Pot is not for Pets

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As you all  know, Connecticut has a medical  marijuana law that allows for medicinal use under certain conditions.  Our  state  has  also  removed  jail  time  for  possessing  small  amounts  of  marijuana.  The decriminalization  has  lead  to  increases  in  cases  of  accidental  exposure  of  pets  across  the  country  and  in our  practice.  Colorado  has  seen  a  four  fold  increase  in  marijuana  toxicosis  cases  in  dogs  since  the  law changed. The ASPCA’s poison control hotline received 352 calls about marijuana in 2013, up from 155 in 2006. As a result, veterinarians need to be aware of this growing problem. Pet owners are often unwilling to  admit  to  the  possibility  of  marijuana  intoxication  so  veterinarians  must  recognize  the  clinical  signs early and ask the right questions.

Marijuana,  from  the Cannabis  sativa  plant,  contains  tetrahydrocannabinol  (THC)  that  greatly affects receptors  in  the  brain  as  well  as  various  neurotransmitters. Animals  can  exhibit  behavioral  signs  after about  30  minutes  of  ingestion  and  these  signs  can  last  up  to three  days.  Dogs  show  a  variety  of  clinical signs such as disorientation, tremors, hyperactivity and staggering gait. There can also be gastrointestinal signs that include hypersalivation and vomiting. The curious clinical sign that we have observed is sudden urinary  incontinence.  The  urine  will  literally  fall  out  of  these  dogs  as  they  try  to  walk  or  lay  in  their kennel. A severe overdose of THC can result in low blood pressure, seizure, coma and even death. Treatment  for  THC  poisoning  usually  involves  supportive  care  with  IV fluids,  gastric  intubation  with activated  charcoal,  and  tranquilizers  if  the  patient  is agitated.  Life  threatening  clinical  signs  are  less common but can occur. The deaths from THC intoxication that have been reported are from ingestion of marijuana butter. The concentration of THC is very high in the MJ butter and very serious intoxications can  result  from  small  ingestions  of  this  butter  (or  baked  goods  made from  this  butter).  Critically  ill animals can have respiratory depression, low blood pressure, slow heart rates, and require intensive care as well as an antidote called intravenous lipid emulsion.  

Thankfully, we have not seen severe cases in our practice as of yet. Hopefully with rapid recognition of clinical  signs  by  the  veterinarian  (and  clients  that  are forthcoming  with  the  potential  of  marijuana exposure), we will manage these cases with supportive care.