“It is open to a wide variety of animals. The endocannabinoid system itself is ingrained in all mammals, so there is a wide opportunity to open it up to many species.” – Trish Wilhelm – Certified Veterinary Technician
Recently CanCan Buzz had an opportunity to interview Trish Wilhelm, co-founder of VetCS – a veterinary based CBD company providing the highest quality CBD products to dogs, cats, and horses. Located in Colorado, Trish, a Certified Vet Technician, and other co-founder Dr. Chelsea Luedke take the utmost care to provide the highest quality, and safest hemp based CBD products to pets to treat such ailments as anxiety, joint pain, anti-inlfatmation and gastrointestinal problems to name a few.
CCB: Tell us how you got started in this business. What was the ‘we are doing this’ moment?
T: My co-founder is Dr. Chelsea Luedke who graduated from Colorado State University in 2011. She is a phenomenal and highly skilled veterinarian, and I met her working in practice. My name is Trish Wilhelm, I’m a Certified Veterinarian Technician (CVT) and worked by her side every day. We noticed that we started getting a lot of clients asking us about the use of cannabis with their horses. Some were asking us, ‘can we go to the dispensary and get edibles and break it up and put it in their food?’. Our reply, ‘absolutely not! Let us look into this further to guide you the safest plan for the animal.’
We talked to these clients about what we knew at the time as far as current research offerings. I had been a cannabis advocate for quite some time, and I knew my fair share…so we started to delve deeper into the research as we wanted to be able to give our clients the best possible, educated answers. There is no worse feeling then telling a client that you don’t know. You want to be able to give them answers. We looked into where the industry was moving and we started researching applications in animals, and that is how we later got started.
LT: So they started together then? Both business lines?
T: At the time of starting our company, Dr. Luedke owned her own practice, and I worked for a large equine clinic while we were both working on the inception of VetCS. So, it was having a normal day job, as well as building a start-up on the side. In networking, we realized we had fellow veterinary cannabis advocates, and have had the pleasure to be a part of a great veterinary cannabis community. We found a really great program here, local to Colorado, called https://www.veterinarycannabis.org. It was founded by another Veterinarian, Dr. Casara Andre. She started a really great program for Veterinary professionals, due to the grey area of Veterinarians to legally discuss and get involved with cannabis in practice. This program basically puts them through a rigorous cannabis education course, and they get deemed a certified veterinary cannabis counselor once they finish. They are then able to bring that knowledge to pet parents, to provide safe cannabis therapy plans. It’s really solving that initial problem I spoke of; clients asking you about it and being able to give them educated answers. So, I am also a Certified Veterinary Cannabis Counselor (VCC for short), which I use daily to help educate our clients. I will coach them through specific applications, general cannabis knowledge, look over medications lists, formulate a safe cannabis plan, and of course encourage them to involve their normal Veterinarians as much as possible.
LT: Do you identify as being part of the cannabis industry?
T: Absolutely! We specifically work with hemp, and definitely identify with the cannabis industry. We work with CBD products right now, and we are excited about the future of exploring combinations of other cannabinoids and custom terpene profiles. We want to hone in on how these specific cannabinoids are interacting with certain conditions in animals, so it will be interesting as we expand into that sector later. That being said, we are definitely in the game!
LT: How is being a female entrepreneur different in the cannabis industry? Do you notice a difference?
T: Being strong, female, veterinary professionals is empowering. We have run into a couple of speed bumps, but we don’t let it stumble us. For the most part, we have had wonderful support from the cannabis industry. We are just here to run a good business, and create a safe and effective product for animals. We take our jobs as advocates for the voiceless very seriously, so the safety and comfort of animals is our main priority.
LT: Are you finding that you are more supported in the Cannabis industry or more supported in the Veterinary industry?
T: I would say that both sides have grown so much. At first it felt we were more supported in the Cannabis industry. It’s been so great, and we’ve met so many wonderful people. We have found our tribe of advocates in the veterinary cannabis space, and thats been so great! That weight of the hype word marijuana, and all of the stigma from prohibition and earlier tends do follow you. As veterinary professionals, we love the science behind things. When you present the science to the veterinary community, we are finding they are getting more excited for a new alternative therapy with cannabis.
LT: It appears the CBD product on your website is marketed towards horses, dogs and cats only. Is that because it doesn’t work on other pets? Or, is it just simply that your product thus far is really geared towards these animals?
T: It is open to a wide variety of animals. The endocannabinoid system itself is ingrained in all mammals, so there is a wide opportunity to open it up to many species. We can talk with pet parents on custom dosing for any pet! As far as our product line, we felt those three species were the most appropriate starting place for us.
We are both horse gals by nature! We really didn’t see anything out in the market for horses, or at least anything dosed correctly for horses. We are the first to offer a paste and powder option to the horse community. We are also working on some exciting Pharmacokinetics research in the horse, so stay tuned! We are also working on a current study in birds, and are very excited to see how that progresses.
LT: Many pet owners consider their pet as family, how do you reassure someone that this will not harm their pets?
S: There are a few parts to the answer. I enjoy educating the clients on the endocannabinoid system firsts and foremost. We do have a lot of research on that specific system, so it’s encouraging to explain to them how this plant makes its way through the body, it’s interaction within the body, and how we can apply it to their pet. On the safety side of our product, I explain to them this is how we go about our process of formulation; we test everything rigorously, we also use 3rd party lab testing for every batch. We test for potency, microbial contaminants, heavy metals and pesticides, and no residual solvents left behind from the extraction process. Extraction has the potential to be dangerous if it’s not done safely and properly. Residual solvent can end up in the product, and can be unsafe to use. Making products that are clean, safe, and conducive to animal use is our main priority.
For example, in human product lines being marketed to pets, I’ve seen Xylitol and other additives being used that can be toxic to pets.
Clients need to be educated to watch out for these things. A highly unregulated market can be very difficult for clients to navigate through.
The second part to the answer is to instill the importance of product selection to a client. It’s important to educate the client on what to look for in products.
- Products need to list the total of cannabinoids per bottle on the label
- Product labels should have the total amount of cannabinoids/mL
- Products should list all the ingredients on their labels
- Products should have 3rd party testing
- Companies should make those tests available for review
These are all important guidelines clients need to be aware of. Utilizing a veterinary cannabis professional is the best way to ensure the product you are selecting is safe, and they can also build you a well structured cannabis therapy plan moving forward.
LT: In terms of application, there are oils and there are the pastes. It seems that the pastes are for horses and the oils for dogs & cats, tell us why it’s different?
S: There isn’t much difference in therapy. Oral application, much like with humans, will have the best absorption rate.
Oral mucosa via sublingual (under the tongue) is the best route. You can’t always get that into the pet though. Some are harder…. they’ll wiggle, picky with food etc. With dogs and cats we use the tinctures; however if we are targeting stress or anxiety with the pet, we don’t want to add to that, so having it be administered on food is very acceptable. We coach pet parents to figure out a routine that is low stress for the animal.
With horses however, we saw a lot of companies during our initial market research that had a tincture bottle with a glass dropper in it, and would instruct the client to give it to their horses 4 times a day. This is 100%, not feasible for the average horse owner. A glass dropper alone is very unsafe as it can easily break in their mouth. The horse may bite their owner as the distance when trying to apply it in their mouth is short with a dropper.
What we did is have the plastic dropper for dogs and cats, and the plastic oral syringe for horses. Horse owners are very used to this type of administration already as other medications are commonly given this way, and it translates very well for them. The paste holds well in the horses mouth and gives them that absorption time that is needed.
We will be contributing authors on the first Veterinary cannabis textbook and that should come out by end of 2019 or early 2020. This book is a compilation of many Veterinary professionals, doctors, and technicians putting their thoughts on the application of cannabis in animals, and we are specifically contributing our knowledge of horses to that.
LT: We noticed that there are no balms in the product line for direct application?
T: We know the oral method has a better absorption rate, so we go for that. There are a couple of areas on the animal you could utilize to put a balm on, but it can get tricky if you are wanting application direct to a specific affected area. Making sure the hair is shaved so that application can be as close to the skin layer as possible would be necessary. So balms aren’t terrible, we just currently don’t utilize them for maximum effectiveness.
LT: Are you manufacturing the products yourselves?
T: Everything is formulated and packaged here in Colorado. We will be hopefully switching over to a domestic hemp option pretty soon here. After the 2018 Farm Bill came into place, we decided to explore this further. This was encouraging for us. We previously sourced through Europe. We were working originally under the 2014 Farm Bill, and that stated that if your hemp was grown in Colorado for example, you could not sell that outside the state lines of Colorado. This limits your market quite a bit. By using European hemp, we felt able to expand that sales market. We are encouraged with the introduction of the 2018 Farm Bill as we will be able to explore sourcing options now.
LT: The CBD Pet market, is it regulated right now?
T: It is a highly unregulated market unfortunately. We are hoping that changes. We have a lot of wonderful Veterinary professionals that are amazing advocates for the industry right now. It means writing to the state veterinary medical boards and associations and really trying to get that education out there so we can get the standards raised.
As it stands, there is no regulation or association telling you what you have to do in your business. No guidelines to tell you that you have to have third party testing for example. This is all on the due diligence of the company and how they operate. We find a lot of companies putting a paw print on the bottle and calling it safe, and then finding out it isn’t or it’s not dosed properly for animals. This creates more confusion for the client. I always advise clients to ask all the right questions, and make sure these companies are doing their due diligence.
LT: What method of extraction are you using and why is that best for animals?
T: We utilize high quality ethanol extraction. We find the finishing process for ethanol extraction to be very easy and clean when done properly. With extraction, there are many platforms that can be used, and all of them carry their own positives and negatives to them. At the end of the day, it’s just important to make sure that whatever the platform being utilized is being done correctly and safety. The business should provide the certification of analysis for any residual solvents that we spoke of earlier, and the certificate should state that their product is clear of those in the product.
LT What are your predictions for the cannabis industry in the next 5 years?
T: We are going to keep growing from here – the sky’s the limit. I think we are going to see some regulation standard eventually. I love watching the hemp side grow… really start to utilize the entire plant in terms of textiles, other great replacements for plastic, and start to assist to clean up the damage the human race has done. There are so many wide applications for it outside of the therapeutic benefits. On the animal side, I think we are going to see so much growth. Some really great research is coming out, and I know there is a lot going on in 2019 as well and that is very exciting! We will have a better picture on how to apply cannabis therapy to specific conditions.
LT: Any plans to sell into Canada?
T: We would love to expand into Canada. We have a lot of wonderful contacts there. We know of some wonderful Canadian Veterinary professionals with boots on the ground there advocating for the use of cannabis in veterinary medicine. We are excited to see how Canada develops. It’s so important that we can all collaborate together to make big leaps in the advancement for the use of cannabis in animals.
Contact VetCS at the following: