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On pets and pot 

Toxicity claims rise as medical opinion develops around animals' use of marijuana

Whether the changing legal environment makes it more acceptable to report such things, or the numbers are outright increasing, marijuana toxicity claims for dogs are on the rise, says Trupanion, the second-largest pet insurance company in the country. To date, the company has paid out $24,000 in related claims, it says, with Washington and Colorado leading the way in claims per capita. (Specific numbers were not available from the company.)

The rise of edibles has complicated the issue, with foods like chocolate and butter posing their own poisoning problems. But for a dog that is only suffering the effects of weed, symptoms are often a lack of coordination, vomiting, sleepiness, hyper-salivation, low blood pressure and low body temperature. Death is possible, with a 2013 study showing lethal levels at 1 gram per 3 kilograms of weight, meaning a 50-pound dog could die from eating around 2.5 ounces of pot.

With certain medical benefits noted in humans, though, it raises the question of whether there's also a use for pot with ailing pets.

Dr. Jennifer Pearson, a holistic Colorado Springs veterinarian with Healing Path Animal Wellness, says that her profession considers cannabis a toxic substance, and thus she cannot recommend its use. However, she's heard anecdotal evidence of successful treatment of pain, like that from arthritis or cancer, as well as seizures that don't respond to traditional pharmaceuticals. Nausea is another treatable symptom.

"Because there have been no studies on dogs to know what the therapeutic range is and what the toxic range is — and because CBD and THC content varies dramatically from one marijuana product to another — if someone's going to do it, they have to be incredibly careful," she says. "When people have done it, they have told me about it afterwards, and what they have done is started at a very, very, very, very small dose and worked up."

Marijuana health advocates typically recommend treating with the derivatives of the whole plant, as opposed to just cannabinoids like CBD or THC, but there are non-psychoactive, CBD-centric products on the market. Xternal Topical Products makes K9 Releaf Dog Wash, which it says works well for older or working dogs; Canna Companion capsules help with joint discomfort, neurological function and end-of-life issues; and Auntie Dolores sells a CBD-rich dog treat called Treat-ibles, which it recommends for similar ailments. As with seemingly anything pet-related, it's a growing market, with California-based Auntie Dolores recently receiving $800,000 in outside investments, according to the news site Quartz.

As far as the future, Pearson says, "Where it's discussed is [among] people who have pets that they want to treat with it, but in the veterinary world it's essentially not discussed at this point."

The main industry voice, the American Veterinary Medical Association, has no official position but recommends the use of medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has not authorized any marijuana treatments for pets.

However, there is some evidence of a shift in opinion. In April, a Nevada legislator introduced a bill that would have allowed pet owners to give pot to their pets with a veterinarian's approval. (It failed.) Last July, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association issued a position statement, saying in part: "There is a growing body of veterinary evidence that cannabis can reduce pain and nausea in chronically ill or suffering animals, often without the dulling effects of narcotics. This herb may be able to improve the quality of life for many patients, even in the face of life-threatening illnesses."

  • Toxicity claims rise as medical opinion develops around animals' use of marijuana

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