Medical Marijuana Can Be Safe Treatment for Pets, Experts Say

David James

While the medical marijuana debate normally focuses on patients of the human variety, pets (primarily dogs) often partake in the herb as a fairly safe way to escape pain or other medical conditions. According to a study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals's Animal Poison Control Center, which included 250 cases of pet marijuana consumption, no deaths directly related to marijuana consumption were reported. One cat death occurred due to existing cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), and the only other death was a horse “with signs attributed to colic.” The study primarily focused on dogs.

While deaths are virtually unheard of, other serious long-term health complications involving marijuana use by pets are extremely rare according to San Francisco vet Eric Barchas, who says that marijuana intoxication normally lasts only a few hours with symptoms generally including disorientation, dehydration and anxiety. Intoxication normally occurs only when large amounts of marijuana are consumed – whether by eating raw plants, inhaling smoke or eating foods which contain marijuana. For example, brownies are generally off-limits for dogs since chocolate is known to be harmful to them. If marijuana intoxication does occur, treatment is typically no more complicated than nursing the pet and minimizing anxiety while preventing dehydration according to Barchas.

Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz told SF Weekly that there have been cases of "dog owners blowing smoke in their pets' faces," and she’s never seen the city remove a marijuana-using pet from a household or fine its owners.

Does this mean that you should give your ailing or aching pet a puff of smoke? That depends. Consumption is often accidental, with a pet getting into the owner’s (or someone else’s) “stash” of raw leaves or food that is not properly contained or protected. That said, not all pets will react the same way, so if your dog seems to like the stuff and has little or no ill effects it’s probably safe in small amounts. The best and safest option may be the use of a balloon vaporizer to eliminate harmful smoke and toxins by capturing the active ingredients in a bag for clean and safe consumption and administration. The most well-known of this type is the Volcano Vaporizer, although a variety of others exist.

Given the increase in marijuana consumption by pets, many owners seem to find their pets benefit from it. Accidental or unintended exposure (and overdose) seem to be the biggest dangers which are easily avoided, and vaporization can reduce the risks of secondhand smoke. With a few precautions, medical marijuana could be just what your pet needs.