Marijuana is back in the news here in Colorado. My home town is going to be voting on whether or not to reverse a ban on medical marijuana that went into effect in February of this year, and all Colorado voters are being asked to give the thumbs up or down to legalizing pot in the state.
"What," you might be wondering, "does this possibly have to do with animals?" More than you might imagine. One of our local television stations recently reported, "Colorado Vets See Spike in Cases of ‘Stoner Dogs’." According to CBS News in Denver:
Vets say they used to see dogs high on marijuana just a few times a year. Now pet owners bring in doped-up dogs as many as five times a week…
Most of the time veterinarians say dogs get the medical marijuana by eating their owners food products that are laced with marijuana that were left out in the open. More and more dispensaries sell those kinds of products.
Not too surprisingly, many owners who bring their dogs to the veterinarian because of possible or known marijuana ingestion are reluctant to mention this as a potential cause of their dogs’ symptoms. It is often left to the doctor to put the picture together with incomplete information, which isn’t always in the client’s best financial interests (to say nothing of what’s best for the dog). The clinical signs of marijuana intoxication in dogs include incoordination, lethargy, mental dullness, dilated pupils, slow heart rate, and sometimes dribbling of urine and vomiting. Symptoms usually develop within a few hours of ingestion and can last anywhere from thirty minutes to several days.
As you can see, the clinical signs of marijuana intoxication are fairly nonspecific, so if a veterinarian does not have reason to suspect the cause, he or she is going to have to go on a search. The diagnostic work-up could involve a blood chemistry panel, complete cell count, a urinalysis, fecal examination, X-rays, and more. All this could be avoided if the owner simply owns up to the possibility of pot exposure.
Medically speaking, marijuana intoxication in dogs is not that serious of a problem. Treatment usually involves decontamination procedures (e.g., inducing vomiting or giving activate charcoal to bind to the active ingredients) if the dog is brought in quickly enough, followed by monitoring and symptomatic and supportive care. The vast majority of dogs that have ingested marijuana recover uneventfully.
A Seattle company is even looking into developing a marijuana "patch" to help control pain in dogs and horses, but I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be prescribing it even in the pot-friendly state of Colorado. I’ve had to question several clients as to why their dogs have needed refills of their narcotic prescriptions well after the animals’ pain should have waned. Needless to say, I never heard from those folks again.
Even though marijuana is legal for medical use in Colorado, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still considers it a Schedule 1 narcotic (i.e., a drug with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in the United States). I don’t think I’ll be putting my DEA license at risk any time soon to prescribe pot for pets.
Dr. Jennifer Coates