As Veterinarians, we are always keen to find new ways to provide quality care for our patients. Most Vets see cannabis-based medicines as having great potential especially in helping pain management and end of life care. However, we are also professionally, ethically and morally obligated to only recommend treatments and medications that are scientifically proven to be safe and beneficial.
The bottom-line is that despite legalization of pot for people, there is currently no legal avenue for Veterinarians to prescribe marijuana or marijuana-derived products for pets because there is not enough clinical evidence to support it at this time. Any claims you see of proven safety or efficacy of marijuana-related products for pets is simply false.
So what do you need to know?
Marijuana is Poisonous to Pets: Pets can ingest marijuana through eating discarded butts, marijuana-infused edibles, eating the owner’s supply, or by second hand smoke. Common symptoms of marijuana toxicity include sedation/lethargy, dilated pupils or glassed over eyes, dazed expression, difficulty walking and vomiting. Other symptoms can include either a low or high heart rate, vocalization such as whining or crying, agitation, trouble regulating temperature, incontinence/dribbling urine, tremors, seizures and potentially coma or even death. Signs of toxicity can be seen anywhere from 5 minutes to 12 hours after the animal is exposed to marijuana. The signs can potentially last 30 minutes to several days depending on the dose ingested.
What About CBD Oils: Marijuana or Cannabis sativa/Cannabis indica is used for recreational drug use and for medicinal purposes. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most commonly recognized, utilized, and studied cannabinoids although there are over 80 different cannabinoids in marijuana plants. The main difference between the two is that THC causes psychotropic effects and has a moderate level of toxicity while CBD is non-psychotropic and many investigators believe it to be non-toxic or have limited toxicity. Again however, there needs to be more research before Veterinarians can legally prescribe it or advise on CBD’s use.
Not All Pot Is Created Equal: up until now, the marijuana industry in Canada has operated in the shadows or more recently, in the grey area of medicinal treatment. Therefore, as with any underground or unregulated industry the quality control on extracting, refining, evaluating potency and dispensing varies widely. This can be even more dangerous for pets, as they are (typically) smaller so the symptoms are greater.
Second Hand Smoke of Any Kind is Harmful to Pets: A number of studies have shown that animals face health risks when exposed to the toxins in secondhand smoke. These vary from respiratory problems, allergies, asthma and even nasal and lung cancer in dogs and lymphoma in cats.
What To Do If Your Pet Has Ingested Marijuana (or any other drug): Contact your Veterinarian and tell them exactly what the pet ingested, how much they ingested, and any other details. We are not here to judge and in the case of illegal drugs, we are not here to report you to authorities, we will focus solely on helping your pet. Although there is no antidote for marijuana, we can provide supportive care such as regulating your pet’s temperature, provide fluids to help maintain hydration, intralipid therapy and closely monitor the animal’s heart rate to ensure that it is stable. In many cases, we may give activated charcoal. This is a liquid that can help bind the toxin in the stomach or intestines to the charcoal and prevent absorption into the body.
As more research is conducted and solid, scientifically-backed evidence becomes available we’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Dr. Renee Ferguson
Sources: Pet Poison Helpline & CVMA Documents