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A Female Cannabis Veterinarian Answers the One Question Other Vets Won't

Can my pet benefit from weed?

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It shouldn't come as a surprise that treating pets with cannabis is a bit of a hairy situation. Studies have shown that 96 percent of veterinarians have encountered questions about safely treating their pet's ailments with cannabis or hemp, but 55 percent of vets don't feel comfortable discussing cannabis with patients. That leads to a lot of confusion. 

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On a journey to answer these lingering questions, Dr. Trina Hazzah launched her consulting company, Green Nile Inc. She educates and guides veterinary practitioners, pet parents, and companies on the importance of the safe application of cannabis in pets. She also founded a non-profit organization that has a vision of an empowered global veterinary cannabis community. 

Dr. Hazzah is one of the few integrative Board Certified Veterinary Oncologists in the country trained in traditional Chinese medicine and conventional medicine. Based in Los Angeles, she was born and raised in Washington, DC. Hazzah published the first of its kind review article on Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine in a peer-reviewed journal. Whether it's fighting for the right to recommend cannabis, pursuing genetic cannabis-specific profiling of tumors, or wearing her standard conventional oncology hat, she is prepared to offer her patients the best possible treatment options available.

We sat down to hear her story:

What brought you into the cannabis industry? 

My love and passion for science, integrative medicine, and helping animals drew me into the cannabis industry. I had been practicing oncology for almost ten years before I started feeling like I wasn't doing enough for my patients. I knew there was more I could do. That's when I started to integrate herbs into my practice, including cannabis. I also became certified in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. When my cat developed a highly aggressive form of lung cancer, cannabis was the only modality that drastically improved his quantity and quality of life. 

What was your most successful professional accomplishment before cannabis?

It's rare to come across a Board Certified Integrative Veterinary Oncologist, let alone one who's trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine and conventional medicine. I reached this pivotal moment in my career by simply asking myself: "What else can I do for my patients?" It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day without asking yourself questions like this, but these are the difficult questions that often give you the answers you need to jumpstart your success. 

What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry?

When it comes to consulting with pet parents about implementing cannabis for their pets, veterinarians do not have the same legal parameters as our physician counterparts. Currently, medical cannabis laws, including medical "recommendations" apply to the use of cannabis products in human patients only, not veterinarians. In addition, hemp-derived cannabis products (similar to many common veterinary supplements) are not recognized by the FDA as a food or a drug and, consequently, cannot be administered, dispensed, recommended, or prescribed with the intent to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure a condition. 

Veterinarians mostly struggle to discuss cannabis with pet parents because they are terrified of potential legal implications. The majority of the state veterinary medical boards are not taking a solid stance for either hemp or high THC cannabis products, making it very difficult for veterinarians to understand their specific state's legal parameters. California is the only state that passed a bill to allow veterinarians the right to discuss cannabis with pet parents without any fear of disciplinary action. 

How have you overcome these obstacles?

It's a work in progress, but I've supported multiple legislative agendas (i.e. AB2215 and SB627 in California). and I was sure to let my voice be heard at the Veterinary Medical Board and Multidisciplinary Advisory Committee meetings. I also wrote several letters to our senators about why veterinary professionals should have a say regarding product safety and cannabis-related laws. I've done everything in my power to advocate for this cause, including establishing a non-profit called the Veterinary Cannabis Society. The mission of VCS is to create lasting solutions that ensure the safe use of cannabis in pets through education, advocacy, and promoting product standards. 

As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage (or both) and why?

The same obstacles all professional women face in this world are no different in the cannabis field. I've experienced similar inequalities throughout my career as a first-generation Egyptian woman in the medical field. We just need to continue to lift each other up as professionals, stay strong, calm, and passionate.

What are you most proud of in your practice? 

I'm incredibly proud to be the Founder & Co-President of the Veterinary Cannabis Society, the first non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization focused on raising awareness of cannabis as a medicine for animals. Our main goal as an organization and my primary focus as a consultant is to empower and educate veterinarians, support pet parents and cannabis producers, and advocate for all.   

What was your greatest lesson learned?

Learn and enjoy the journey itself and not just focus on a specific outcome. Despite what many of us feel, we don't have very much control over the final destination. And sometimes, a change in the path taken leads to a much more fruitful and impactful ending. 

A good example of this is when I went into conventional oncology, convinced I was doing everything possible to help pets with cancer. But with slight nudges from pet parents and following my intuition and passion toward alternative medicine options, a new path formed studying and implementing cannabis to better support pets with cancer and other ailments. 

What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions, and why is this useful for you?  

I have always had a keen ability to read people and their motives, so I bring that gift with me when making any type of business decision. This gut instinct has always served me well, but there are also circumstances when my strategic and logical thought process has guided my decisions. I am also fortunate enough to have several mentors in business, cannabis, alternative medicine to help support me. Also, whenever collaborating on a project, it is essential that both parties have similar goals and that your missions align. It sounds so simple, but you'd be surprised at how often the big picture can get a bit blurry.