Medicinal cannabis for dogs and cats is sought after by pet owners despite the risks of illegality in Brazil | Health

Importation of medical cannabis for humans has advanced in Brazil, but new demands for the use of the plant as a treatment are far from exhausted. Despite scientific endorsement, veterinarians are not authorized to prescribe. Regardless, pet owners try to find loopholes and look for alternatives.

Officially, veterinarians are in a situation of legal uncertainty. The resolution of the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) – RDC327 -, which deals with the prescription of cannabis products for medicinal purposes, defines that the measure is “restricted to medical professionals legally qualified by the Federal Council of Medicine”.

The Federal Council of Veterinary Medicine (CFMV) released a note at the end of April in which it asks its professionals not to issue prescriptions for cannabis-derived medicines. The current history for the treatment of animals recalls what happened with the use for human patients: one of the alternatives is the search for lawsuits in Justice, judicialization.

Despite this, the experts interviewed by the g1 say that cannabis substances are proven to be effective against different conditions and diseases in pets: pain, seizures, cancer and synosis, among others. (read more below).

Rodrigo Montezuma, veterinarian, lawyer and advisor to the CFMV presidency, explained to the g1 that the recommendation seeks to protect professionals from being framed by article 38 of the Drug Law – the prescription “in disagreement with legal or regulatory determination” can yield from 6 months to 2 years in prison.

“You can see that the penalty is extremely high. It is a risk for the veterinarian, who is in disagreement with the law or regulatory norm. And today we do not have a regulatory norm for veterinary use. Today the veterinarian is in the anti-drug law” , he explained.

Despite this, Aline Luciana Mendes, a veterinary doctor, said she is not afraid to say that she prescribes cannabis. She says, with the support of Rafael Tiago Mendes, who is a lawyer and his brother, that there are measures that guarantee the action of professionals even in the midst of legal uncertainty.

“Just as it happens with people who seek to do self-cultivation to produce their medicine, because they would also be incurring the same crime of trafficking, the idea is the same: use a preventive habeas corpus”, explains the lawyer.

A preventive habeas corpus is a “safe conduct” and prevents an arrest from being made unfairly — such as when there is a question of competence related to the judge, for example, or when there is nullity of procedure.

The veterinarian explains that they have been giving lectures on the subject always with her brother, a way of informing colleagues how the process should be to ensure more safety. However, Mendes was not always so adept at treating pets with cannabis.

Before starting to prescribe the substances, the vet said she was “prejudiced”. She changed her mind after being invited to meet Antônio Luís Marchioni, Father Ticão, parish priest of São Francisco de Assis Parish, in the east side of São Paulo. He died in early 2021, and was a strong advocate of using cannabis substances for medical treatment.

“Wow, a priest? I was raised in an Adventist college, but a priest talks about marijuana? What a crazy thing… I went to pay to see and left ABC Paulista to visit that church. And education changes our minds, because I got there and saw the mothers talking about their children, how their lives had changed. It was chilling”, said Mendes.

After going to the parish, the veterinarian decided to study the use of cannabis and did a postgraduate course on the subject.

“I treated a cat who used five drugs to control seizures, was hospitalized, and had no quality of life. She didn’t jump and didn’t play. In 4 months, she stopped using all the medications. This cat’s quality of life is huge and life expectancy has changed,” he said.

With a bone change in his spine and two knee surgeries, Mykonos, an 8-year-old Chihuahua, survives on cannabidiol oil. Priscila Couto, the tutor, periodically calls associations that supply cannabis-based products in search of a small bottle. She needs a prescription from a veterinarian. Without this, the dog can convulse due to the sharp pain.

Upon receiving the news about the CFMV’s note, Couto said that he “doesn’t know how he’s going to do it anymore”: “If it was difficult before, now it’s going to get more difficult, since they can’t even give the recipe anymore”.

Priscila, a tutor from Mykonos, explains that cannabis substances have replaced the use of gardenal to treat the dog — Photo: Marcelo Brandt/g1

The dog needs 10 ml of cannabidiol oil per year at a cost of about R$400, according to Couto. She got the medication with the prescription after contacting different associations, which are not always working.

“It’s very difficult to find [o medicamento]associations open and close and the person who worked there can no longer do it, it’s super bureaucratic for them (…) it’s not easy to find and now we need to file a lawsuit to legalize the dog”, he explained.

The associations Couto refers to are institutions created to try to give access to medicines through Justice, representing the interests and desires of people who need the plant.

Some of them came into existence before 2015, when importation for human use was allowed in Brazil, and they obtained the right to plant cannabis to supply the drug. Others work in helping the legal apparatus to families, among other interests.

Katia Ferraro, veterinarian and coordinator of the veterinary working group at the Brazilian Association of Cannabis Industries (Abicann), explains that it is not clear what is the most practical alternative to act while there is no regulation by the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) or Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Mapa).

One of the alternatives is to judicialize case by case, pet by pet.

Montezuma says that, for now, the experiences related to this are not positive. One of the cases used as an example by the CFMV is that of the lawyer Daiane Zappe and her 12-year-old dog. In 2018, the beagle had an inoperable neurological tumor and was already receiving dipyrone, tramal and other pain medications. With no way out, the tutor got a prescription from a neurologist veterinarian to import cannabis-based medicines.

Zappe told the g1 that, initially, Anvisa replied that the release was with the Mapa. Upon contacting the ministry, the ball went back to the regulator – which then said that requests could only be made to individuals. The lawyer went to court, had her request for an injunction denied and more information was demanded. The dog died after 7 months of unresolved imbroglio.

Priscila Couto, the Mykonos tutor who got the drug through associations, explains that pain control through cannabidiol was the only viable solution to keep the animal with quality of life. According to her, the dog had “no side effects”.

“I’ve only seen good things. His appetite has improved a lot, right, because with pain we don’t want to eat much. His mood, his behavior has improved, today he’s calmer. He was messier. I don’t have anything bad to say “, said Couto.

Initially, Montezuma said that the CFMV was in talks with Anvisa to try to have a meeting on the matter. The agency informed the g1 that there is no “scheduled meeting between Anvisa and the Federal Council of Veterinary Medicine (CFMV) to address the issue” and, further, that it has jurisdiction “only on medicines and products for human health”.

According to Priscila, Mykonos tutor, the dog has no side effects related to the use of CBD — Photo: Marcelo Brandt/g1

According to Montezuma, cannabis therapy is “largely scientifically proven, especially abroad”. Cannabis components are used in the treatment of refractory epilepsy, synosis, acute pain, anxiety and even to control some behaviors in dogs and cats, such as separation anxiety.

In a randomized controlled trial – when comparing the effect and value of an intervention versus a placebo group – 20 adult beagle dogs were given different doses of cannabis-derived medication. They were divided into groups and the administration of cannabidiol was well tolerated by the dogs, with “no major clinical changes to be measured in terms of safety”.

That research, published in 2020, is one of “thousands of scientific papers on cannabis in veterinary medicine,” according to Ferraro. Among some more recent ones, from May 5, 2022, the specialist recalls a review carried out by Brazilian researchers. Diego Fontana de Andrade, the lead author, is from the Federal Laboratory of Agricultural Defense of Rio Grande do Sul.

The article analyzed the results of 19 scientific studies on the use of cannabis-based products in pets. The work concluded, then, that the administration of the products is safe. In addition, studies have shown that cannabidiol drugs “potentially improve quality of life and reduce pain perception in animals affected by canine osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease)”.