We won’t get into the nitty gritty on the arguments for and against marijuana. But there are a few things concerned veterinarians do want you to know about pot and your dog.
Dogs can get high
Yes, your dog can get high by inhaling marijuana smoke and/or ingesting pot edibles. The difference is, dogs feel “high” much, much more intensely than humans do. Dogs are likely to find any state of altered reality extremely distressing.
How can you tell if your dog is “high?”
If your dog is in the room while you’re smoking marijuana, it’s entirely possible for him to get a “contact high.” Dogs have also been known to eat marijuana buds, and of course, edibles are tempting to them, too. If you’re unsure whether or not your dog may have inadvertently gotten into your weed, look for the following signs:
- Dilated pupils
- Low blood pressure/heart rate
- Easily startled
Can pot hurt my Dog?
In a nutshell, yes. There are too few vet-sponsored studies on the effects of marijuana on dogs to know for sure whether or not it’s safe. Never give your dog weed, particularly without first talking to your vet. (Caveat: Some veterinarians believe in prescribing medical marijuana products that do not contain THC for dogs that require pain relief.) Although pot probably won’t kill your dog, it could make him very sick. Small animals are particularly susceptible to effects of pot. Vets working in states that legalized marijuana such as Colorado have reported an uptick in dogs coming in with symptoms of marijuana ingestion. Especially if you’re unsure just how much marijuana your pet has in his system, be sure to get him to an emergency vet right away if you suspect he’s been in your stash. Vet treatment for pot ingestion can include IV fluids, careful monitoring, and even by applying oxygen. Remember that even if pot isn’t necessarily “toxic” to your dog, the ingredients in some edibles might be.
Cannabis vs Marijuana vs CBD
The terminology surrounding cannabis, marijuana, and CBD can get confusing, so it’s important to have a good understanding of each term. Cannabis is a plant that comes in several species, including Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. The hemp and marijuana plants are two types of the cannabis plant.
The cannabis plant contains compounds called cannabinoids, the most widely known being THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets you high. The marijuana plant, which has many nicknames (e.g., marijuana, weed, pot, reefer, ganja, and Mary Jane), has very high levels of THC and low levels of CBD.
CBD is extracted from hemp or marijuana plants. However, the hemp plant has extremely low amounts of THC (< 0.3%) and high amounts of CBD. CBD is not psychoactive, so it doesn’t produce the same side effects as THC. You may have heard about the increasing use of CBD oils and treats as an all-natural remedy for dogs’ certain ailments.
How does cannabis affect cats and dogs?
Like most drugs, the effects of cannabis are based on chemistry. The drug enters the body via inhalation or ingestion and binds with specific neuroreceptors in the brain, altering normal neurotransmitter function. THC interacts with neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Humans and pets have two types of receptors in their bodies. One type, CB1, affects the central nervous system, and the other, CB2, affects the peripheral tissues. Although not all the pharmacologic mechanisms triggered by cannabinoids have been identified, it is thought that CB1 is responsible for most of the effects of cannabis.
Everything that enters the body has to exit the body. THC is very lipid-soluble, which means that it is easily stored in the fatty tissue in the liver, brain, and kidneys before being eliminated from the body. THC is metabolized in the liver and the majority (65-90%) is excreted in the feces, while a small percentage (10-35%) is eliminated through the kidneys. The drug has to be metabolized and excreted for the effects to wear off.
How toxic is cannabis?
Cannabis is considered to have a high margin of safety for people; however, not all people, and certainly not all pets follow a single pattern of intoxication. A small amount may affect one pet more than another, so there is no official safe level of exposure. Differences in age, health status, and body size are some of the factors that can lead to toxicity differences.
Luckily, cannabis intoxication is seldom fatal. The average marijuana cigarette contains about 150 mg of THC. The minimum lethal oral dose of THC in pets is fairly high; however, deaths have been noted after ingestion of foods containing highly concentrated cannabis, such as medical-grade THC. In fact, fatalities were very rare until the development of medical-grade products.
What are the signs of cannabis intoxication?
Many of the signs of intoxication are neurological. Pets may become wobbly and uncoordinated. They may be hyperactive, disoriented, and very vocal. Their pupils may dilate, giving them a wild-eyed appearance, and they may drool excessively or vomit. They may also develop urinary incontinence (i.e., urine leakage). In severe cases, tremors, seizures, and coma can result.
Physical signs include low or elevated heart rate and blood pressure and slowed respiration rate (breathing rate). Lethargy, and increases or decreases in body temperature may also be observed. Fortunately, these side effects are usually short-lived, but they can still be dangerous and make the pet quite miserable.
How is intoxication diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on an accurate history and clinical signs. Although there are tests to determine the level of THC in the urine, the results take time, making them impractical. Human urine drug-screening tests are quicker but are not dependable in pets. The diagnosis is made much more quickly, and treatment initiated, when responsible pet owners provide accurate information regarding the pet’s exposure.
How is intoxication treated?
When a toxin enters the body, often the first line of defense is to get it out. If the toxicity is discovered shortly after ingestion, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to prevent further absorption of the toxin. Two factors may interfere with this early defensive strategy. First, the signs of toxicity may manifest only after the drug has been absorbed, meaning it is already in the system. Second, cannabis has an anti-emetic effect which inhibits vomiting. In life-threatening cases, the stomach may be pumped (gastric lavage). Activated charcoal may be administered every 6-8 hours to neutralize the toxin. Enemas are also used to reduce toxin absorption from the GI tract.