How legalized marijuana is putting family pets in danger

At DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, OR, the number of dogs treated for marijuana toxicosis has skyrocketed 60% in the last 12 months. Oregon is one of four states that has legalized marijuana, and virtually all of those dogs ingested the drug accidentally, by eating pot-infused cookies and candy that their owners carelessly left within reach.

The veterinary community is alarmed by the rapid increase in marijuana-related illnesses in dogs, particularly as more and more states introduce measures to legalize the drug. Dogs rarely die from ingesting the drug, veterinarians told the Boston Globe recently, but they can become very ill. Massachusetts will vote in November on the question of whether marijuana should be legalized for recreational use. The state legalized the drug for medical use in 2012.

Veterinarians in states where recreational marijuana has already been legalized tell the Globe that foods containing marijuana are biggest source of danger to dogs. “It’s all about the fact that edibles are tasty,” said Timothy Hackett, a professor of veterinary emergency medicine at Colorado State University, in an interview with the Globe. “A dog is not going to stop at a single cookie, but just keep eating until they’re all gone.”

Dogs who overdose on pot tend to lose their footing and their ability to control bodily functions, according to veterinarians who spoke to the Globe. Scientists still don’t fully understand how dogs metabolize marijuana, but they have learned that dogs stay high for much longer than humans do. People in Massachusetts who oppose legalization sometimes bring up perils to pets, according to the Globe.

One issue that’s complicating this debate is that there’s a parallel effort to legitimize medical marijuana for pets. Several companies are marketing products made with cannabidiol, one of the nonpsychoactive ingredients in marijuana. The companies say they can be used to relieve everything from pain to separation anxiety in pets.

Colorado-based Therabis markets hemp-based products to relieve itching, anxiety and joint problems in dogs, according to the Globe. But Joe Hodas, a spokesman for Dixie Brands, which owns Therabis, admits there isn’t much in the way of clinical trials to support the notion that pot helps pets. “We have field trials,” he told the Globe. “We have happy customers. And we believe we are helping our country’s pets.”

In 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association laid out the pros and cons of medical marijuana for pets in its journal and urged veterinarians to join the ongoing debate. There is one big hurdle for veterinarians, though: In every state it is still illegal for veterinarians to recommend or prescribe pot for pets, even in the states that have legalized medical marijuana for people.

As for recreational pot, Massachusetts veterinarians are bracing themselves for the November vote. Kiko Bracker, director of emergency and critical care at Angell Animal Medical Center in the Boston area, is already predicting an uptick in marijuana poisoning cases in his clinic if the ballot measure passes. His advice for pot fanatics: "make sure it’s out of the way of kids and dogs." 

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