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So…its legal now. California is about to become a happier state. (Ha).

We expect to be fielding a LOT of questions about marijuana use and benefits in pets from now on. We also expect to see a LOT more toxicity cases. In some states that have legalized marijuana for recreation, veterinarians have seen a 4 fold increase in THC toxicity cases.

REGARDLESS of what you read on the internet, the basics are this:

  1. THC is toxic to pets. Translation: do not feed your dog or cat or bird or rabbit your pot brownies, cookies, ‘bud butter’… do not blow smoke in your pet’s face. READ: PLEASE HIDE YOUR STASH APPROPRIATELY!! Most toxicity cases are due to the pet (usually your typical lab or beagle) finding the stash under the bed or getting into the plate of special brownies on the counter (and a Tupperware container is NOT secure).
  2. Even if legalized – it is legal only for people at this time. IT IS ILLEGAL for veterinarians to prescribe it under federal  AND state law.
  3. Universal vet “rule” – we don’t care where they got it, or who’s it is. We have no interest in reporting you or getting anyone in trouble – we just want to treat your pet appropriately so they get better.

So let’s flesh some of these comments out a little.

THC toxicity is not a joke – in dogs and cats we can see multiple neurologic symptoms including mental dullness, wobbliness, hypersensitive response to stimulation, incontinence, heart arrhythmias and seizures or if the concentration is too high, even death (as seen most commonly with the butter products). If noted, please bring your pet in for an oral treatment of to decrease absorption if early or IV fluids or intralipid therapy to clear their system safely. THC is very lipophilic (attracted to fat!), so the intralipid therapy removes the THC more effectively than traditional supportive care, although every little bit helps.

If caught early enough (less than 30 minutes), you can induce vomiting at home to remove as much as possible before it absorbs, but once symptoms have started, the anti-nausea properties of marijuana kick in and this becomes difficult. If you did manage to get your pet to vomit and the pet is sedated, then you risk causing aspiration pneumonia if the vomit is inadvertently inhaled.

“But Dr. Nesset – the internet says that marijuana can help my dog’s arthritis!”

There MAY be some medical benefit to the use of the higher cannabinoids (CBD) / low THC producing part of the plant (the ‘hemp’ side of marijuana), however there are no good studies to actually demonstrate a true medical benefit to pets thus far, but giving the THC containing components (flower / seeds) is simply not smart.

Even with the “safe” CBD products, there is going to be some differences as to the level of cannabinoids present – so not all products are created equal. There are NO standards on collection, purification, testing… this means that a product marketed for pet use may not actually contain the stated ingredients…or may contain too much of the unsafe portion of the plant.

There are some companies like Canna Companion – started by 2 veterinarians- who have worked to develop product specific for pets that they claim would be safe and effective. There are also companies who are simply going to take advantage of a new law and a veterinarian’s impotence in assisting with any use in pets.

Last year, Nevada tried to introduce a bill that would allow veterinarians to prescribe the use in pets, but it was treated as a joke and died quickly. This is a topic that will not go away, and should be discussed. Whether the use of cannabinoids in a pet is appropriate for their needs or not may not be certain but that shouldn’t negate a discussion with your veterinarian before attempting to take the advice of someone who has no medical training – much less veterinary training.

Evaluation of trends in marijuana toxicosis in dogs and cats living in a state with legalized medical marijuana: 125 dogs (2005-2010). S Meola et al. JVECCS 12/2012.

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