Marijuana, known by various names is a popular, recreational plant consumed legally by many people here in Colorado. Marijuana consists of the dried leaves and tops of the Cannabis sativa plant, while “hemp” is a term used for the stems. The psychoactive chemical that makes marijuana a recreational drug is THC. Regular marijuana is typically 1-8% THC, while hashish, which is made from the flowering tops of the plant and their resins, can contain up to 10% THC.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado in November 2012, exposure of pets to THC has increased dramatically, particularly in dogs. In 2019, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center observed a 765% rise in calls about marijuana ingestion by animals over the same period last year, and Pet Poison Helpline has reported a 448% increase in marijuana cases over the past 6 years.

What should you do if you find yourself in this situation with your dog? Though pet owners may witness their dogs in the act of consuming edibles, there are many cases in which they aren’t aware of what has happened. It’s important to be aware of the signs of marijuana exposure. The effects of marijuana in pets can vary based on how much they consume and the level of THC concentration. Symptoms typically begin 30-90 minutes after the marijuana has been eaten. Because THC is stored in the body’s fat deposits, the effects of marijuana ingestion can last for several days. Signs include: in-coordination(wobbly), vomit, unusual or increased vocalization, drooling, uncontrolled urination, muscle tremors and, in rare cases, seizures or even coma. A characteristic startle reaction has been described where the pet appears drowsy and even may begin to fall over but then catches it’s balance.

If you know or suspect that your dog has consumed marijuana, it is important to act quickly. Marijuana affects dogs differently than it does people. Some people think their dogs are experiencing the same high that people do. But they are not! Instead, they are scared, and sick and potentially in danger. Not only is marijuana extremely toxic, but some of the ingredients in edibles, like chocolates or xylitol (a sugar substitute) can be deadly. When your dog ingests ANY toxic substance it is crucial to get to your veterinarian or emergency vet right away for treatment.

Your veterinarian will determine a plan. He or she may induce vomiting, but if too much time has passed, and the patient is not alert, they’re hesitant because the dog could potentially aspirate. Most dogs just get IV fluids and monitoring. Some however will benefit from multiple doses of activated charcoal. Occasional cases will require the administration of anticonvulsants, sedatives, and anti-vomit injections. There is no “antidote” to marijuana, but veterinarians can limit the harmful effects with this supportive care to keep them safe, comfortable and confined until they metabolize the drug. Full recovery can sometimes take several days, depending on the dose and type of product.

Preventive Measures: Keep Marijuana containing products out of reach of pets. Some pets will try and eat pretty much anything within their reach, so be mindful of where you keep things that could harm them. Just as you would with your medications, keep marijuana products clearly labeled and safely out of reach.