With more states legalizing marijuana for medical, and in some cases recreational use, more pets are bound to come in contact with this plant material. Is it safe and when could it possibly be helpful?
First, NO pets should be exposed to marijuana, especially the psychoactive component THC, for any reason. Once you get past that, there do seem to be some uses for marijuana. Actually, it is components of hemp that are truly useful. Compounds isolated from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, do show some benefits for veterinary patients. Some varieties of hemp contain less of the THC. The cannabinoids have been shown to help with immune support, ease joint pain and and provide comfort and pain relief for senior pets. Both dogs and cats have been treated. Side effects of this medical version of marijuana include soft stools, lethargy and increased frequency of bowel movements – probably due to the fiber in the hemp.
All of that is a side note to the fact that in most states it is not legal for a veterinarian to prescribe any form of marijuana for pets at this time. Supplements like this are not generally covered by the FDA and there are concerns about purity, effectiveness, etc. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association is currently the only organized veterinary group that advocates the use of any marijuana product for pets.
Of more concern to veterinarians are the cases of marijuana toxicity in pets. In a recent webinar by the ASPCA Poison Control Center, Dr Kirsten Waratuke addressed this problem. She pointed out that classical signs of toxicity in dogs are being depressed, showing ataxia or in-coordination in walking and dribbling urine. With a higher dose dogs may show head bobbing, tremors and drop their body temperature and their heart rate. Despite the fact that marijuana has been used to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients it can induce vomiting in some pets. You might also notice dilated pupils.
Urine drug screening tests can be used for pets. Mot commonly pets get into products that have marijuana cooked into them – the ever well known “marijuana brownies”. Luckily this means the dose tends to be low, Mortality from marijuana ingestion is uncommon in pets but they do show signs at a fairly low dose. treatment tends to be symptomatic and relies heavily on fluids and observation. Marijuana butter tends to have higher concentrations of THC and can be more toxic.Pets can also become toxic from exposure to secondhand smoke from smoked marijuana as mentioned at the Pet Poison Helpline.
The bottom line is that more work needs to be done on the uses of cannabinoids for pets – to determine safe usage, safe dosages and to look at potential drug interactions with other medications. In addition, the legality of its use for pets remains undetermined in most states – or it is illegal. Marijuana can be toxic to pets even if the mortality rate is low. Veterinarians will treat intoxicated pets without involving law enforcement in virtually all cases. It is better to have your pet cared for than to lie about the likely cause of the symptoms.