Can my dogs use medical cannabis?
Medical cannabis has been used in human and animal health for thousands of years. It’s been documented that cannabinoid derived treatments were used to treat horses as early as 3000 years ago by the Chinese. There have been numerous studies in animal models showing benefits of medical cannabis for a range of indications, including pain, inflammation, neurological disease, anxiety, sleep and appetite. Researchers and scientists are now slowly uncovering the many potential benefits of this plant.

However just like anything, in the wrong dose ranges and formats it can be unsafe for pets, and caution should always be used when self-treating your animals. Veterinary guidance should always be sought before giving and un-approved medicine to your pet.
Medical Cannabis Safety
A common question that pet owners ask is if their pet can get “high”. The short answer is yes. THC, the main psychoactive component in the medical cannabis plant, can cross the blood barrier and interact with receptors in the brain, causing different neurological effects.

Animals can experience the effects of cannabinoids differently and more intensely than humans which can be distressing to your pet if too much is consumed. Because of this, it’s important you always seek veterinary advice before giving medical cannabis to an animal.

Furthermore, cannabinoids interact with other physiological functions in the body such as metabolism through the P450 Enzyme this can have implications on drug interaction depending on what your pet might be taken at the time.

Unwanted side effects can include:
 – Lethargy
 – Breathing problems
 – Lower blood pressure
 – Abnormal heart rhythms
 – Loss of balance
 – Urinary incontinence
 – Mental distress
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis has an extremely wide safety profile.

Cannabis has a high estimated lethal dose for humans, equivalent to smoking approximately 1,500 pounds in 15 minutes, a physical impossibility. Scientists have had to estimate the LD50, or Lethal Dose for 50% of the human population, because it has never been demonstrated. This puts cannabis in a class of its own, since even relatively safe medications such as aspirin have a lethal dose. Dr. Grinspoon had this to say in a 1995 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

“Due to this wide safety profile, the risk of death from marijuana is relatively low for dogs. The minimum lethal oral dose for dogs for THC is more than 3 g/kg. However, the risk is greater if a smaller dog ingests a large amount of marijuana, or if your dog consumes an edible which may have ingredients that are dangerous for animals. Marijuana edibles often contain a higher concentration of cannabinoids, along with infused butters and other ingredients which could also pose an additional risk of pancreatitis (which itself can be potentially severe or even fatal). And, of course, there is an even greater risk if the edible contains chocolate.”

If your dog eats any amount of marijuana edibles, you should seek help immediately either from your regular veterinarian, an emergency clinic , or an animal-specific poison control hotline.
Has your dog eaten cannabis?
With medical cannabis legislation evolving globally, a number of American states and countries are moving towards full legalisation. As such, it’s highly likely that dogs are able to access medical cannabis edibles and/or oils that may have been left lying around, or placed in easy to access storage locations. If you suspect your dog may have eaten cannabis or a cannabis derived product, then you can follow the steps below.

1.      If your dog has eaten any cannabis derived edible product, it’s important to understand the potential effects and act quickly. Dogs and cats can suffer from psychoactive effects which can be a distressing and dangerous experience.
2.      It’s important to seek veterinary help and be honest about the exposure to the cannabis substance as will enable the veterinarian to make the appropriate measures to treat your pet. Find the nearest veterinarian and call for assistance. If it’s after hours you can contact the pet poison hotline here 13 11 26
3.      In most cases of accidental cannabis edible ingestion, the dangers can be associated with compounds in the cannabis plant at higher than tolerated doses (particularly of THC), and food based ingredients that can be unsafe or toxic for pets (such as chocolate). Most cases require evaluation and mild supportive care, but some can have more serious complications.
4.      If your dog isn’t showing any signs of symptoms associated with ingestion, this doesn’t mean they aren’t impacted. It’s likely the substance may not be fully metabolised. Contact your local animal emergency department of veterinarian and discuss it with them.
5.      If your dog has already shown signs of toxicity, head directly to your vet’s office or local emergency centre immediately.
In most cases, you can rest assured that a full recovery is expected with minimal long term damage. But the quicker you act, the better it is for your pet!
Signs of exposure
Signs that an animal has been exposed to marijuana generally include depression, ataxia, mydriasis, bradycardia, hypothermia and urinary incontinence. While there are many toxins that can cause ataxia and lethargy, urinary incontinence is not as common and can be a clue as to the exposure. Pets exposed to marijuana may exhibit other signs such as agitation and tachycardia; seizures and coma, although not common, may occur as well. Generally, adverse events include:

 – Signs of depression
 – Walking drunk
 – Lethargy
 – Coma
 – Low heart rate
 – Low blood pressure
 – Respiratory depression
 – Dilated pupils
 – Coma
 – Hyperactivity
 – Vocalization
 – Seizures

However without observation of exposure (or the owner admitting what happened), an over-the-counter urine drug screen may be a diagnostic tool for veterinarians. This has drawbacks, however, since dogs produce different metabolites in their urine than humans, and false negatives are common with pets exposed to cannabis.

Treatment for marijuana is usually symptomatic. Decontamination is often unnecessary and may do more harm than good. Due to CNS depression, aspiration may be a major concern if emesis is induced or activated charcoal is given.

Consider the pet’s current physical findings to make the best judgement on what may or may not be needed for the patient. Home monitoring may be feasible in some cases, however, young and/or small patients may have more problems with hypothermia and thus need to stay in hospital. In more severe cases, lipid emulsion therapy may be beneficial due to THC’s high lipid solubility.
How to Treat and Intoxicated Pet
There are a number of variables that impact how a pet is treated for marijuana ingestion which largely depends on how recently the ingestion occurred and how affected the dog is. However the earlier your dog or cat is taken to a veterinarian, the better it will be. If accidental ingestion is caught very early, a dog may be able to receive treatment to “decontaminate” them (to get it out of their system) and avoid or minimize any of the unwanted effects of the cannabis compounds.

In mild cases, treatment is usually supportive. In some mild cases, your pets may need IV fluids to help them eat or drink if they’re unable to do this on their own. Some dogs may also require “heat support” if they’re having trouble maintaining their body temperature.
For more serious cases, where dogs or cats may be suffering from an altered heart rate or blood pressure, IV fluids and medications may be used by a veterinarian, along with continuous monitoring of their vital signs. If a dog develops aspiration pneumonia due to vomiting and shows signs of mental impairment, then it’s very likely that they need IV antibiotics and oxygen. Similarly, their may be specific treatments for edibles that contain compounds that may be toxic to pets, such as chocolate or butter.

Pet owners should always be aware that a veterinarians motive is to ensure the health and safety of your pet and not to discuss your cannabis use with local authorities. As such, It’s your responsibility as a pet owner to get them the best medical attention possible, and to inform your vet if you have a feeling your dog is negatively impaired by cannabis compounds. By being as open as possible, and discussing the potential amounts and form of cannabis, your vet will be best equipped to handle each case. Traditional urine tests aren’t a reliable indicator for disease in pets, so if marijuana isn’t the compound causing illness, then other toxins or conditions such as seizure disorders or liver disease need to be considered. These tests can be costly. As such, it’s far easier and safer for your pet if you’re honest with your vet.