Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Animal exposures to marijuana have increased dramatically in recent years. As more states legalize medical or recreational marijuana for human use, more pets are likely to have access to cannabis products.
To keep things clear, here are a few terms used to describe cannabis products:
Sources of Exposure
Edible products account for most THC exposures in pets. Edible products made with butter or oil infused with medical-grade marijuana have a high concentration of THC. Edible products can also contain other ingredients, like chocolate and xylitol, that are dangerous for animals.
Cannabis plants are also a risk for animals. The THC content of cultivated C sativa has increased over time and varies among plants, so it’s hard to know just how much THC an animal that eats part of a cannabis plant or inhales the smoke has received.
Vaping devices containing CBD, THC, or synthetic cannabinoids have caused toxicosis in animals. Animals have also been poisoned by eating marijuana in discarded cannabis products and—this one is gross—human feces.
CBD products have been reported to cause poisoning in animals. It’s possible that the toxic effects were caused by contamination with THC or another substance, not the CBD itself, but the effects of CBD on animals are still being investigated. Another concern with CBD is that it might interact with prescribed medications, possibly affecting liver function.
Marijuana toxicosis makes animals sick but is rarely fatal. However, 2 dogs have died after eating baked goods containing medical-grade marijuana butter.
Signs of poisoning start within a few minutes to several hours after exposure, depending on the type of exposure. These are some of the signs of marijuana toxicosis in animals:
Exposure to THC or synthetic cannabinoids can also cause changes in heart rate, inability to regulate body temperature, aggression, seizures, and coma.
Over-the-counter human urine tests for marijuana don’t work well in dogs and tend to return either false-positive or false-negative results. The diagnosis of marijuana toxicosis is usually based on clinical signs, although many diseases and other toxins can cause the same signs. Knowing that an animal could have been exposed to marijuana certainly makes the diagnosis easier, but owners aren’t always willing to tell a veterinarian that their pet had access to a cannabis product.
Whether an animal with marijuana poisoning needs to be hospitalized depends on the severity of the signs. Treatment is mostly supportive care, with medication used as needed to treat specific problems (like heart rate abnormalities). Inducing vomiting can be unsafe, so an animal that has eaten a cannabis product might need to be sedated so the stomach can be emptied through a tube.
The prognosis is usually good for animals with marijuana poisoning. The risk is higher for animals exposed to medical-grade marijuana products or synthetic cannabinoids.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nida-nih/28147221034/in/photostream/
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.