As cannabis becomes legal in more and more states, there’s a question more experts and vets are running into: Is cannabis safe for my pet?
The short answer is: “No.”
The long answer is: “It’s slightly complicated.”
So let’s get you the long answer: Is cannabis safe for dogs? Here’s what you need to know.
Cannabis is a plant with potentially high levels of the high-inducing chemical THC. Some cannabis plants are low in THC and often high in other cannabinoids, like CBD. We generally call that second type of cannabis “hemp.”
Generally speaking, most Americans likely don’t have a bunch of hemp lying around the house. Still, there’s a good chance they may have a product containing CBD derived from that low-THC cannabis plant we call “hemp.”
CBD is proven to have medical benefits for people and animals with certain seizure disorders, and many believe it is effective at combating anxiety, inflammation, insomnia, and even helping with some neurological disorders.
And there is no shortage of pet-focused CBD products on store shelves or on the web. Products with CBD derived from this cannabis type are generally safe when you administer them as a veterinarian or the package labeling directs.
What Americans are more likely to have lying around the house is a bag of high-inducing cannabis. It might be in flower (plant) form or could be in edible forms, like gummies, chocolates, or cookies.
Every dog owner knows pets could easily woof down any of those things—and that’s where we could get into some serious trouble.
While no human death has ever been attributed to a cannabis overdose, fatalities, and severe sicknesses are attributed to cannabis in pets.
They call it “marijuana toxicity.”
In a 2019 news article, NPR says that a Colorado study “found that two dogs who had ingested chocolate baked goods made with marijuana-infused butter had died.”
Of course, chocolate is toxic to dogs—and so is butter. So the exact cause of death was uncertain. None of the vets NPR interviewed said they had seen any animal die because of marijuana exposure.
VCA Animal Hospitals—a national chain of veterinarians—is more succinct: “Deaths have been noted after ingestion of foods containing highly concentrated cannabis such as medical-grade THC.”
Fatalities were unusual, VCA notes, until the medical cannabis market began producing high-dose products.
Veterinarian John de Jong, now president of the World Veterinary Association, told NPR that states with legal cannabis are seeing more incidents of marijuana toxicity. At the same time, the story mentions that calls to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center have jumped 7X over the previous year. In 2019, only 10 states legalized adult-use cannabis. Today, the number is at 19 and growing.
What does marijuana toxicity look like in a dog?
VCA says that “many of the signs of intoxication are neurological.” Keep an eye out for wobbly, uncoordinated pets. At the same time, your dog may become hyperactive or disoriented with dilated pupils, “giving them a wild-eyed appearance,” according to VCA. Keep an eye out for excessive droop, vomit, and incontinence.
“In severe cases, tremors, seizures and coma can result,” VCA warns.
Dogs could also pass out and choke on their own vomit.
What should I do if my dog got into my stash?
Go to the vet immediately. If it’s a holiday or weekend, max out that credit card if you have to and find emergency vet services.
What does treatment look like?
“When a toxin enters the body, often the first line of defense is to get it out,” according to VCA. Essentially, the first step is inducing vomiting. However, if your dog is already showing signs of marijuana toxicity, odds are the THC has already been absorbed and puking isn’t gonna help.
Stomach pumping may happen, and vets may administer activated charcoal regularly to neutralize the THC, according to VCA.
Otherwise, it’s all about harm reduction and seeing the dog through what might be a really bad trip: Vets may administer anti-anxiety medications or IV fluids and pay careful attention to the pet’s breathing, body temperature, and heart rate, according to the VCA.
What’s the bottom line?
Unless it’s a CBD product developed specifically for dogs, keep all your cannabis away from it (and any other pets). Be a responsible pet parent, and don’t get your dog high. It also could save you more than $1,000.