Marijuana is a popular recreational drug used by millions of people all over the world. Its use is likely to rise due to the changes being made in legislation and that may lead to an increase in cases of intoxication of pets by this drug.
Marijuana intoxication may occur in pets that have access to marijuana plants, dried portions of the plants or foodstuffs containing marijuana. When foodstuffs also contain chocolate, the risk of additional poisoning is increased. Rarely, pets can become intoxicated following inhalation of the smoke. While most intoxications are due to accidental exposure, deliberate exposure of pets to marijuana is not unheard of.
Clinical signs of intoxication usually show up about 30 – 90 minutes after ingestion or exposure and signs can last up to 72 hours. Various body systems may be affected; nervous, gastrointestinal, cardiac, and urinary. Usual symptoms can include incoordination, disorientation, listlessness or depression, tremors, hypersensitivity to noise, light and touch, hypothermia, slow heart rate, dilated pupils and urinary incontinence. In some cases there can be anxiety and severe agitation. In rare, severe exposure there can be recumbency, stupor and seizures. Fatalities after exposure have been reported. Long term consequences from marijuana toxicity are rare.
Diagnosis of marijuana toxicity is often based on clinical symptoms in combination with known or potential exposure to marijuana. Test kits used to detect marijuana in the urine of humans may be used in dogs and cats although most veterinary clinics do not carry those test kits routinely. Intoxication with marijuana appears clinically similar to other, more serious forms of poisoning. In some instances, extensive diagnostic testing and treatments may be done if the veterinarian is not aware of marijuana exposure. The veterinarian is primarily concerned about the well-being of your pet so providing an accurate and truthful history can help both you and your pet.
Treatment involves supportive care for the most seriously affected patient. This includes hospitalization, intravenous fluids, keeping the patient warm, and preventing other complications such as too low a heart beat or seizures. If ingestion was recent, that is within 30 minutes, inducing vomiting may be attempted. Marijuana can act as an antiemetic so it can be unsuccessful. Activated charcoal can be given to try to bind the toxin and prevent the body from absorbing it. If the patient can walk, they generally can be treated as outpatients on oral activated charcoal every 8 hours for 24 hours. Because the THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is stored in body fat, the effects of marijuana ingestion can last for up to 72 hours. Most patients are back to themselves within 12 to 24 hours.
Prevention is generally straightforward. Keep any marijuana and marijuana-containing food out of reach of your pets. Dogs will be especially interested in any foodstuffs that contain chocolate as well and can be quite ingenious in their ability to search out and find things within their reach so be diligent in keeping them inaccessible. This will save both you and your pet an unhappy and potentially expensive experience.