Is Marijuana Safe for Dogs?

For those who don’t understand, the complex relationship between a person and their dog can seem unusual. However, as canine lovers will attest, their faithful friend offers a level of companionship and loyalty, along with a lack of judgment, that is rarely found amongst their fellow humans.

Therefore, when a beloved pooch is feeling unwell, a dedicated owner will feel just as anxious as if a family member were ill. There is a litany of stories about dog owners who willingly place themselves in debt to pay the steep veterinary bills when their four-legged friend becomes sick.

As marijuana is now legal as medicine in 30 states plus D.C., it has become a viable option for dog owners when their pet needs treatment. Owners have begun giving their dogs homemade treats laced with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In other words, these dogs are getting high like Snoop Dogg! You can also find CBD treats especially for dogs on websites. If nothing else, the non-intoxicating compound of weed won’t get your dog high.

However, is it wise to give your pooch marijuana? Read on to find out.

One Dog’s Story
In 2009, Dr. Robert Silver, a holistic veterinary medicine practitioner in Boulder, Colorado, treated a golden retriever named Jojo who was experiencing terrible pain from hip dysplasia. Silver began by prescribing the usual medicines such as NSAIDs and glucosamine, along with acupuncture. Alas, nothing was working.

One day, Silver had an appointment to see Jojo and his owner and was astounded by how different the dog was. Jojo was happy and healthy with no signs of his previous pain. The dog’s limp was a thing of the past, and Silver believed it was the glucosamine that did the trick. However, Jojo’s owner admitted that he gave the dog a nibble of a cannabis cookie.

Silver was amazed and began researching the effects of marijuana on dogs. The problem is, there have been no clinical trials that look at the impact of weed on canines or felines. Also, while humans can purchase and use cannabis medicinally in 30 states plus D.C., veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe it for animals. The FDA has explicitly stated that pet owners should refrain from giving weed to animals.

Even so, Silver was impressed by what he read about cannabis. Rather than breaking the law, he wrote a book called Medical Marijuana & Your Pet: A Definitive Guide. In the tome, Silver explains how pet owners can self-administer cannabis products safely, including details of dosages.

What is the Effect of Marijuana on Dogs?

Again, we have to rely on anecdotal evidence because there is no clinical research to explain the likely effects. However, it appears as if the size of a dog plays a major role in how weed affects them, which makes perfect sense. As you might expect, a 65-pound dog will be less affected by the same amount of marijuana than a 22-pound dog.

Like humans, dogs can get high if they consume weed containing THC. However, while a high human is sometimes hilarious, the same cannot be said for high dogs. Their high is far more intense, and the poor animal is likely to be extremely distressed. Symptoms of a stoned canine include:
Low heart rate.
Low blood pressure.
Wide, dilated pupils.
Acting startled when they hear a sudden sound.
Walking like they are intoxicated.
Dribbling urine.
Starting to fall over even when standing still.

If you have marijuana stashed somewhere in the house, there is a possibility that your pooch will snack on it without realizing what it is. If your dog is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, there is a good chance that he has accidentally raided your stash.

It is important to note that all mammals have an endocannabinoid system that works in the same way. Therefore, marijuana will act on your dog’s cannabinoid receptors. As is the case with humans, the ECS of a canine contains endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes that create and breakdown endocannabinoids.

When your dog’s functions are out of balance, its ECS triggers the release of enzymes which synthesize endocannabinoids including anandamide (also known as the ‘bliss’ molecule). They bind to the dog’s cannabinoid receptors located in the brain and body. When the receptors are activated, they send chemical messages between your pet’s nerve cells, which outline that adjustments have to be made. Next, a chemical response occurs which aims to restore the imbalanced function and ensure the dog’s system becomes balanced once again (homeostasis).

Is Marijuana Safe for My Dog?

Just because marijuana is natural, it doesn’t mean it is safe for your pet. There is a school of thought which suggests CBD-only strains can help dogs with anxiety. It is non-intoxicating, and in theory, when you give your dog CBD, it is absorbed into their bloodstream where it stimulates the ECS. It ensures your dog’s ECS becomes more active and helps him/her return to a state of homeostasis.

To be clear, there are no studies that support the idea of giving CBD to your dog, so do it at your own risk. Unfortunately, we simply can’t recommend giving your pet THC-laden marijuana strains because it could prove toxic. In a 2016 review* by Carlton Gyles, which was published in the Canada Veterinary Journal, the researcher found evidence that THC was potentially toxic to dogs.

Gyles mentioned a Colorado study on dogs that consumed baked goods which included THC butter. Two of the dogs died. Also, in Colorado, the frequency of marijuana toxicosis in canines at two veterinary hospitals increased by 300% in five years. It seems as if the increased rate of toxicosis in dogs correlated with a rise in the number of medical marijuana licenses issued in the state.

The report also pointed out that, at the time, there had been less than 60 published papers in PubMed on the effects of weed on dogs. Moreover, almost all of them researched toxic effects. There is even a suggestion that dogs have a greater number of cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which makes them more susceptible to the toxic effects. As you probably know, chocolate is toxic to dogs, so the effects of weed are exacerbated if your pooch consumes a chocolate hash brownie for example. The darker the chocolate, the more harmful it is to your canine friend.

In his book, Dr. Silver outlines the potential adverse side effects of using cannabis on dogs. One of the most dangerous side effects is ‘static ataxia.’ When this happens, your dog will sway back and forth while it walks on stiff legs. It is a clear sign that your pet has consumed too much THC, and symptoms also include loss of urinary control and tremors.

Although the risk of death from marijuana is relatively low for dogs, the Colorado study mentioned above shows that it is possible. Marijuana edibles are the most commonly used form of treatment for dogs but are also arguably the most dangerous, because their THC content is more concentrated than dried bud. The infused oils and butter in these products also increase the risk of pancreatitis.

When you add in the fact that dogs have a hard time controlling themselves when eating anything, let alone a THC-laden treat, you have a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, dogs enjoy the taste of chocolate even though it is potentially lethal. If you leave your chocolate brownies out in the open, it is feasible that your canine friend will eat a huge amount and die.

Treating Dogs That Have Consumed Marijuana

Please note that your dog can also be harmed by second-hand smoke. As is the case in humans, dogs can get high from marijuana smoke and will experience the psychoactive effects a lot faster. Therefore, don’t smoke your marijuana in an enclosed space with your dog. Frankly, blowing weed smoke in your dog’s face can be classified as animal cruelty, so don’t do it!

If your dog is showing symptoms of marijuana consumption, take him/her to the vet immediately. When you catch the problem early enough, a vet can decontaminate the dog and get the THC out of their system. In some cases, dogs require heat support if they can’t maintain their body temperature or else they require IV fluids if they are unable to drink or eat on their own.

Treatment options depend on the symptoms exhibited by the dog. For example, your pet could develop aspiration pneumonia because they are vomiting in an altered mental state. If this happens, they need IV antibiotics and oxygen therapy. Above all, be honest with your vet so that they can provide your dog with the best treatment possible.

Final Thoughts About Dogs Using Marijuana

There are dog owners that give weed to their pets in the final stages of cancer, and we can’t judge them for that. However, we do NOT recommend giving your dog marijuana, because the available evidence suggests that THC, at least, is more likely to harm than help your dog. As they possibly have more cannabinoid receptors, their high could be more intense to the point where it overwhelms their system. It is even possible for dogs to die due to the toxic effects.

In contrast, CBD is potentially a viable medical treatment for dogs because it is non-intoxicating. You can purchase CBD treats for canines online, and it reportedly works for pets with nausea, arthritis, pain, stress, anxiety, epilepsy, and lupus. However, there is a lack of clinical evidence which suggests that CBD is not harmless to dogs, so use it at your own risk.