Marijuana is one of those hot button social issues that just never seems to go away, but what about canine marijuana toxicity? What used to be thought of as cute or amusing behavior is now up for reconsideration thanks to new research featured in a paper in the Journal of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society.

Believe it or not, marijuana intoxication is something that passes along to canines through a number of avenues. Some pets have access to marijuana plants or dried portions of said plants, while others ingest – accidentally or otherwise – foods that include an amount of marijuana.

The study was designed to see if the Colorado legalization of marijuana for medical use led to an increase in canine marijuana toxicity.

What is Canine Marijuana Toxicity?

While long-term health effects and fatalities are rare, canine toxicity due to marijuana is clinically similar to other forms of poisoning. And with newer, more concentrated strains of marijuana making the rounds, the problems associated with this toxicity are more serious.

Symptoms of canine marijuana toxicity include anxiety, panting, agitation, impaired balance, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, house soiling, lethargy, and extreme responses to stimuli.

The main risk for canine marijuana toxicity is the presence of whole plants or dried portions of those plants. There are pet owners who intentionally expose their pets to marijuana, either through considered exposure to smoke or deliberate feeding of marijuana-infused food.

What Did the Study Discover?

The study did indeed discover that the legalization of marijuana for medical use had a correlation to increased instances of canine marijuana toxicity. Medical marijuana prescriptions increased 146-fold over the study period, while instances of canine marijuana toxicity increased fourfold.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding in the study is the revelation that two of the dogs involved died.

The trouble with this is compounded by the fact that we don’t know exactly how the dogs would’ve died from exposure to marijuana. The active ingredient in the drug, THC, affects the cerebral cortex and doesn’t mess around with the brainstem. This keeps it away, theoretically of course, from the vital functions of the body and prevents, theoretically of course, the body from “overdose.”

But here’s the thing: what we know about how marijuana affects the body comes from what we know about how humans respond.

We know that dogs metabolize THC differently, but we don’t know how or if the brainstem in dogs interacts with marijuana.

I get that people are sensitive about the issue of marijuana. It’s not my desire to make a judgement call about people who use the drug for whatever reason. But we do need to have a serious conversation about what it’s doing to dogs, especially as more potent and synthetic versions of the stuff hit the market. Canine marijuana toxicity is a definite issue worth discussing.

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