This week I was happy to see the return of one of the tiny puppies in my training class. The previous week he had been absent from class because he was under
veterinary care for marijuana intoxication. The veterinary clinic he attended had seen three cases of marijuana intoxication that day! With the growing legalization of marijuana, intoxication episodes are increasing. Intoxications occur through accidental ingestion of marijuana in the form of raw marijuana, cigarettes, edibles, marijuana butter and medicinal preparations. Occasionally intoxications will occur when people confuse the use of CBD products with medicinal marijuana (which can be high in THC) and intentionally give marijuana to their pets. Dogs can also be intoxicated through exposure to marijuana smoke.
Just as accidental intoxications with marijuana are increasing, the deliberate use of CBD oil as a ‘natural’ remedy for a wide range of canine ailments is increasing. This blog will discuss the difference between CBD and marijuana, some cautions regarding use of CBD and the serious risks of marijuana intoxication.
What is the difference between Hemp, Cannabis, Marijuana and CBD oil?
Cannabis can be used as both generic and specific terms. Cannabis is the genus name for several different species of plant (Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica). But cannabis is also used as a more specific term referring specifically to marijuana plants.
• Marijuana refers to plants in the Cannabis genus that have high THC concentrations and are used for their psychoactive properties.
• Hemp is the name of plants in the Cannabis genus that have low THC concentrations, and higher concentrations of cannabidiol. Hemp plants are used to make industrial hemp products and CBD oil. Cannabidiol which binds to a different receptor than THC and lacks the psychoactive properties of THC.
Marijuana and hemp are not different plant species – just different strains with differing concentrations of the various cannabinoids.
Plants in the Cannabis genus are characterized by their production of cannabinoids – natural chemical compounds that are capable of binding to specific cannabinoid receptors on the cells of many species. There are over 100 different chemical substances classed as cannabinoids. THC and Cannabidiol are two of the most important phytocannabinoids (phyto = plant sourced). Our own bodies produce cannabinoids (known as endocannabinoids) which have a variety of functions such as regulating appetite, inflammation, stress responses, memory and learning etc.
What about use of CBD oil in dogs?
CBD oil is currently very trendy as a treatment for a wide variety of ailments in dogs. As with any trendy treatment, there are many unsubstantiated claims of efficacy for a wide range of ailments. CBD is touted as a panacea for just about any ailment! Unfortunately, robust scientific studies are still lacking and most ‘evidence’ is anecdotal. With time we will have more evidence on the benefits of CBD oil and where / when it is useful or not useful. On the flip side, toxicity of CBD seems to be quite low and many people have felt their dogs have benefitted from it.
CBD is no less a ‘drug’ than any other medication (natural or man- made) and so should be used with care. Side effects tend to be mild but can include nausea (typically seen as food avoidance or retching), vomiting, drowsiness, itching, and dizziness. Caution should also be exercised when adding CBD to other medications as drug interactions can affect efficacy and adverse effects. CBD should be stored safely away from pet access to avoid inadvertent ingestion of large quantities.
Marijuana in dogs
Marijuana is a whole different story than CBD. There are no benefits to marijuana in dogs and serious toxicity risks. Dogs should never be given marijuana products and great care should be taken to avoid inadvertent exposure of dogs to marijuana in any form. Dogs are attracted to marijuana (and their excellent olfactory abilities will ensure they find it easily) and they are more sensitive to the mind-altering effects.
What does Marijuana intoxication look like?
- Time of onset will be affected by: dose, route of intoxication and size and age of the dog
o Ingestion: symptoms typically appear 30-60 minutes after ingestion
o Inhalation: symptoms appear 6-12 minutes after inhalation
- Depression or hyperactivity and incoordination are the key symptoms
o lethargy, inactivity, disinterest, increased startle response, wariness of familiar people
o tremors, staggering, clumsiness
- Dilated pupils, excessive salivation, vomiting, incontinence of urine
- Slow heart rate, slowed breathing, low body temperature
- In very severe cases, seizures and coma
- Symptoms last approximately 24 hours.
- Dogs can internally recycle cannabinoids – cannabinoids are absorbed from the gut and stored in bile. When the dog eats a meal, the gall bladder contracts and releases the bile (including the stored cannabinoids) back into the gut where the cannabinoids are reabsorbed, and toxic symptoms can reappear or worsen.
How is marijuana intoxication treated?
Treatment is largely symptomatic but may need to be supervised in a veterinary hospital. If a significant dose was recently ingested, vomiting may need to be induced and activated charcoal used to decrease absorption of residual cannabinoids. Cases of ingestion of marijuana baked goods where chocolate was also ingested or ingestion of goods containing marijuana butter may cause more severe symptoms and require more aggressive interventions.
Most dogs make a full recovery, usually within a day but in severe cases dogs may suffer symptoms for up to three days. In rare cases marijuana intoxication can be fatal especially in large ingestions, small dogs or ingestions of marijuana butter products or products in which chocolate toxicity is also an issue.
- Proper secure storage of all marijuana products in dog-safe containers and locations in homes and vehicles.
- Use extreme vigilance on walks and teach your dog not to pick up and consume ‘found’ items.
- In the event of a suspected intoxication, seek veterinary care promptly and advise the vet of possible marijuana ingestion.