Telltale Signs of Seasonal Allergies Telltale Signs of Seasonal Allergies


The New Reality: Marijuana Poisoning Calls Jump 765%

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

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Story at-a-glance -

  • CBD is a medically beneficial herbal molecule that can be extracted from hemp or cannabis plants; it’s important pet parents understand the difference between medicinal CBD extracts and recreational marijuana, which is toxic to pets
  • In the U.S., 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form and as a result, marijuana poisonings in dogs have skyrocketed; marijuana edibles like brownies, coupled with significantly higher THC levels in today’s marijuana plants, is creating a potentially lethal situation for pets
  • Typical signs of poisoning include glassy eyes, a dazed expression, slow response times, loss of coordination, and dribbling urine
  • To protect your pet, keep all marijuana plants and products stored safely away from pets, and when outdoors with your dog, stay alert for signs she’s picked up something in her mouth
  • If you know or suspect your dog has ingested marijuana, call your veterinarian, the nearest emergency animal hospital, or an animal poison control center right away

As of this writing, 33 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form.1 As weed has become easier to get and less stigmatized, sadly, reports of marijuana poisonings in dogs have increased significantly. The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) 24-hour emergency hotline recorded 208 marijuana-related calls in 2008, or about 4 calls a week. Ten years later in 2018 there were 1,800 calls — 35 a week or 5 calls a day.2

According to ASPCA Pro, in the first couple of months of 2019, the number of calls related to pets ingesting marijuana jumped 765 percent over the same period last year.3 In addition, the ASPCA Pro web page "Marijuana Toxicosis in Animals" had a 700 percent increase in views in January 2019 compared to January 2018.

The stunning increase in pet poisonings is "no surprise" to the APCC, given that more states have legalized both medical and recreational use of marijuana. According to Medical Director Dr. Tina Wismer, the abundance of baked good edibles attracts dogs (cats are more apt to sample the plant in its bud form).

And if the edibles a dog ingests also happen to contain chocolate, which is often the case, he or she is being exposed to not just one, but two toxic substances. Indirect methods of exposure in pets include "careless disposal of marijuana remnants in public locations," and believe it or not (and I'm sure we'd all rather not) — "consumption of human feces."

Maizey the Dog Got High Behind Some Bushes in the Park

Recently on NPR (National Public Radio) online, contributing reporter Laura Klivans recounted a frightening incident with her pit bull mix, Maizey. One day recently, Maizey wasn't in her usual greeting spot when Klivans arrived home. Instead, the dog was in her bed, shaky and confused, and when Klivans tried to get her up, Maizey stumbled and nearly fell over.

As she walked her dog to a 24-hour veterinary clinic in San Francisco's Mission District, Maizey "leaped like a puppy chasing imaginary balls."4 The vet staff ran some tests, determined the dog was in no immediate danger, and made an educated guess that she had ingested marijuana.

Veterinarian Dr. Dorrie Black, who works at the 24-hour clinic, treats up to three dogs a week for marijuana intoxication. In her experience, dogs ingest marijuana primarily by eating the remainder of a joint or an edible, and it can happen at home, in the park, or on the street.

In San Francisco and other locations with growing homeless populations and city streets and other public places used as restrooms, dogs are also exposed to marijuana by ingesting human feces. This is what Klivans and Black think happened to Maizey, who spent "quite a bit of time in the park bushes the morning she got stoned."

Black and other local veterinarians believe this particular problem is becoming more common in the Bay Area, as the homeless population grows.

Click here to find out Dr. Becker's top tips against seasonal pet allergiesClick here to find out Dr. Becker's top tips against seasonal pet allergies

Signs and Potential Lethality of Marijuana Poisoning in Dogs

Another California veterinarian in El Cerrito, Dr Benjamin Otten, has developed a list of symptoms he looks for in suspected cases of marijuana toxicity, including:

  • Wobbly drunklike movements
  • Urine dribbling
  • A dazed or glazed look in the dog's eyes
  • Low temperature
  • Nervousness

These symptoms occur because THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component in weed, is toxic to dogs. Fortunately, marijuana poisonings in dogs aren't typically fatal because the drug doesn't cause organ failure. However, as Black cautions, marijuana can so heavily sedate dogs that they inhale (aspirate) their own vomit, which can be fatal.

Dogs Are Highly Sensitive to THC, and THC Levels in Marijuana Are Higher Than Ever Before

The most potent psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana is THC, and dogs are up to 10 times more sensitive to THC than humans,5 because they have more cannabinoid receptors than any other animal we know of.6 This means trace amounts of THC — amounts most humans wouldn't even notice — can be toxic for dogs. The medicinal CBD extracted from the "weed" plant has less than 0.3% THC, not enough to cause any side effects or negatively impact pets in any way. According to the Los Angeles Times:

" … while the amount of THC … in professionally manufactured edibles is strictly regulated in states where they're sold legally, the potency of homemade treats is a wildcard. In California, edibles can't contain more than 100mg of THC per package, and 10mg per serving."7

A 2012 retrospective study (2005 – 2010) analyzed trends in marijuana toxicosis in dogs living in states with legalized medical marijuana.8 The researchers looked at 125 family dogs in Colorado that had been seen by a veterinarian at one of two veterinary hospitals for known or suspected marijuana poisoning.

Their results revealed a significant correlation between the number of medical marijuana licenses and marijuana toxicosis cases seen at the 2 hospitals. The majority of dogs recovered, but two who ingested chocolate baked goods containing marijuana-infused butter died.

No conclusion was reached as to whether the culprit was the marijuana-infused butter, the chocolate, or both. Butter and dark chocolate — both highly toxic to dogs — are common ingredients in edible marijuana products.

Fast-forward to the present day, and one emergency animal clinic in California averaged 10 cases of marijuana poisonings a week in 2018,9 and it certainly wasn't exceptional. According to the American Veterinarian journal, vets across the U.S. are reporting a significant increase in the number of pets — mostly dogs — being treated for marijuana intoxication.10

Not only has marijuana become available in novel forms such as foods, pills, oils, and tinctures, but new hybrids and cultivation techniques have resulted in plants with significantly more THC than in decades past. The Pet Poison Helpline reported a 448 percent increase in calls for marijuana poisoning over the past 6 years, with the majority involving pets who ingested marijuana-laced food products.11

If You Think Your Pet Has Ingested Marijuana

In dogs who've ingested marijuana, noticeable symptoms can appear within minutes to hours depending on the type of exposure (inhalation vs. ingestion). As mentioned earlier, typical signs of poisoning include glassy eyes, a dazed expression, slow response times, loss of coordination, and dribbling urine.

There can also be vomiting and drooling, seizures, changes in heart rate, decreased body temperature, low blood pressure, tremors, dilated pupils, vocalization, neurological stimulation, hyperactivity, and coma. The more THC the dog ingests, the more severe the symptoms usually are.

Treatment is supportive in nature, and depending on the situation may include inducing vomiting and/or administering activated charcoal to minimize the amount of toxin absorbed by the body. For more serious cases, intravenous (IV) fluids may be given and respiration monitored.

Bottom line: Keep all marijuana plants and products stored safely away from pets, and when outdoors with your dog, stay alert for signs he's picked up something in his mouth. Marijuana isn't the only drug dogs are being exposed to during walks, hikes, and other outdoor activities.

If you know or suspect your dog has ingested marijuana, call your veterinarian, the nearest emergency animal hospital, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 immediately.