Sweet Georgia Brown, my 14-year-old dog, had a stroke. We were on our daily walk to the park when she suddenly couldn’t stand. Her back leg stiffened like a plank, she couldn’t focus her gaze and things got worse. She lost control of her bladder, her eyes darted side to side—I thought, this is it.
Georgia’s brain was severely swollen, and if the swelling wasn’t reduced it could have resulted in brain damage or … that really could have been it. Fortunately, being in marijuana-friendly Seattle, her veterinarian asked what we thought about an emergency intervention using medical marijuana. He could not prescribe it, but said, if we got the right dose, it may be more effective than any pharmacy grade medicine he could offer.
He was right. Thanks to a selected cannabis extract, within 24 hours she regained her vision and motor control. My husband helped her to re-learn some basic motor functions, and now, 18 months later, she has a few age-associated challenges but is otherwise healthy and happy.
Witnessing Georgia’s recovery made me think, as the news about medical marijuana and its efficacy in treating human ailments continues to spread, what about our furry friends? Does cannabis hold potential to make their lives better? And if so, what potential risks should be considered?
We do know that all invertebrate animals have endocannabinoid systems, a group of receptors that interact with the naturally occurring cannabinoids our bodies produce. These systems affect pain, sleep, appetite, mood and memory. This is the reason that so many human patients are finding relief for their ills with medical marijuana — like pain, skin conditions, GI ailments, and inflammation. Why would we not hold the hope that pets could gain relief just as humans do when it comes these ailments?
It does not come without risks whether the ingestion is planned or sneaky and opportunistic on the part of the pet. According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA, dogs that consume cannabis can experience: “Prolonged depression, vomiting, incoordination, sleepiness or excitation, hypersalivaton, dilated pupils, low blood pressure, low body temperature, seizure, coma, death (rare).”
The ASPCA does not distinguish between decarboxylated cannabis or raw/dry cannabis. “Decarbed” cannabis has been heated to make its THC bioavailable and ready for absorption. The THC in raw/dry cannabis has not been activated. This is one reason why an animal consuming “medibles” is so much more affecting than eating raw or dry cannabis.
Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist with the Pet Poison Hotline said they have seen serious increases of pets consuming cannabis:
“Over the past 6 years, we’ve had a 448% increase in cases mostly in the US (some from Canada). The biggest shift, for us, has been the source of marijuana to which pets are exposed. Five to seven years ago, most of our consultations involved pets ingesting dried plant material/buds. Today, the majority of our cases involve pets ingesting edible marijuana products. As many of these ‘medibles’ also contain chocolate, this can pose an additional risk for poisoning, especially for dogs and cats. “
Any responsible pet owner should guard their cannabis like the medicine it is and prevent accidental ingestion by both pets and children. Pet owners should also work with a veterinarian for professional advice and guidance. It is best not to risk the well-being of our furry loved ones by allowing accidental ingestion or experimenting when it comes to appropriate products or dosage. You love them too much for that risk.