It was once the children that made the anti-drug warriors come crawling out of the woodwork to protect whenever any mention was made about the legalization of marijuana. But these warriors eventually beat that dead horse so far into the ground that it is hardly a legitimate argument anymore. Now, they rally for the safety of animals. According to anti-drug campaigners, our furry, four-legged friends have apparently become the new victims in the movement to bring cannabis out of the underground.
There seems to be no shortage of reports from local media outlets these days suggesting that dogs and other family pets are being poisoned by cannabis more than ever before. This trend, of course, is causing some concern among the veterinary community.
“We don’t know all the side effects that could occur,” says Veterinarian Dr. Mark Philippot. “We do know over years of having illegal marijuana that sometimes pets accidentally ingest these products… it makes animals quite sick… there is quite the potential risk.”
But it turns out the situation involving pets and pot has been somewhat blown out of proportion.
The Data On Pets and Cannabis in California
Ever since California launched its fully legal cannabis market at the beginning of 2018, there has been no significant increase in pets being treated for accidentally ingesting marijuana.
A recent report from the Cannifornian shows that incidents involving cannabis exposure in pets are still around the same rate as it was before the state went fully legal. The Pet Poison Hotline, for example, saw 57 calls about pets ingesting marijuana in 2017, compared to 65 calls in 2015, according to the report.
In fact, while cannabis has been labeled public enemy number one for the family pets in recent years, animal experts say there are still more cases of these animals getting sick from the consumption of common household items.
“Our cases have increased over the past few years, and veterinarians across the country have indicated an increase in the number of cases they are seeing,” said Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But “when compared to chocolate or ibuprofen, the [cannabis] case numbers are still small.”
Pot Brownies & the Importance of Product Storage
The numbers, however, do show that cannabis consumers need to be more careful when storing their cannabis products. There were around 325 pot-related calls to the ASPCA poison control center in 2017. That is more than double what it was two years prior. But it is important to point out that the agency also experienced a higher volume of calls during that time. Still, cannabis was involved in around one in five calls, the report shows.
In the grand scheme of dire situations where a pet owner is forced to lean on the poison hotline to get help for their furry friend, cannabis makes up around 19 percent of calls in California. The number would undoubtedly be lower if cannabis consumers would learn how to properly store their edible products. Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a veterinary toxicologist who oversees veterinary services for the Minnesota-based Pet Poison Helpline, says 66 percent of the cases of accidental cannabis ingestion and pets involve edible products. The number one culprit is pot brownies, she said.
The chocolate in the brownies makes the situation more dangerous than the marijuana. In large enough doses, a component called theobromine, which naturally occurs in the cocoa bean, is toxic to animals — even deadly. But it remains up in the air over whether cannabis itself is fatal for pets.
What Happens When a Pet Eats Edibles?
Some reports, including one since-rescinded Australian study conducted in 1994, have shown that pot has the power to kill animals — especially smaller ones that consume large quantities of edibles. Yet it remains uncertain whether it was the cannabis or other ingredients in those products that led to their demise. Still, it is best to err on the side of caution.
Most of the time, the herb will only cause an animal serious discomfort. They might become lethargic, urinate more frequently or suffer from tremors. These cases can be dealt with at home. But if ever a situation arises where a pet ingests a large number of cannabis edibles, becomes comatose or cannot walk properly, it is time to seek veterinary assistance. The good news is most pets that have gone through this ordeal have fully recovered with proper attention. Yet, prevention is the best method for protecting a pet.
“The best thing pet owners can do at this point is keep anything containing marijuana out of reach of pets, just as they should with other toxins,” Wismer said.
Interestingly, while THC, the intoxicating compound in marijuana, is dangerous for pets, there are veterinarians who have found a non-intoxicating component of the plant, cannabidiol or CBD, effective in treating these domesticated critters for anxiety and pain.
TELL US, do you make sure to store your cannabis products away from pets?