: It does happen. The thing about cannabis is that it is very, very safe. When we talk about animals accidentally getting into things, that's been something that's always been around for as long as pet ownership has occurred.
Veterinarians are very familiar with animals getting into things that they shouldn't.
For example, whether it's swallowing inanimate objects that get lodged in their GI tracts, like rocks, or eating things that they shouldn't, like chocolate. Chocolate is very, very dangerous, very toxic to dogs. In fact, a lot of the other things that they could potentially get into like chocolate, like grapes or raisins are far more dangerous than cannabis. Anytime an animal accidentally gets into cannabis, fortunately the prognosis is very, very good. A lot of times when animals get into edibles for example, we're more worried about the chocolate component than we are the cannabis component.
Ricardo: Right. VETCBD, this product is available in cannabis dispensaries in California?
Ricardo: Are you available in any other markets yet?
Tim: Not yet for the VETCBD line. We will be in the future. For the hemps line—the Dr. Shu's Pet Care—that will be available in non-dispensary retail outlets and through the website.
Ricardo: If we're differentiating the two, Dr. Shu's Pet Care, I'm assuming that's hemp-derived CBD only, with other ingredients that are not cannabinoids?
Tim: It's hemp-derived, but it is a full spectrum product. What that means is not only does it have CBD, but it has trace amounts of THC. With hemp, you can have products that are less than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. We have the THC in there, but we also have other minor cannabinoids in there, so CBC, CBG and CBN. Together these are what creates a full spectrum product and that helps with what we call the entourage effect where multiple cannabinoids being utilized together creates a synergistic effect and are more therapeutic than if we were to use a cannabinoid in isolation form like CBD by itself.
Ricardo: Dr. Shu's Pet Care, is that available now or in the near future?
Tim: It's available now in some select stores and we're doing a full rollout over the course of this next month.
Ricardo: E-commerce or in retail point of sale?
Tim: It'll be both. In terms of e-commerce, it will be drshuspetcare.com. That's our website where we'll have it available online and then we'll also have it available in stores.
Ricardo: Dr. Tim Shu with VETCBD and Dr. Shu's Pet Care, thanks so much for joining us today.
Tim: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Ricardo: To our listeners, thank you again for joining us. Another week at Cannabis & Main and we will see you next week.
Thank you for listening to Cannabis and Main. Please rate, review and subscribe on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcast and your app of choice. For transcripts, show notes and more of the cannabis lifestyle coverage you crave, go to Civilized.life. The voice you heard at the beginning of the podcast was Denise Loehr, co-owner of Calm Waters CBD, Golden Valley, Minnesota. This episode was edited and produced by Jeremiah Tittle of Native Creative Podcast. Executive producers are Derek Riedle and Katie Labrie. Your host is Ricardo Baca.