— Dr. Ilo Leppik has dedicated his career to searching
for ways to improve treatment for seizures that afflict
those with epilepsy.
passion is to find a better treatment for this
condition," the physician and University of
Minnesota pharmacy professor said of his patients’
debilitating — and in some cases, life-threatening —
his quest, he has come to believe in the healing power
of cannabis for epilepsy, playing a key role in getting
Minnesota’s medical marijuana law passed in 2014.
Several of his patients now regularly take a cannabis
pill to manage their symptoms related to epilepsy.
lately, Leppik has turned his attention to another kind
of patient: the furry, four-legged kind.
have higher rates of epilepsy than humans do, and Leppik
believes a cannabis pill could do for canines what it’s
done for humans.
is pushing to amend Minnesota’s medical marijuana law
to allow veterinarians to prescribe the treatment for
could be available to dogs in the same way it is
available to humans," he said.
only could expanding the law help dogs, but it might
also help humans, he argues. The change would open the
door for researchers like Leppik to test the effects of
cannabis on dogs with epilepsy, which could eventually
help lead to a breakthrough for humans.
medical marijuana for pets is a novel idea.
far, half the states have made it legal for people to
use marijuana for medical reasons. Four states and
Washington, D.C., have gone a step further, legalizing
marijuana for recreational purposes. But no state allows
pet doctors to prescribe or recommend marijuana use for
animals, Leppik said.
federal law still views marijuana as a drug with no
medicinal value and outlaws it under any condition.
However, doctors in states with medical marijuana laws
are free to prescribe it to qualifying patients without
fear of prosecution.
TO THE DOGS?
veterinary circles, there is widespread discomfort with
the idea of giving pot to pets.
wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it could
help," said Dr. Tim Krienke, of Rice Pet Clinic
& Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. "We’re starting
to see more collaboration between veterinary medicine
and medical doctors because there are a lot of things
that are so close. It’ll be interesting to see how it
unfolds, but I think most of us would be leery."
Ahna Brutlag sees potential benefits for pets but also
veterinary toxicologist with the Bloomington-based Pet
Poison Helpline (petpoisonhelpline.com), she has seen
what happens when pets get into their owners’ pot
brownies and devour the whole pan.
the past six years, as more states have legalized
marijuana we’ve had a 448 percent increase in cases of
pets overdosing on marijuana-based products," she
that overindulge on pot cookies and other "medibles"
show the classic signs of someone who is high.
kind of look like a person who’s stoned — wobbly and
unsteady on their legs, a glassy and dazed
expression," Brutlag said. "Those are the
amusing as that might sound, too much marijuana in their
systems can lead to serious health problems. An overdose
can trigger tremors and seizures, Brutlag said. It can
even cause the animal’s heart rate and blood pressure
to drop to dangerous levels.
said research needs to be done to determine what, if
any, benefits for pet ailments can be found in cannabis
and which of the many chemicals from the plant are
effective and not harmful to animals.
biggest question will be finding the right dose —
finding a dose that’s effective but not so high that
it compromises the animal’s health," she said.
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Dawn Swanson among the believers in the healing power of
used to suffer repeated, uncontrolled seizures a few
years ago. They were so bad that they kept her up at
tried 20 different medications to manage her muscle
spasms and severe pain, but nothing worked. Finally, she
started seeing Leppik and he determined she was a good
candidate for medicinal marijuana to treat her symptoms.
Today, she takes a cannabis pill three times a day and
has been seizure-free for a year.
cannabis takes the edge off her pain, too.
a scale of 1 to 10, my best day is a 6," she said,
noting that before she started taking cannabis her pain
level was often at an 8.
because of my pain, I could only sleep two hours a
night. With the medicinal marijuana, I sleep an average
of six hours a night," she said. "It changes
your life to be able to sleep."
her dog, CJ, who has epilepsy, struggle is painful for
Swanson, of Plymouth.
will have a seizure. He’ll start shaking. He’ll zone
out," she said. "You can tell at first he
knows it’s coming on — he wants to crawl on my lap.
He gets really rigid — like a human would."
takes medicine prescribed by his vet. It helps but there
are side effects, and Swanson said she’d consider
giving him a dose of cannabis if it becomes legal.
I rather him take medication that’s more natural than
the ones he’s taking right now? Sure, why not?"
she said. "Personally after everything I’ve been
through, I can’t see a reason why they shouldn’t
open it up to more things."