What Pet Owners Should Know
As of January 1, 2020, recreational marijuana use will become legal in Illinois. It’s been a topic of hot discussion for a long time, but what you might not know is that veterinarians expect to be impacted by this change as well! I expect we will see some problems with increased access to recreational marijuana, but I actually think there will be a net benefit. Before we discuss what I expect to be good and to be bad, let me give you the rundown on marijuana.
Marijuana- dried flower from a type of Cannabis plant, this contains many cannabinoids including THC and CBD.
Hemp- a variety of cannabis plant, but the THC content is lower than in marijuana plants. Instead CBD is the Cannabinoid present in the highest quantity.
Cannabinoids– components of the cannabis plant (and some other plants!) that bind to certain receptors in the brain.
The two most common, and most readily studied, cannabinoids are THC and CBD
THC– (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabionol) This is the psychoactive component of marijuana. It does have a lot of anti-inflammatory components, appetite stimulating components etc. This is what gives users the “High”
CBD– (cannabidiol) This has many benefits in the body, without the psychoactive component. It helps to counterbalance hunger, lethargy, anxiety and high heart rate caused by THC.
Animals are quite sensitive to THC, and are much more susceptible to the negative effects of this component of Marijuana.
A dog exhibiting THC toxicity will show the following signs:
— changes in heart rhythm (sometimes slow, sometimes fast)
— low blood pressure
— Urinary incontinence
A Cat exhibiting Marijuana toxicity will show the following signs:
— Dilated pupils
— wandering aimlessly, spontaneous jumping, sometimes switching between lethargy and spontaneous movement.
— head bobbing
— ataxia, swaying side to side
— vocalizing – meowing, hissing
Marijuana toxicity is treated symptomatically, meaning that we manage low body temperatures, treat seizures or tremors, treat changes in heart rhythm, and maintain blood pressure.
One concern associated with legalization of recreational marijuana is that pets will be more likely to be exposed. While increased accessibility may result in a slight increase in marijuana ingestion cases, I still think the end result will be beneficial to pets and their vets. Up to this point, determining that a pet has indeed ingested marijuana is often a struggle. It’s hard to admit that an ingestion of illegal substance could have occured, even when it’s in the best interest of the pet. In some cases the owner of the pet may be unaware that there was potential exposure because other members of the house, friends etc. may be less forthcoming about illegal substances.
On the other hand, states that have already legalized marijuana report owners willingly calling to report their pet had consumed THC containing product. Owners are willing to tell their vet about the exposure without fear of repercussion or judgement. This allows correct treatment to be initiated promptly. It also allows the vet to use additional resources, such as animal poison control, for help in executing correct treatment. Overall this leads to less frustration, more accurate treatment, and improved outcome.
I am hopeful that we will not see an increase in marijuana toxicity cases, but will find that accidental ingestions are easier to identify and treat as people feel more free to discuss the potential exposure of their pet to THC containing products.