As more states legalize marijuana (commonly called "weed" or "pot") for medical and recreational purposes, dog owners need to know what to do if their pets ingest or breathe smoke from cannabis products. The psychoactive chemical in marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), can have dramatic and even life-threatening effects in dogs. So, be ready to act if your dog is exposed to cannabis.
Do Dogs Get High?
Dogs do get "high." That is to say, they are affected by marijuana, but their reactions can be both unpleasant and long-lasting compared to those of humans. THC affects dogs' brains: Dogs are reported to have a higher number of cannabinoid receptors in the brain than humans, so they are likely more sensitive to the drug.
Effects of Marijuana in Dogs
Signs of marijuana intoxication in dogs generally appear between 30 and 60 minutes after consumption or inhalation. Watch for the following signs if you know (or even suspect) that your dog has encountered marijuana:
Depending on the dog's weight and sensitivity, and the amount of cannabis consumed, the symptoms of intoxication can range from mild to severe. Some dogs may experience hyperactivity and restlessness, while others may become lethargic as if sedated. Drooling and/or vomiting may occur as a result of nausea.
It can take as long as 18 to 36 hours for a dog to recover from the effects of cannabis ingestion. Fortunately, marijuana toxicity is not likely to cause death, but seizure or coma indicate a more serious reaction and should be considered a medical emergency.
Address any concerns, no matter how mild the symptoms, with your veterinarian.
Treatment for Marijuana Exposure
Although marijuana exposure is rarely fatal, it does warrant medical attention. Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has been exposed to marijuana. Do not be afraid to tell your vet what form of cannabis your dog encountered, how much may have been ingested, and when the exposure occurred.
Treatment for marijuana toxicity generally involves supportive care to control symptoms. Your vet may need to run lab tests to determine if there are systemic effects, especially if the dog ingested edibles containing both THC and chocolate (or another toxic ingredient).
Accidental vs. Purposeful Exposure
Any loving dog owner who uses or is associated with users of marijuana may accidentally expose their pet to pot leaves or smoke at some point. However, owners who purposefully "get their pets high" by feeding them marijuana or blowing smoke at them are crossing an ethical line and engaging in abusive behavior.
Dogs can't give consent to experiencing a "high," and it may make them very confused and anxious with lingering side effects until the drug leaves their systems. Save the pot for consenting humans, and spare your dog the discomfort.
Medical Marijuana for Dogs
If your pet has a physical issue (pain, anxiety, etc.), you may be tempted to give it marijuana to ease symptoms, especially if your dog has a chronic, debilitating, and/or terminal illness. But, you may end up doing more harm than good.
The study of therapeutic and medicinal marijuana use is fairly new, and research for veterinary use is even more sparse. Evidence of its effectiveness in pets is largely anecdotal at this time. Consult your veterinarian for the latest news and advice. Together, you can weigh the risks and benefits of experimental treatment with cannabis products.
To date, veterinarians are not legally permitted to prescribe any form or derivation of marijuana. Despite the legalization of marijuana in numerous states, it is a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act and is therefore illegal on a federal level regardless of state laws.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF), one cannabis-derived product has been approved by the FDA for people who suffer from certain seizure conditions. This product is also legal for veterinarians to prescribe as an "off-label" or "extra-label" medication per the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA).
Silver, Robert. “The Endocannabinoid System of Animals.” MDPI, www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/9/9/686. Accessed 9 May 2022.
Gemma, Johnstone. "Marijuana Poisoning In Dogs: Cannabis Intoxication In Pets". American Kennel Club, 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/marijuana-poisoning-in-dogs/.
Cannabis use and pets. American Veterinary Medical Foundation.