The legalization of marijuana, both for medicinal and recreational use, has created significant media attention with Colorado at the forefront. Not only is this issue highly complex, so is the actual marijuana plant. Let’s see if we can shed some light on marijuana and what potential effects it might have on your pet.
What is Marijuana?
In short, marijuana is the leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from a Cannabis plant. This plant contains over 110 chemicals called cannabinoids; however, we will focus on the two main cannabinoids. One is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is responsible for the mind-altering or psychoactive effects. The second cannabinoid is CBD (cannabidiol) which is considered therapeutic.
Interestingly, our body naturally produces endo-cannabinoids which affects our brain, immune system and pain pathways. So, the phyto-cannabinoids (THC and CBD) will similarly influence these organ systems.
Cannabinoids in humans have anti-inflammatory effects thought to potentially help with pain, tumors, seizures, muscle spasms, skin conditions, appetite stimulation, aggression, anxiety and neurological disorders. It is important to note that currently, only THREE medical studies are underway to research the use of CBD in dogs for its safety or toxicity and its use in canine osteoarthritis and canine epilepsy. Two at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and another at the University of Pennsylvania. NO other study has ever been done on CBD in dogs! The results of these studies have not yet been published; however, unverified CBD oil preparations and dosing have been reported.
We cannot stress enough that although online or over-the-counter CBD oil products are readily available for our pets, AND they have dosing recommendations on them, they are NOT based on scientific or factual research. To further complicate the matter, when the FDA in 2015 tested various “CBD oil” products, not only did they find that most of them were contaminated with sometimes high levels of THC, but many didn’t even contain detectable levels of the CBD oil! So, buyer beware!
Toxicity with Marijuana!
We cannot assume that marijuana affects pets the same way it affects humans, nor just because it is “natural” that it can’t harm us OR our pets! At Pine Creek Veterinary Hospital, we have not seen toxicities relating to CBD oil; however, as many of our colleagues, we have seen THC toxicities in pets. To date, fatalities directly linked to THC have been rare. What we deal with mostly in veterinary medicine are fatalities associated with products which contain the THC. We can see life threatening liver, cardiac and pancreatic disease in dogs and occasionally comas.
Over the last six years, the Pet Poison Hotline has seen a 448% increase in the number of THC toxicity calls from both medical and recreational marijuana. The most common sources of THC toxicity are from food products, such as brownies, cookies, chocolate covered fruit or bars and gummi bears. Unfortunately, the butter and coconut oils once cooked have extremely high concentrations of THC and this produces a much greater risk of toxicity. Remember, our canine companions can very easily sniff out the plant and they are curious little creatures and eat anything they can!
What does THC toxicity look like in our pets?
It appears the toxic dose is extremely variable in dogs. Sometimes the level of intoxication is extreme, and the anxiety created is difficult to watch. Fortunately, most of these cases will recover in a few hours.
- Mild to severe depression to the point of a coma
- Drunken appearance
- Sudden urinary leakage while awake
- Glazed expression
- Heart arrythmias (too fast or too slow)
- Unable to stand or raise their head
Less common signs:
- Vomiting and diarrhea especially with butter or coconut products
- Shaking due to low temperature
- Dilated pupils
Toxicity cases are often hospitalized for supportive therapy. If your pet consumes any THC containing product or you think they may have, we encourage you to openly and promptly discuss this with your veterinarian so that we can quickly provide the most accurate treatment. Marijuana intoxication can mimic other more serious toxins, including poisonous mushrooms.
Why can’t my doctor prescribe it for me?
Here’s where it gets tricky! Federal law currently prohibits all uses of marijuana and has classified it as Schedule I chemical. (Schedule I is the most restrictive of the federal Controlled Substances Act categories.) Even though many states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, because federal prescribing laws supersedes state pharmacy laws, the doctors at Pine Creek Veterinary Hospital are not allowed to prescribe any form of marijuana, including CBD oil.
It appears marijuana, both recreational and medicinal, is here to stay; however, THC containing products should never be given to pets, especially since they can’t consent to being given an intoxicating substance that causes fear and anxiety or other serious effects from the chocolate, artificial sweeteners and rich butters. It may be determined that CBD oil containing products are in fact useful medicines. At this point, the veterinarians of Pine Creek Veterinary Hospital are awaiting the outcome of the scientific research to base our recommendations for use in animals.
These blog comments, although based in scientific research, reflect our professional opinions only and are accurate and true to the best of our knowledge. They are for informational purposes and do not constitute treatment advice, nor should it take the place of seeking medical attention and a diagnosis from a trained professional. We reserve the right to change these blog comments if/as new research emerges.