The body has natural cannabinoid receptors in neurologic cells as well as in immune cells. Effects of cannabinoids are only partly through these receptors. Our bodies make natural cannabinoids as well. Cannabinoids can have assorted pharmaceutical effects: reduction in nausea, induction of euphoria, interference with short term memory and ability to filter insignificant information, increased appetite, antioxidant effects, anti-inflammatory effects, antibacterial effects, and more.
The psychoactive chemical that has makes marijuana a recreational drug is delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly called THC. Regular marijuana is typically 1-8% THC while hashish, made from the flowering tops of the plant and their resins, can contain up to 10% THC.
Another cannabinoid chemical is cannabidiol, commonly referred to as "CBD," which is not considered recreational and is of a more medicinal nature. Cannabidiol has been used in human medicine to mitigate anxiety, improve appetite, relieve nausea, control seizures of certain types, and assist in sleep disorders. Assorted CBD products are available for human use both on-line and through dispensaries. Some products are marketed for pet use though this is, with rare exception, not legal (see section below).
Cannabis plants have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Marijuana was made illegal in the U.S. first in 1911 and was ultimately listed in the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 as a "schedule I" substance meaning that it has "no accepted medical use." In recent years, legal attitudes have changed and medical marijuana first became legal in 1996. As medical uses for cannabinoids are being explored and more states legalize medical and even recreational marijuana, exposure of pets to THC has increased dramatically, particularly in pet dogs
MARIJUANA INTOXICATION IN THE DOG
The usual pet toxicity case involves a dog that has inadvertently eaten a stash of marijuana. In the dog, clinical signs typically begin 30-90 minutes after the marijuana has been eaten. Because THC is stored in the body’s fat deposits, the effects of marijuana ingestion can last for several days.
Signs include: incoordination and listlessness along with dilated pupils, slow heart rate and sometimes urinary incontinence. A characteristic startle reaction has been described where the pet appears drowsy and even may begin to fall over but catches balance. Marijuana toxicity can look similar to intoxication with numerous other sedatives but the most serious consideration is anti-freeze poisoning which looks similar in its early stages and is usually fatal if not diagnosed early.
It is very important for all the relevant exposure information to be presented to the veterinarian if the pet is to be helped; veterinarians are not obligated to report to local police. If you know marijuana was involved in an intoxication it is important to make this information known to the attending doctor. Obviously this goes for other recreational drugs as well.
If less than thirty minutes have passed since the marijuana has been eaten it may be possible to induce vomiting but after symptoms have started, the nausea control properties of the cannabidiol make it very difficult to induce vomiting. Further, if the patient is extremely sedated, vomiting can be dangerous as vomit can be inhaled and cause a very serious and deadly aspiration pneumonia.
Activated charcoal is a liquid material used in the treatment of poisoning. Activated charcoal is given orally and as it passes from one end to the other, toxins are trapped in the charcoal so that when the charcoal passes from the patient, the toxins pass, too. This technique of detoxification may be used in the treatment of marijuana toxicity if ingestion has occurred recently.
Fluid support and keeping the patient warm may also be needed in treatment. If the patient has lost consciousness, the more intense observation and support is needed. The chance of fatality is statistically small but possible. In most cases, the patient can simply be confined so as to prevent injury until the THC wears off.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA PRODUCTS FOR PET USE
As medicinal marijuana becomes legal and commonplace in the U.S., many people wish to try products on their pets. Some cannabinoid companies even make products packaged for pet use. There are several reasons to be cautious about using these products. Here are some issues to consider:
Cannabinoids will interact with other medications so if you plan to use any of these products, be sure your veterinarian is aware that you are doing so. Keep any medicinal or recreational products out of the reach of pets and children.
Page last updated: 1/7/2020