Marijuana Toxicosis

Now it is possible that some of you may succumb to the same little habit I am guilty of: reading the popular magazines while standing in line at the grocery store. Never buying them, of course. This is where I follow the stars (we aren’t talking astronomy here) and gather knowledge of my fellow human beings. Consider it human resource research. It doesn’t take many pages for me to feel that I have gleaned everything of interest that one of these magazines might offer, so imagine my surprise when I came across an entire page devoted to the subject of: “What’s In My Bag?” It is actually believed to be of interest to American readers to know what a Hollywood actress might carry in her purse. I am stuck on that: who cares and why? First, I decided to look in my own purse. I have one, though I rarely carry it.  Wallet, ID, keys. A pen. Sometimes I have actual money in there, sometimes not. I cannot imagine this being of interest to anyone else. Even potential purse snatchers have divined that it’s not worth their time.

Now, if I was going to be interviewed for a magazine with full page glossies, would I lie and embellish all that? You bet. Do people really carry extra shoes, whole bottles of water, and apples in their purses? Why don’t THEIR apples bruise after being jostled in a bag with shoes all day long? Are those shoes… gym shoes? Ewww. Is it possible that I am the only person in the world who doesn’t carry protein bars as their snack, sweetened preferably with honey or agave or stevia leaves, no white sugar please? Help! These women have no need for gym class – their purses are “free weights”. Crunches, curls, lunges -just lift and press that purse. The possibilities are endless.

One item missing from these lists of “What’s In My Bag” are marijuana products. Ooops, did I just say that? Hollywood has a bit of a rep for extreme partying, for a lifestyle of too many pills, alcohol, and drugs. Now that marijuana has been legalized in California I thought someone’s “Bag” might be the first place it would show up. So I’m happy they’ve shown restraint. I’m not very happy about marijuana, legal or not. Legalization has opened up a host of dangers for my patients, mostly the dogs.  As a veterinarian, I am appalled at the people who, through carelessness or on purpose, allow it to be shared with their pets. Over the years I have cared for several dogs that were “stoned”. Marijuana-laced brownies or other food items were usually the culprit, but about half the time the item was shared with the dog because their owner was high and thought their dog should be allowed to experience the same “joy”. The reason I saw the dog was because even in their fog, the owners recognized something was terribly wrong and sought emergency care for their pet.

A pet affected by marijuana toxicosis will exhibit a host of neurological abnormalities. Dogs may become so agitated they appear manic, drooling, dilated pupils, constant vocalization and walk uncoordinated. Seizures, coma and death may occur. There is no ready test at present to detect marijuana levels in a dog, so we must rely on the owner’s honest history if we are to help their pet. That said, there is also no true antidote – we must watch the dog suffer the effects, which we try to minimize and flush out the drug with IV fluids, oral charcoal, sedatives and  sometimes enemas. The active chemicals in marijuana are stored in body fat, broken down in the liver and exit the body in the feces. It can take 24 miserable hours or longer for your pet to recover. Some trip. I am not impressed.

Years ago, fatalities related to marijuana exposure were rare. Most pets ingested only small amounts of a natural plant, containing a relatively small amount of the primary psychotropic chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). That is no longer true. You see, in developing medical-grade marijuana products they have synthesized and concentrated the most potent chemicals in marijuana. Pets that ingest these medical-grade products have a much higher risk of toxicity.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is undertaking research to see if there are any medical benefits to the non-hallucinatory, non-psychotropic chemical CBD (cannabidiol) that is also found in marijuana. Could it be part of a treatment plan for problems such as arthritis in pets or epileptic seizure control? At this time there is little scientific evidence on this subject. Legitimate research has been hampered by the fact that while many State laws have legalized restricted uses for marijuana in people, the Federal Laws have not changed. Until the safety and risks of CBD products have been studied there is little advice on the subject from veterinarians. In the meantime, PLEASE prevent exposure of your pet to any THC / marijuana products !

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

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