POT FOR PETS: Medical marijuana role in treating pet illnesses

Dogs, cats, even horses seem to be the newest customer base for medical marijuana. Cannabis-based products are being used to treat everything from anxiety to allergies, epilepsy and cancer.

Sales, at least locally, are skyrocketing.

Once a month, a pitbull boxer mix named Rex undergoes chemotherapy. Rex was diagnosed with a nasal tumor about 14 months ago.

"He had nose bleeds. I was scared because I couldn't stop it," recounted Dirk Johnson, Rex's owner.

Johnson sought the best possible treatment.

"We see a lot of the same cancers that humans are afflicted with, and we have many of the same treatment options for our pets that they offer for people," said Dr. Betsy Hershey. She is a Veterinary Oncologist who owns and operates Integrative Vet Oncology in Phoenix. The place treats tumors the traditional way -- with chemotherapy -- but Dr. Hershey also recommends CBD.

"What CBD is, it's a product that's made from industrial hemp, which is a variant of the cannabis plant," said Hershey.

Dr. Hershey provides patients with both chewable CBDs, or oil.

Marijuana and hemp both come from the plant cannabis sativa. The cannabis plant has over 60 chemicals called cannabinoids, of which the two main types are CBD and THC. CBDs are therapeutic cannabinoids, while THC is the cannabinoid that makes a person high.

Marijuana's THC content is usually between 10% and 15%, but hemp has a THC content of 0.3% or less. At this level, cannabis has no intoxicating effect, for people or dogs. Hemp, meanwhi;e, is higher in CBD, the substance that provides the therapeutic effects.

"We do believe it to have anti-cancer properties as well, though a lot of research is being done," said Dr. Hershey. "We don't really understand all the true benefits of the CBD, but we are definitely seeing it, anecdotally, in the owners that elect to treat them with it."

"When he first got started with this chemo, he lost all of his muscles," recounted Johnson. "He looked like a walking skeleton. I started the CBD, and he started eating a lot better."

Sales of CBD products have tripled in the nine months since Mike Murray, owner of Bonnie's Barkery, started selling them at his store in Cave Creek.

"Customers have had really great beneficial affects with it," said Murray. "They keep on coming back for more."

Murray said his customers use CBD for pets fighting cancer, but also to calm anxious pups, treat allergies, and even stop seizures.

"You kind of have to get over a little of that hurdle, you know," said Murray. "There is a lof of stigma using a marijuana-type product, but it's not marijuana. It's the cannabinoid side, the CBD. There is a lot of research that shows the benefits of it."

Max's owner started treating his cancer with both CBD and THC, after the 11-year-old's anal gland adenocarcinoma spread to three lymph nodes, and become inoperable.

"He gets different doses, three times a day," said the owner, whose identity has been concealed.

The tumors, the owner said, have shrunk.

"As it's been legalized in many states for medical use in people, the awareness is increasing for our pet owners as well," said Hershey. She cannot prescribe medical marijuana in it's truest form, as it is illegal, but she strongly believes CBD is life changing.

Experts said, however, as with any medicine, the effects are not immediate, and they urge anyone to consult a veterinarian before starting any treatments on their pets.