Pet and Setting: This Psychedelic Vet Teaches Dogs to Trip Sit
If you’re looking for a trip sitter, look no further than the end of your leash.
Dr. Casara Andre is a veterinarian and an expert on the use of alternative medicine, mostly cannabis. She’s working at the frontier of psychedelic medicine and pets; specifically, she’s teaching owners to be aware of what tripping does to their pets.
On psychedelics, you might moan, cry, go silent, talk nonsense, or stare at a houseplant for an hour. In the strangeness, you reach for your dog or cat. Stroke its head, hug it. A pet is grounding, reassuring–an island of reality in weird seas.
Dr. Andre teaches animal caregivers how to pet their dogs with intention and safe techniques: gently, feeling the muscles and the texture of the fur. “Nice and soft,” Dr. Andre said. “It’s actually physically exhausting to help a human regulate,” says Dr. Andre. “You have a situation where the humans are kind of moving weirdly and making loud sounds,” says Dr. Andre. “There can be a lot of triggers in that for an animal.” They need long walks and time to recover, she says.
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Dr. Andre has even heard of a dog who bit a psychedelic facilitator who had come to a pet owner’s house. “Please leave faster” was the message the dog was sending, Dr. Andre says.
“We’re encouraging animals to be OUT of the space when humans are using psychedelics…unless they are trained therapy animals,” says Dr. Andre.
A New Petscape
Psychedelics, once illegal nearly everywhere, are growing in popularity. Roughly 20 cities, counties and states have decriminalized or legalized some psychedelics. Ketamine telehealth therapy is legal across the country. At least 5 million people tripped last year in the U.S.
She’s seen the positives of including your pet in your journeys. Pets can be a lifeline to the living world. Dogs need walking in parks; cats love chasing cat toys; fish and hamsters live and die. In that vein, Psychedelic users are more likely to believe that humans and animals are more alike than different, a study suggests, making humans less likely to abuse animals.
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Psychedelic Dogs and the Indigenous
Pets and psychedelics are not a new thing in other parts of the world. In the Amazon, dogs help Amazonians hunt and protect them from jaguars. The Shuar think dogs are blessings of the Earth Mother Nunkui; the Quichua think dogs are gifts from the forest spirits, reports the Outline. One religion, the Uniao do Vegetal, has a ladder of reincarnation in which dogs are just a step below humans.
In a ritual way, the tribes use a blend of ayahuasca specifically for dogs. The practice is meant to open the dogs’ senses, and bond the owner to the dog. They believe dogs given psychedelics are better hunters. Tribes around the world do the same; New Guineans feed their dogs the psychoactive plant Schuurmansia henningsii to their dogs to improve their hunting performance.
The Story of Ro the Anxious Rescue Dog
Treating animals with alternative medicines like psychedelics and cannabis is new to the west. But it does happen.
Ro, a tan shepherd mix, was a rescue dog who sometimes acted frightened, and anxious. Ears back, tail between the legs, he was resistant even to fun things like tossing the ball. Ro’s caregivers worked with trainers, but he was still afraid–even to be massaged.
Ro’s caregivers explored cannabis-assisted massage. They asked Dr. Andre about how to do it. Ro’s caregiver now gives him a tincture of cannabis from Mary’s Medicinals. She then massages the dog.
“The cannabis made him open and calm enough to respond to our interventions,” says Ro’s guardian, who asked not to be named because giving cannabis to pets is a sensitive topic. “We’re recognizing that animals struggle with emotions in the same way humans do. As a pet guardian, I want all the tools available to help my dog. (Cannabis and massage) has been super helpful.”
She has become, she says, an “evangelist” for the power of alternative medicine to help people help their pets. She would consider giving Ro mushrooms or MDMA if she thought it would help.
Hope from Owners, Words of Caution from Experts
From Western scientists and researchers, there’s very little written about psychedelics’ effects on dogs. Cannabis, however, is a different story. Colorado State University is one of the leading universities in the U.S. conducting cannabis research and now has an office of research on cannabis and hemp. A multitude of studies on the use of cannabis in animals with seizure conditions, osteoarthritis pain and inflammation, and even anesthesia are now available. In a state like Colorado with both recreational and medical cannabis available, Colorado veterinarians, like Dr. Andre, spend a lot of time discussing harm and risk reduction education topics with their clients.
Most veterinarians won’t suggest cannabis; vets don’t want to risk their DEA licenses. That may be changing; California just passed a law protecting vets who recommend cannabis from disciplinary action. In other words: pets may soon be able to have medical cannabis cards.
Owners think cannabis helps. In an online survey from Colorado State University, owners reported pot was about 40 percent more effective for a dog’s pain relief and anxiety than than conventional medicine.
Some vets aren’t so sure. A vet wrote to the Providence Journal that she’s seen cannabis cause seizures from two marijuana cookies. The Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association opposed a bill that would allow vets to suggest marijuana.
Is There a Future of Psychedelic Healing for Dogs?
“I want the option of psychedelic medicine for my patients,” says Dr. Andre. “Animals struggle with emotional diseases just like humans and psychedelic medicines may hold as much healing potential for animal as they do for humans. However, that’s still pretty far off.”
The laws say nothing about giving cannabis or psychedelics to dogs. Dr. Andre has been talking to lawyers about the issue. Guidance from lawyers is convoluted without a lot of clear answers, Dr. Andre says.
Dr. Andre notes: how do you get consent from a dog to take cannabis? The dogs might not like psychedelics. Ro’s owner worries about whether Ro really likes taking cannabis. “It’s our job to protect our pets and make sure suffering is limited,” says the woman.
Surrogate Healing for a Doberman
In her work with dogs and humans and cannabis and psychedelics, Dr. Andre has been influenced by the work of a researcher and author named Adele Lafrance. Lafrance says there’s a lot of benefit of including family members in psychedelic healing.
Some people who are suffering can’t take psychedelics. People with severe eating disorders might be too medically fragile to eat mushrooms or MDMA and do therapy. Their caregivers often can. By working through the emotional issues of the people around them, the patients can often be healed, Lafrance said in a lecture she gave at a meetup in Denver called Psychedelic Professionals, put on by the Nowak Society, a nonprofit focused on education around psychedelics.
Dr. Andre has seen surrogate healing with pets. Dr. Andre worked with a woman named Priya Sudarsanam. She has a doberman stricken with an autoimmune condition that left her jaw spasming and chattering so bad she could barely open her mouth to eat and play with toys. Sudarsanam had to feed her with a syringe. Some dogs with this problem have to be euthanized, Dr. Andre says.
The owner was frustrated; she was very connected to the dog. Sudarsanam was super worried. “My behavior was affecting her,” Sudarsanam says. The dog could sense she was worried. This worried the dog. She clenched her jaw tighter.
Sudarsanam lives in New Mexico, where mushrooms are legal for personal use. The owner took psilocybin with a friend, with her dog by her side, and spent some of the trip focused on her relationship with the dog. Saying to the dog: we’re in this together. We’re good. I’m good. You can let go.
When Sudarsanam opened her eyes after the journey, “she was smiling from ear to ear.” The doberman could open its mouth to play with toys again. The dog could eat. Sudarsanam feels Adzuki was healed.