Marijuana. It has many nicknames — pot, weed, grass, reefer, honey oil, Mary Jane — but if it is consumed by your pets, it can be harmful.
As more states and districts legalize marijuana, we anticipate seeing more marijuana toxicity in pets. Although people use pot recreationally or medically, it’s toxic to pets. Dogs (and very, very rarely cats) usually present with in-coordination and stupor and act like they want to fall asleep while standing, then quickly right themselves. The dog will likely have dilated pupils, deep-injected bloodshot eyes and rapid breathing, and they are often incontinent. The culprit ingredient is delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC.
The most common ingestion we see in the ER is marijuana-infused baked goods, especially brownies. Pot brownies have the double effect of chocolate toxicity to go along with marijuana toxicity. We get dogs that have eaten the owner’s entire “stash” (along with the plastic bag), as well as marijuana-infused butter products, which are even more toxic due to higher THC concentration.
Most signs of toxicity usually start 30-180 minutes after ingestion, and because THC is stored in fat, the signs can persist for up to 96 hours. While the mild-to-moderate symptoms listed above are more common, we have seen dogs present with more serious conditions from active seizing to total unconsciousness. We also have to treat plastic bag ingestion or chocolate toxicity in certain cases (see other blogs on these topics.)
If you suspect your pet has ingested marijuana, it’s important to be honest during the history-taking part of your visit! This is very important and can save your dog from unnecessary tests, as well as prevent you from spending money on tests your dog does not need. Understand that in the U.S., veterinarians are not obligated to report marijuana intoxications to the police, and having your vet know what he/she is treating is extremely helpful to the management of your pet’s problem. This can be especially important because other toxins can present themselves in similar ways, but can be fatal or far more serious.
If the ingestion has occurred within 30 minutes we usually try to induce vomiting in your pet. However if your pet is already showing clinical signs, the antinausea effects of THC can make it very difficult to induce vomiting. We will usually also give a product called activated charcoal to help bind up any remaining marijuana in the gastrointenstinal tract. Marijuana can undergo something called “enterohepatic recirculation,” where it goes from the GI tract to the liver and back to the GI tract, causing the effects to last longer. Multiple doses of charcoal, spaced apart by several hours, are often used to help prevent this situation. Intravenous fluids are also used to help stabilize your pet and assist him/her in eliminating the drug. If your pet is seizing or has lost consciousness, more intense treatment may be given as well over a longer duration in the hospital.
With good supportive care, the majority of pets with marijuana toxicity do well. Unfortunately, depending on the amount your pet has ingested and the severity of signs, marijuana toxicity could also be fatal. Like any toxin, early diagnosis and treatment of the problem are always crucial. Do not be shy when telling the vet what your pet got into — it might save his/her life!