Dispensaries have popped up everywhere in Colorado since the legalization of medical marijuana.  As a result, our veterinary emergency service has also seen a marked increase in marijuana toxicity cases.  We see 2-3 cases of marijuana ingestion/toxicity per week compared to the 2-3 per month that used to be the norm for our hospital.

There is lots of information on the web that makes light of animals getting exposed to marijuana either accidentally or on purpose.  Unfortunately, some of the information would actually put your animal at risk if you followed the advice.

Marijuana is toxic to cats, and dogs.  The most common type of exposure is ingestion of the plant, or a baked good that contains various forms of the plant, like “marijuana brownies”, “canabutter”, or “hash cookies”.  The main ingredient in marijuana is Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.  THC can vary in strength from 0 – 70% depending on how it was prepared – the “canabutter” tends to be the most potent.  Dogs are far more likely to ingest marijuana than cats – 97% to 3%.

Clinical signs of marijuana exposure (usually ingestion) include prolonged depression, vomiting, in-coordination (ataxia), sleepiness or excitation, increased heartbeat (tachycardia) or decreased heart beat (bradycardia),excessive drooling, dilated pupils, low blood pressure, low body temperature, uncontrolled urination, seizure, coma,  or even death – though it is very rare.

Should your animal display any of these symptoms it is important to bring  him/her to the vet right away.  It is also important to let the Veterinarian know about the possible exposure to marijuana.  The other most common toxicity that has the same clinical signs as marijuana is Ethylene Glycol.  The testing and treatment for Ethylene Glycol is much more involved and requires longer hospitalization to ensure the patient doesn’t go into kidney failure.  The Veterinarian is not under obligation to report the owner/client to the police and it is better for all involved to treat the animal appropriately.

Treatment may include causing the animal to vomit if the ingestion happened within the last 2-4 hours. They are then given activated charcoal to decrease the absorption of THC or other psychoactive substances found in marijuana.

Animals that ingest the marijuana in brownies or the hashish butter are at risk for chocolate toxicity or pancreatitis as well as the marijuana toxicity.  Additional treatment may be necessary to combat the effects of the other toxins.

Your pet may be hospitalized for observation of temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and for treatment with intravenous fluids, repeat administration of activated charcoal, and intensive nursing care if critical.  Some animals require sedation with Valium.  Most animals recover fully following treatment.

The moral of the story…Fluffy and Fido should not get into the stash.