The catalog of health benefits reported by medical marijuana users and researchers alike keeps growing thicker. From chronic pain relief to the easement of stress to appetite stimulation for patients too weak or sick to want to eat, medical marijuana is proving to be just what the doctor ordered for some people.
Given that, the natural next step is to ask, “If it works for people, will it work for my pet?” The answer is often complicated, and much of what we know is anecdotal. More study is needed, though research is underway, and it is promising.
There are many anecdotal reports of dogs being effectively treated with medical marijuana by licensed veterinarians for disorders including separation anxiety and pain. To what degree dogs are affected by the compounds in marijuana depends on many factors. Weight, size, age, and individual tolerances, as well as plant potency, all play a role. So can the animal’s medical history. We do know that dogs are more susceptible to the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than some other animals, including people, but it’s not the THC content that is medically beneficial.
Recent figures show that in jurisdictions where marijuana use is now legal, reports of emergency vet visits have nearly doubled over the past few years. Many of these visits are the result of a hungry pooch finding its master’s stash of edibles. With ingredients in these edibles not intended for dogs, side effects can be moderate to severe.
Like with any medical situation, dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong, so it is up to us to assess their symptoms. Symptoms a dog may show after consuming cannabis may include:
Low heart rate
Low blood pressure
Thankfully, a study conducted by the Animal Poison Control Center at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found that in 250 cases involving pets ingesting cannabis, zero deaths were directly attributed to marijuana overdosing. Much like a drunk person, nearly all the dogs returned to normal within a few hours with no lingering effects. Unlike a drunken person though, the dogs didn’t have to go around apologizing to everyone the next day for their ignominious behavior.
One for Me, None for You
The big problem with edibles for our furry friends isn’t so much the marijuana but some of the other ingredients. Two of the most dangerous ingredients in these designer treats are chocolate and xylitol. Chocolate can be very harmful, if not fatal, to dogs. Xylitol can be a death sentence. Since marijuana edibles designed for humans often include these ingredients, they are worth discussing on their own.
Chocolate contains cocoa, and cocoa contains theobromine, a bitter alkaloid. This compound is chemically related to caffeine and is also found in tea leaves and foods like chocolate candies, cookies, brownies, and numerous other products. Humans possess an enzyme that breaks down theobromine in our systems. Dogs, however, do not. This makes chocolate harmful to them. Dutch cocoa is the most toxic for dogs, followed by baker’s or baking chocolate, dark chocolate, then milk chocolate. There are online calculators to help you determine if your dog requires a vet after consuming chocolate.
Ingredients like xylitol are essentially harmless to humans but could be the kiss of death to your dog or cat. Xylitol is classified as a sugar alcohol and is a natural sweetener derived from birch and other hardwoods. It is used as a sugar substitute in countless products ranging from chewing gum to baked goods.
When a dog ingests xylitol, its system is fooled into believing it has eaten glucose and begins producing copious amounts of insulin. In response, the cells begin taking up glucose from the bloodstream. The sudden drop in blood sugar can then cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), bringing about weakness, dizziness, seizures, and even death in a short time. Ingesting xylitol can also lead to irreversible liver damage in dogs.
It doesn’t take much xylitol to cause harm. A six-pound pooch will fall ill from eating just 0.3 grams. That’s less xylitol than in a stick of gum. Essentially, any amount of xylitol is harmful to your dog.
There are companies providing cannabis-infused dog treats marketed as “beneficial.” These K9 snacks contain oil extracted from hemp. Hemp is very low in THC and, as a result, doesn’t have the psychoactive properties of other medical marijuana products. Hemp is, however, very rich in a health-promoting cannabinoid known as cannabidiol (CBD). Many pet owners are sold on these pet edibles, listing relief from inflammation and joint pain along with renewed energy levels as some of the benefits their dogs have realized since consuming the CBD-imbued treats. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any product, edible or otherwise, containing or derived from botanical marijuana. Therefore, no standardized dosage has been established by the industry or any federal regulating body, meaning the firepower can vary greatly from product to product.
This Bud’s for Him?
When it comes to willfully giving your pet marijuana, realize you are making a decision for them. They have no voice. Some owners blow marijuana smoke directly into their pet’s nose as a form of delivery. Considering a dog’s nose has some 200 million olfactory receptors and is leagues more sensitive than our own, blowing hot smoke into their nose in an attempt to get them buzzed could be quite painful to them. It could even be considered cruel.
Ultimately, it is your decision to make. But before you decide it might be cool to burn a doobie with Scooby, consider the unforeseen consequences that may come into play if he does get high. Along with the symptoms mentioned above, a dog high on weed could fall down the stairs, change personality, or go through any number of unexpected results. With so little research to go on, it’s best at this point not to give your dog any pot unless ordered by a veterinarian.