Georgia, a 5-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is a medical marijuana patient. Kelly Conway, Georgia's owner, takes some heat when she tells friends about the unorthodox treatment.
"People will say they can't believe I'm letting her get high, but she's not getting high," Conway said.
No, Georgia is not ingesting the same kind of pot that Snoop Dogg smokes. (Or New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd eats.) Georgia, along with a growing number of pets, eats hemp-based capsules that contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol—or THC—the psychoactive ingredient that provides the cannabis high.
Georgia suffered from syringomyelia, a serious neurological disease, and traditional medicine wasn't working. So earlier this year, Conway took her to Dr. Cynthia Graves, who practices alternative veterinary care in Philadelphia. Graves started Georgia on acupuncture, which seemed to help, and then she recommended Canna-Pet, a supplement made from hemp, for Georgia's pain and anxiety.
Conway was skeptical, but to her surprise, it worked.
"It has truly been a miracle and I don't say that lightly," Conway told CNBC. "I feel like I have a whole new dog. Georgia's happy and relaxed. She's not in pain. It's amazing."
Colorado and Washington have legalized and regulated cannabis for human recreational use—and 22 states allow for some form of medical marijuana. But no federal or state agency has made any provisions for the largely unregulated pet supplement industry.
To further complicate matters, the Drug Enforcement Agency still considers industrial hemp a controlled substance even though it is not psychoactive.
But times are changing. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 22-8 on a plan that would block the DEA—or any federal agency—from spending funds to enforce anti-hemp laws in any state that has received permission to grow it. The full House OK'd the measure the previous week.
Congress' action emerged after the DEA in May seized a shipment of hemp seeds from Italy headed to Kentucky. The state filed a lawsuit against the federal government to get its hemp seeds and now Kentucky, long known for its tobacco fields, has hemp in the ground.
As the nation grapples with this knotty issue, farmers, business owners, patients—and pets—are moving ahead while lawmakers hash it out.
Helping with pain and anxiety
Graves has recommended hemp-based supplements for other dogs experiencing anxiety or pain. She's also used Canna-Pet in conjunction with cancer treatments and to boost appetite in dogs that won't eat.
"There's no question that it's a benefit to some patients," she said.
Dr. Sarah Brandon and Dr. Greg Copas, husband and wife veterinarians, launched Canna Companion in March. They've been exploring medical cannabis for about eight years now.
They started with their pets and then those of family and friends, to find the right dosage.
"We took information from the human world and combined that with our knowledge of dogs and cats and slowly whittled away until we got something that was safe for them and that worked," she explained.
They grind up the whole hemp plant to make their Canna Companion capsules—roots, seeds, leaves and stem—to preserve all the ingredients. They want just a little THC along with the cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main medical components.
Brandon readily acknowledges that she does not have any scientific tests to prove the medicinal value of hemp-based supplements. She hopes that by "pushing the envelope" a bit, researchers will be encouraged to study it.
"It's experimental and we tell people that," Brandon noted. "It's not a miracle drug. This is truly a supplement designed to help conditions and help ongoing therapies, not the sole treatment of anything."
Are testimonials good enough?
Both Canna Companion and Canna-Pet have heartwarming testimonials on their websites.
There's Kerry Churchill from Virginia. Her dog Ginger has neurological problems that cause uncontrolled muscle twitching. The twitching hasn't stopped, but Churchill says after taking Canna Companion, Ginger's energy level is greatly increased and her playfulness is back.
"She just seems happier overall, which is great to see," Churchill told CNBC. "This is not wishful thinking. Her quality of life has definitely improved."
Annabelle is a 14-year-old Persian cat featured on the Canna-Pet website. Owner Rose Easterling, a self-described "doubting Thomas," was very apprehensive about using the product. She gave it to Annabelle because she didn't like giving her the pain medication the vet prescribed.
"I don't think it has cured anything. She still has arthritis, but it's making her feel better," Easterling said.