California Marijuana Laws Impacts to Pets

On January 1, 2018, recreational marijuana will be legal in California for adults 21 and older. This is a big change that will impact California residents—and, potentially pets.

More marijuana could mean more toxicity cases

Veterinarians saw an increase in marijuana toxicity cases following medical-marijuana legalization, so they are bracing for the increase in emergency room visits as more people begin to imbibe marijuana recreationally. Dr. Terence Krentz, an Emergency and Critical Care veterinarian at SAGE Campbell, cites a 2012 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (JVECC) that found a four-fold increase in marijuana toxicity following medical legalization in Colorado.

“My concern would be the increase in synthetic cannabinoids, edibles and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) preparations containing higher concentrations of THC that can potentially cause more severe toxicity than ingesting a joint,” Dr. Krentz said.

The JVECC article reported that two dogs died after eating baked products that contained butter made with medical grade marijuana. THC dissolves readily in fats (like butter), which means dogs only need to ingest a small amount of butter to receive a large amount of THC.

CBD treatments come with professional risks

Much of the conversation in veterinarian circles involves the potential use of CBD, or Cannabidiol, a chemical compound in the Cannabis plant, Krentz said. CBD doesn’t contain THC, and so it doesn’t have the psychogenic effects. However, the U.S. government considers the Cannabis plant, regardless of THC concentration, as a Schedule I controlled substance. For this reason, veterinarians who prescribe CBD for use in pets risk forfeiting their license, potential lawsuits and even jail time.

Frequently Asked Questions about pets and pot

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions we hear when pets ingest marijuana.

What happens when my pets ingests marijuana?

Pets typically begin to show signs associated with marijuana exposure within an hour, with the most common including depression, incoordination, dilated pupils, a glazed appearance, sound/light sensitivity and sometimes urine leakage. Depending on the dose, signs may last for as little as a few hours up to several days, with the average being about 24 hours in duration.

I think my pet ingested marijuana but I’m not sure. Can you test for it?

All of the tests available for bedside drug screening are human products. Since dogs process the marijuana into several forms not present in humans, the urine drug screen test may not find it, even if we know that a pet has ingested marijuana. Another reason it may not be found is that the test is performed too soon after ingestion and the processed marijuana is not yet in the urine. If the test is positive, it is a very good indicator that THC is present. While definitive testing is available at veterinary toxicology labs, results take several days to return which makes it impractical in most circumstances.

So my pet got into marijuana, what do we do about it?

Fortunately, nearly all pets with exposure to marijuana simply need time to allow the effects to wear off. Treatments done either as an outpatient or during a brief hospital stay include placement in a quiet area, hydration support, and relief of nausea, if present. If a pet ingests so much marijuana that they are severely depressed to comatose, they are definitely hospitalized and placed on IV fluids. More advanced therapies like IV lipids and oxygen support can also be considered in severe cases.

Are there any permanent effects?

No, fortunately. Dogs typically recover with no long-term adverse effects.