Recreational marijuana has become legalized in 21 states and medical marijuana can be prescribed in 37 states. As marijuana becomes more widely available, people are looking for ways to partake of this drug without having to smoke it. This has created a market for marijuana “edibles,” also known as cannabis edibles.
Cannabis edibles are products that contain the psychoactive component of marijuana called delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A variety of products are available as cannabis edibles, including gummies and other candies, mints, chocolates and chocolate bars, beverages, potato chips, and baked goods such as brownies and cookies. Unfortunately, many of these sweet or savory options are also attractive to our dogs. While we may have more self-control regarding how many edibles we consume at one time, dogs are more likely to ingest an entire package of any edibles they can reach because they taste delicious.
Symptoms of THC Ingestion in Dogs
Ingestion of small to moderate amounts of THC may cause the following signs in dogs: listlessness, incoordination when walking, falling over when standing, dilated pupils, slow heart rate, dribbling urine, and an exaggerated response to light, touch, and sound. Dogs who have ingested large amounts of THC may have slow breathing, low blood pressure, and may exhibit seizures or become comatose.
What to Do If Your Dog Ate a Cannabis Product
If you observe your dog ingesting cannabis edibles, take him to your veterinarian or the closest animal emergency or urgent care facility immediately. If the ingestion occurred within 30 minutes of arrival at the hospital and your dog is not showing clinical signs of THC ingestion, then the veterinary staff may induce vomiting.
If it has been more than 30 minutes since ingestion of the edible or your dog is showing signs of listlessness, then vomiting will likely not be induced. This is because THC has an anti-emetic effect; it can suppress vomiting. If your dog is already listless, causing your dog to vomit in this depressed state can lead to aspiration pneumonia. Activated charcoal may be administered to absorb THC and minimize the effect it has on your dog’s body. If the edible contains chocolate or xylitol, then additional treatments may be necessary.
What If You Are Not Sure If Your Dog Ate a Cannabis Product?
If your dog is exhibiting signs of THC ingestion, but you did not witness or find evidence of this, have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. Be honest about what you have in the home, including any products containing THC, prescription sedatives, vape cartridges (including nicotine), and illicit drugs. Children, seniors, and roommates living in the home may not always be forthcoming about what they are storing in their bedrooms, so be firm yet gentle when inquiring about the presence of these products. The veterinary staff wants only to help your dog. They are not interested in contacting authorities about anything illegal in your home.
The clinical signs of THC ingestion look similar to the signs associated with ingestion of other sedatives, nicotine, and antifreeze. There is an antidote for antifreeze ingestion and without this intervention, this toxicity is always fatal. Your veterinarian may want to complete additional testing to rule out other causes for your dog’s clinical signs so that the appropriate treatment plan is initiated.
Although there is a urine test for THC available for use in people, this test is not always accurate in dogs. Dogs metabolize THC differently than people, so there is a high rate of false negatives with this test. However, a positive test for THC is almost always compatible with THC ingestion.
If ingestion of THC is suspected and the potential source has been identified, the veterinary team may contact animal poison control for further guidance regarding treatment. There are a number of variables that can alter how THC affects your dog. These variables include how much was ingested, your dog’s weight and concurrent medical conditions, any medications or supplements your dog may be taking, how the THC was infused into the product, and if the edible contains chocolate or xylitol.
Brownies, chocolates, and chocolate bars containing THC add another dimension to your dog’s toxicity: ingestion of theobromine and caffeine. Both of these are contained in chocolate and are toxic to your dog. Just like with THC, the type of chocolate (such as dark or milk chocolate), the amount ingested and the weight of your dog dictate the danger level and recommended treatment. (See “What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate.”)
Gummies, mints, other THC edible candies and even baked goods may contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Even tiny doses of xylitol are toxic to dogs, so it is important to know if any edibles your dog may have consumed contain xylitol.
Treatment for Cannabis Ingestion
Most mild cases of THC ingestion can be treated successfully at home by keeping your dog in a safe, quiet room where he cannot fall down the stairs or be exposed to excessive light or sound. Moderate cases of THC ingestion may require hospitalization with intravenous fluids, monitoring of heart rate and blood pressure, and medications to support the cardiovascular system and treat neurologic signs. Ingestion of high doses of THC will require hospitalization and may necessitate the administration of intralipids. Intralipids bind to THC so that it can be excreted safely from the body.
Ingested THC is fat soluble and is readily stored in body fat. Therefore, it can take anywhere from 12 to 36 hours for your dog’s clinical signs to resolve after ingesting a cannabis edible.
If you use cannabis products, store them in a locked drawer or cabinet. Dogs are clever and some can open drawers and cabinets, but I have yet to meet one that can insert a key in a lock!