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Elena Battaglia, Veterinarian: “I have cancer patients who were expected to die two years ago and are still alive”

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Italian veterinarian Elena Battaglia. Photo: D.R.

We spoke to Italian veterinarian Elena Battaglia, who has extensive experience using cannabinoids in animals, and explained to us how her patients have benefited from this ancient plant.

Cannabis at the service of animals
Dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs, birds… all vertebrates have an Endocannabinoid System, so it is easy to understand that they also have receptors for cannabinoids, so they can benefit from cannabis. But it is not just through ingestion that cannabis can help animals. Industrial hemp, especially the stems and fibers, are being successfully used to make horse or cow bedding, better absorbing moisture and waste, ensuring greater durability compared to any other type of straw.

Several studies have also proven the effectiveness of CBD in reducing stress, not only in dogs but also in cows. A recent study from the University of Kansas found that feeding industrial hemp to cattle can have a beneficial effect on their well-being, reducing stress and markers of inflammation. The Warsaw Zoo in Poland raised eyebrows last summer when it announced it would test the effects of CBD on its elephants. The “Hemp for Elephants” project, believed to be the first study of its kind, aims to determine whether regular doses of CBD oil will reduce stress levels in animals. If successful, the zoo plans to start using it on other large mammals, such as giraffes, polar bears and rhinos.

Who is Elena Battaglia?
Elena was born in Savona, Italy, in 1972, but moved to Chicago, in the United States, when she was just six years old. She decided to become a veterinarian as a child, when she developed a special relationship with animals and returned to her native country. She studied Veterinary Medicine at the University of Parma and completed her degree in 1996, but it was only 20 years later, in 2016, that she realized that cannabinoids could help animals. At that point, her life changed.


Elena worked in a veterinary clinic for a few years, but opened her own practice in 2004. In 2016, her 17-year-old dog started having serious problems with osteoarthritis and Elena was desperately looking for a solution to alleviate her suffering. “I couldn't find a solution until I remembered a friend from the United States who had told me about cannabis and CBD. So I decided to look into it. That’s how my hemp-cannabis adventure began!” 

After observing the positive effects on her dog, Elena began using it in her clinical practice. “At first, a lot of people were just trying because they had nothing to lose, but then the animals started to get better.” To date, Elena has treated more than 3.000 patients. She does webinars and conferences on the use of cannabis in animals and participated in the manufacture of three new hemp products with three different indications: for pain, for epilepsy and for behavioral problems. The products contain CBD, CBDA, CBG, in specific concentrations to help with these problems, in addition to being added with terpenes to increase the effect entourage.

When did you decide you wanted to be a veterinarian? Do you still remember?
I was a child, very small, around 6 or 7 years old. Quite simply, I loved animals and loved people a little less [laughs]. My neighbors' cat was family. I grew up wanting to take care of animals because I always thought they deserve it, they don't get enough respect nor do they have people who really take care of them. It was for this reason that I decided to become a veterinarian.

And when did you realize that cannabis could help animals?
It was around 2016, when my oldest dog, 17 years old, had arthritis and serious difficulty moving. Furthermore, she was afraid of thunder and was a bit senile. At first, I used what everyone uses, cortisone and things like that. The dog felt good for a while, but then went back to the same thing. I had a friend whose sister worked in the cannabis industry in the United States (USA) and we talked about it more or less, but I never put the pieces together. So one day I thought, “Why not?” Then I wrote to this company in the USA to see if they could send me a product with CBD and they said, obviously, that they couldn't, because it would be banned here in Italy, they wouldn't let me receive it. Before this COVID situation, I used to go on vacation to the United States, because I lived there. This summer, I came back and found the product I was looking for. So I brought it [CBD], started giving it to my dog ​​and she changed quickly. He was no longer 17, he looked like he was 14, he could move more easily. It was incredible, because it started four or five days later. I was used to opening the door and she tried to get up, with great difficulty. After [the CBD], as soon as I opened the door, she would get up immediately and I thought: “No, you don't need to get up every time I leave.” [laughs] But she felt better and all her other problems, like neurological problems or fear of thunder, simply disappeared. It was incredible, she had a new life. When I realized this, I thought: “My God, imagine the number of animals that can be treated and that can stop taking medication.” Medication, in the long term, will cause problems, so imagine what good can be done with this plant.

What did you do at the time? Have you started using CBD in your clinical practice?
Yes. I found a pharmacy that prepared an oil only with CBD. It was the only thing we could find, so I started with just CBD. After a while, full-spectrum CBD started coming out in Italy and I started using it because it works better. So I switched to that one. Then, full-spectrum CBD wasn't enough for some therapies and I started using cannabis. After a few years, I have treated more than three thousand patients with CBD or cannabis. Oh, and a dog bit me. If you see my hand [with a bandage] it's because I was bitten this morning, sorry. [laughter]

I am really sorry. But its alright? Was it serious?
Everything is fine.

Maybe cannabis can help you too!
Yes, I already did, because if I apply it as soon as I'm bitten, it doesn't get infected, I don't need antibiotics. There's another thing that cannabis does.

Incredible! And, besides dogs, have you treated other pets with cannabis?
Cats and I also have some rabbits. There are cancer patients who use cannabis. I also used CBD on a chimpanzee in Spain, not directly, but prescribed it.

A chimpanzee in a zoo?
Yes. I don't remember exactly, it was through the association that deals with them. It was a few years ago, it had arthritis and it got better.

Taking into account that animals also have an endocannabinoid system, like us, do you also use cannabis in horses, cows? Do you think it could be beneficial for this type of animals?
Yes of course. Oh, it's true! I have been using it (I forgot about it) on some horses. I actually used it, but as I normally use it on cats and dogs, I end up forgetting that I had other patients.

What are the main differences you find between traditional medicines and cannabis when treating pets?
Well, as far as the owners are concerned, I would say it is a little more difficult, because they are still very used to using antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. If there is a symptom of the antibiotic, they are not worried, they say: “Yes, it is because you are taking antibiotics.” But the first time the cat vomits under the influence of cannabis, they immediately say: “Oh my God! The cat vomited, it must be from the cannabis.” Therefore, it is very difficult to make these people understand that what they were taking before is much more dangerous, and that it can cause more problems than cannabis. It's a little problematic.

Elena's patients are not just cats and dogs. Elena has already used cannabis to treat rabbits, sheep, horses and even a chimpanzee in a zoo.

Do you think people still need education in this area?
Yes. They do, because when they visit and I talk to them, I explain it to them, but the first time something happens – and it could be something quite silly like the cat vomiting or the dog having diarrhea – they think: “Oh my God!" They call me and say, “I’m not going to give this to my cat anymore because the cat had diarrhea.” And I respond: “No, if the antibiotic causes diarrhea, will you stop? No!" Regarding therapy, I don't have side effects with cannabis, they make me more drowsy, but that's usually the maximum. As for antibiotics and cortisone, we know what those things do, and in that respect, cannabis is definitely a better therapy.

What are the main pathologies or diseases that you usually treat with cannabis?
I typically treat orthopedic conditions such as arthritis. Cancer patients should be placed on cannabis immediately, not only because cannabis provides a longer lifespan, but because the animal feels an immediate improvement. This happens because it obviously acts on the endocannabinoid system. This is why it must be administered immediately. We don't have to wait for the patient to feel pain or to be in their last days, that's quite stupid. Cannabis is not just for pain, it makes you feel better. We also use it for gastrointestinal problems and it works quite well for all these inflammatory bowel diseases. Then we use it for epilepsy and behavioral problems. This is one of the big uses now. It seems that, nowadays, everyone's life is a little frantic and the animals feel it. Therefore, there are many animals that need to find a balance and that is what CBD and CBG provide: helping to find that balance and react to things in their life in a more balanced way. They have a certain vision, like we do, and maybe they panic, like we do. When we give them CBD and CBG, or just CBD in many cases, they become more relaxed and see the day in a different way. They don't react the same way they would without it.

In addition to CBD and CBG, what other cannabinoids do you usually use?
Typically, when there is orthopedic pain, we start with CBD and perhaps, in some cases, CBG. Now, we're going to start using three new products, and one of them is just for pain. So it will be CBD, CBG, CBDA and a couple of terpenes, just terpenes. We're supposed to start with CBD with terpenes and when it no longer works, before prescribing cannabis, we use it. It's like an intermediate step.

And THC, do they also use it?
Yes, THC we also use. When CBD isn't enough, I switch to some THC. Many animals use CBD for their arthritis for years and the day comes when it is no longer enough, so I switch them to cannabis. Often when I prescribe cannabis it's not just cannabis, I usually add a couple of terpenes and CBD to have a greater anti-inflammatory effect on pain.

How do these pets take cannabis, in oil, drops?
Yes, in oil. [The owners] put the drops on something and give them to the animal.

And how does this happen legally in Italy, what are the regulations? Do you give owners a cannabis prescription? And where do they get it?
Yes, there are pharmacies that make oils from cannabis. The pharmacy receives the flower directly from companies, such as Bedrocan, I write the prescription with the type of cannabis I need and the quantity (for example, Bedica, one of the strains I use – Bedica 2,5g and so on), I send it to the pharmacy and they prepare the oil as I indicated. I just send the recipe to be picked up. Then, the dog owner goes to the pharmacy and picks up the oil.

I feel you are advanced in Italy, at least compared to Portugal.
We are! We are one of the luckiest countries in Europe, because we have the possibility of prescribing cannabis to animals without any problems.

Regarding your colleagues, do you know how many veterinarians are already prescribing? Do some of them still see you as a little “crazy”? [laughter]
Yes this is true. [laughs] Many of them consider me quite crazy, but it was worse a few years ago. When I started, people said “cannabis doesn't work”, “this is a fallacy” and they even said I was “a witch” or something like that, very strange things. Since then, some of them have changed their minds and there are many who now use CBD, others who use cannabis. The big problem is that some people use CBD, but they don't really know how to use it. It's like: “I give them this and the worst that can happen is it doesn't work”. But that's not how it's done, you have to take the patient into consideration. You start with a low dose and, depending on how the animal reacts and considering its pathology, you dose it differently. But they don't do that, it's as if they still have that mentality with antibiotics of “take one every 12 hours” and that's not how it works, it's not the same for all animals. They may be the same age and have the same problem, but react differently. That's one of the things I noticed a lot. Then there are, of course, all those who say, “Oh no, cannabis doesn’t work.” We still have that. Or they say there are no studies and of course there are! So this is a problem, but I see that people are starting to inform themselves and look for Internet if, indeed, there are studies and then they make their decision.

Have you ever had a situation where people are completely amazed at the result?
Yes, there are some who weren't expecting it and were very happy. I have cancer patients who were expected to die two years ago and are still alive. There are many people who are grateful that cannabis exists.

And how do you see the future of pets with cannabis? Is there still anything to improve?Yes, it can be improved. One of the things is a product that will be released this month, because it will be [inaudible] a step between full-spectrum CBD and cannabis. Therefore, we will be able to have an approach for those patients who need something more, but who are not yet ready for THC. It will be for pain, epilepsy and behavioral problems. In this way, we can address three different pathologies that group many animals together. I think the future is brighter, because, I hope, more and more veterinarians will realize that it works. In the beginning, maybe it was just the owners who came to the vets and said, “See, I found this at the Internet and it can be useful.” And that was very good. Now, there are veterinarians who see patients and say there's not much that can be done, but two months later they come back, feeling great, because they're using cannabis. And then they think, “Well, maybe I should start thinking about using it.” And this is very good.

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This interview was originally published in Issue #9 of Cannadouro Magazine.

[Disclaimer: Please note that this text was originally written in Portuguese and is translated into English and other languages ​​using an automatic translator. Some words may differ from the original and typos or errors may appear in other languages.]

 

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[Disclaimer: Please note that this text was originally written in Portuguese and is translated into English and other languages ​​using an automatic translator. Some words may differ from the original and typos or errors may occur in other languages.]

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