FILE - recreational marijuana, cannabis

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed legislation easing marijuana laws in the state. Often assumed to be a less dangerous or even “safe” drug by many, pot can be dangerous for our pets. But to understand the risks, we need to understand cannabis.

Cannabis contains over 100 compounds often referred to as cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical with the most psychoactive properties. Cannabis has been used medicinally for some time. However, the recreational use of it is newer. In the 1970s, marijuana was made illegal. As more countries and states ease restrictions of cannabis, veterinarians are seeing an increase in issues with pets.

When THC enters the bloodstream, through inhalation or ingestion, it affects how the brain communicates with the body. This is what people refer to as that “high” feeling. How the body is affected is based on different factors, including personal body chemistry, size of the user, strain of marijuana (different types have different potency), whether the marijuana has been laced with anything and mode of ingestion.

Now, we must remember that we are humans. In theory, it is less likely an adult human will overdose on pot. However, our pets are not humans. This is where the risk lies.

Although humans may have self-control with how much pot they smoke or ingest, pets may not have any restraint. You may eat one pot brownie while your dog scarfs down the whole pan. Many pets chew plants and could eat enough of your marijuana plants to become ill. That baggie of special herb you left lying around could be consumed by your pet.

Never assume your pet will not eat things. When I was a child, a relative’s dog became gravely ill after chewing a half-pack of cigarettes. My relative never thought the dog would be foolish enough to take them out of her purse. Well, pets do things that make no sense to us. They rely on our common sense to keep them safe.

Then there is secondhand smoke from the humans around critters smoking weed. Yes, your pet can be affected by your smoking. Marijuana smoke can be fatal to some types of pets like birds while making other pets feel sick.

What are some symptoms of marijuana toxicity? It will vary from pet to pet, but symptoms include lethargy, dilated pupils, agitation/anxiety, staggering, vomiting, drooling, tremors, hyperactivity, disorientation and confusion. In serious cases, coma can occur. If enough is eaten, it can be fatal. For example, if the pet is heavily sedated by pot, vomits and aspirates vomit this can lead to death.

What should be done if your pet ingests marijuana? First, contact your vet. Second, be honest with your vet. It is important your vet knows what happened and about how much the pet may have eaten.

Supportive care is needed as the marijuana works through the system. Do not delay. It may seem funny to watch your pet staggering about, but animals handle it differently. Also, if your pet becomes agitated or anxious, the risk increases of undesired responses such as biting.

Keep your pot stash and edibles secured away from pets (and children). If you smoke it, do so away from animals and in a well-ventilated area. As laws change, the risk of critters encountering things that could cause harm will increase. Keep your pets safe if you decide to use marijuana in joints or edibles.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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