In February 2014, Bri Pasko of the VRCC Emergency Hospital in Englewood, Colorado told ABC News they were having an average of two to three pets come into their facilities a week that had accidentally ingested marijuana.
Cannabis had been legalized in Colorado just one month prior which coincided with an uptick in pets coming into the vet for this exact reason.
Before marijuana’s legalization in Colorado, VRCC reported they’d only seen this happen “occasionally.”
Meanwhile, over in Denver, Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald of the VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital said his hospital also used to see just the occasional visit from a pet that had gotten into their owner’s pot stash.
Since 2010, he said, it’d grown from about two cases a month to one every other day by the time cannabis had been legalized.
The common thread pointed out by both professionals? The curious perpetrators were by-and-large dogs. 97 percent, in fact, according to Pasko.
"They are so curious and have such strong noses," she said at the time.
So dog’s are curious. We know this. And sometimes that curiosity can get them into trouble - another thing we all know about dogs. But is marijuana potentially dangerous for them? The answer isn’t as simple as a simple yes or no.
The accidental ingesting of marijuana by dogs is overwhelmingly that of pot edibles. Dogs see a cookie on the table, and whether or not it has marijuana or not isn’t their concern. They’re curious about the cookie, or the brownie, just like any other sweet treat they’re likely to try to dig into.
"The problem is a person will have one brownie, but a dog gets up on the counter and eat the whole tray," said Fitzgerald. "Their natural instinct is to gorge.”
The potential problems this represents to dogs are two-fold. First, the high content of everyday chocolate in many of these treats is already dangerous to dogs. Forget what else is in that brownie, if your dog rips apart a tray of chocolate brownies, you’re taking them to the vet no matter what.
It’s not likely to kill them, but a chemical called theobromine which is in chocolate is highly toxic to them and will make them sick.
As for the marijuana content of these edibles, the THC-content the psychoactive component of cannabis - can have a great impact on any dog. Just like humans, dogs can get high from ingesting marijuana, ingested food made with it, and from secondhand smoke.
They can get lethargic, have breathing problems, experience lower blood pressure, have abnormal heart rhythms, a loss of balance, and urinary incontinence. Marijuana poisoning can happen when it’s ingested at high levels and that could result in low heart rate, respiratory depression, a coma, and seizures.
At even higher levels, vets say it can result in death. A 2012 study of the potential toxicity of marijuana in dogs resulted in two deaths of 125 dogs that were evaluated.
So yes, taking a dog to the vet if you think they’ve eaten marijuana is the number one suggestion. But that doesn’t mean your pet’s going to die or will need some kind of invasive procedure.
The Pet Poison Helpline considers the risk of marijuana poisoning moderate to severe, and according to Fitzgerald, it should take longer for these effects to subside in a dog than they would in any person - as much as three or four days, he says.
“There’s no antidote for marijuana,” said Fitzgerald. "The only way we treat is just be supportive, we watch for seizure and measure body temp and then put them on fluids to try and expel it quicker.”
CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, which is a biological system found in all mammals. It’s responsible for managing a range of biological processes from memory function to immune responses and even sleep. With the growing popularity of using CBD - the non-psychoactive, naturally occurring-cannabinoid constituent of cannabis - to treat dogs for a variety of things like seizures and joint pain, this should naturally lead to asking if CBD is safe for dogs.
And because humans and their canine pets share this same system, it can be used for many of the same benefits in treatment. So the short answer to whether or not this is safe for dogs is simply yes, CBD is safe for dogs and shouldn’t be confused with the health risks associated with dogs ingesting marijuana.
So what are people using CBD to treat dogs for?
As a Painkiller and Anti-Inflammatory
Watching your dog suffer through arthritis symptoms is painful, for lack of a better word. Or maybe a better word might actually be heartbreaking because no dog lover enjoys seeing their pet lose that pep they once had as a puppy, slowed down by joint pain and inflammation.
There is a solid body of research that shows CBD can minimize the symptoms and possibly even slow the progression of arthritis.
For Stress Relief
Anxiety and depression disorders can affect dogs just as heavily as they can humans. Anxiety, in particular, is one thing many people find hard to manage in their dogs. Whether it’s separation anxiety and the fear of being left behind, or just a dog’s misunderstanding of the unknown, we all know that our pets can act up uncontrollably at times.
CBD has become a common way to manage some of these symptoms in dogs.
A 2011 study reported “Considerable evidence demonstrates that manipulation of the endocannabinoid system regulates nausea and vomiting in humans and other animals…
Recently, evidence from animal experiments suggests that cannabinoids may be especially useful in treating the more difficult to control symptoms of nausea and anticipatory nausea in chemotherapy patients, which are less well controlled by the currently available conventional pharmaceutical agents.”
As a Cancer Treatment
CBD does not treat cancer directly and nobody claims that it’s a cure for any form of it. However, CBD is effective in managing inflammation, decreasing pain, managing seizures, and stimulating the appetite - all associated with some of the painful side effects of chemotherapy.
And if you’ve ever cared for a dog with cancer, you know it can be heartbreaking to watch them struggle through the treatment process.