Beyond conventional

Meet the vet challenging stigmas with her new cannabis and Eastern medicine veterinary consultancy

Husky dog sniffing a leaf of marijuana

Dr. Trina Hazzah has been navigating stigmas her entire life. As a gay Muslim woman, she’s no stranger to them, she says.

So, in 2017 when she dove headlong into two of veterinary medicine’s most stigmatized fields — cannabis and Eastern medicine — she was unphased. After 10 years practicing veterinary oncology at the largest veterinary practice in the western U.S., she’d recognized a chance to help animals — one that wasn’t being implemented due to entrenched stigma and legal prohibition; one she had no hesitation to pursue, unlike many of her colleagues.

In April, Hazzah helped found the nonprofit Veterinary Cannabis Society. Now, she’s about to launch her own Eastern medicine and veterinary cannabis education and consulting service, where she’ll have the opportunity to answer the taboo questions and give the forbidden guidance that most practicing vets can’t, or simply won’t.

“This is really going to be focused on safety and providing the clients with guidance,” Hazzah says. “Because they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Both vets and their pet owners will have access to Hazzah’s many years of experience in conventional Western medicine, Eastern medicine and medicinal cannabis. They’ll also get access to an innovative cannabis consultant software she’s helping develop, that will help vets connect patients with the ideal cannabis formulations to treat their specific needs.

“It’s almost personalized medicine for the animals,” Hazzah explains.

Hazzah discovered her knack for veterinary oncology at Tuskegee University and finished her residency in 2010. In the years since, she worked at VCA in Los Angeles. It’s all been rewarding work, she says — and it’s come naturally to her.

“I love the mechanisms behind the drugs, setting up protocols, putting together different drugs for specific cancer cases. The art of it was really fun for me and something I was very good at,” Hazzah says. “But I thought there had to be more than just doing chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy. … I wasn’t getting the quality of life for my patients that I felt they deserved.”

Over the years, she noticed that her patients’ owners were continually approaching her with questions about alternative cancer treatments. They wanted to know about more natural options to use in conjunction with (or instead of) conventional methods. Two alternatives in particular kept coming up, according to Hazzah.

“A lot of clients kept asking me about both Eastern medicine and cannabis,” she says.
For years she didn’t know what to say or how to direct those inquiries, partly because under current federal law, veterinarians can lose their medical license for administering, prescribing or even recommending cannabis to their patients. But also, Hazzah didn’t know that much about cannabis at the time, and she didn’t even wholly believe in Eastern medicine, either.

But, she reasoned, if her clients thought marijuana and Chinese herbs could actually help their pets, or even just offer them some added relief, she was obligated to learn more about them. Even if there was going to be judgment from some of her medical peers. She’d dealt with stigma before, and she hadn’t let it stop her yet.

“So I went back to school,” she says. In 2017 she started at the Chi Institute and earned her certification of veterinary herbal medicine. She also started reading up on any available cannabis veterinary literature, attending veterinary cannabis symposiums, conferences and learning from cannabis physicians and consultants.

Eventually, Veterinary Cannabis Society came into being and she’s preparing to launch Green Nile, an education and consulting service providing cannabis harm reduction educational guidance for both veterinarian professionals and individual pet owners. It’s a service to answer all those questions she’s been obstructed from answering at the hospital, she says. Hazzah is also in the midst of helping a team of developers create the first software specifically engineered for cannabis consultants, called eProgresstracker.

“It will be able to make appointments, hold all the patient’s medical records, have an email feature to communicate with the animal caregiver,” Hazzah explains. Best of all though, she says, is something called the “product searchable feature.” Based on an animal’s specific cancer case and medical records, the software will make formulations of cannabinoids and terpenoids and direct vets to exactly the best cannabis products to meet their patients’ specific medical needs.

“We are 100% product-agnostic or -neutral,” Hazzah says. “We don’t support any one product. We support good quality products.”

Green Nile will launch in California in July, and soon thereafter in every legal state in the U.S. Despite the stigmas stacked against her, contrary to biases, and in the face of federal prohibition, Hazzah is charging confidently ahead. There are thousands of pets across the country that could benefit from her knowledge of these natural medicines and her experience in oncology — and neither judgment nor stigma will get in Hazzah’s way of delivering that.

“You live your life a certain way,” Hazzah says. “I’m a Muslim lesbian woman that does [medicinal cannabis, Chinese medicine] and veterinary oncology. At a certain point, you kind of ignore the judgment and just walk through life with the best intentions to educate and have kindness.”

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