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Marijuana use for pets discussed at vet event

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — As medical and recreational marijuana become legal in more states, veterinarians are reporting a jump in intoxicated dogs.

“It’s a very important issue because [marijuana] is becoming more and more available in certain states,” said Dr. Michael Topper, president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

“And while it’s illegal for use in animals, we are seeing more and more cases of toxicosis because, as more and more products are incorporating it, it gets left on counters. So, if dogs see brownies or other confectioneries with it, they just take it and run,” Topper continued.

ASPCA Poison Control reported 972 cases of marijuana overdoses in pets in 2016, with 929 dogs, 29 cats, 5 birds, 3 pigs and 1 ferret. Representatives say years ago they would see a few dogs who would eat their owner’s marijuana from a baggie or a joint. However, now with the popularity of THC-infused butter and sweets, the numbers of reported incidents have increased, causing everything from a very relaxed, lethargic dog to a very poisoned one.

“As veterinarians, what we’re more concerned about is did the dog ingest the marijuana with chocolate. If that’s the case, then we have to review: What kind of chocolate? Was it dark? How much?” explained Dr. Aaron Smiley, a veterinarian with offices in Anderson and Geist.

Dr. Smiley said a veterinarian’s main goal is to help sick animals, not call the police on an owner’s marijuana usage.

“My main concern is the dog,” Smiley said.

Dr. Topper agrees and said he’s heard similar stories from association members in states that haven’t legalized marijuana.

“If the product is illegal in the state, the owners may not be willing to tell the veterinarian what they suspect their animal has ingested,” added Dr. Topper, “or why these animals may have signs of toxicity.”

While Dr. Smiley told 24-Hour News 8 that he hasn’t seen an increase in animal drug overdoses in his 10 years of practice but has consistently suspected cases of it. He has also occasionally had pet owners ask about marijuana as a medical option for sick animals.

There are products available online claiming to be hemp-infused dog chewables, offering treatment for things like seizures, nausea or pain relief.

The AVMA doesn’t have a policy on animal cannabis use, other than stating that the substance is illegal and not approved for use in pets. However, Dr. Topper says they are working to change marijuana’s FDA classification from a Schedule I drug to Schedule II, so they can more easily conduct research on its benefits or drawbacks.

“The anecdotal treatments are that it has the great potential to be beneficial,” Dr. Topper said, “as we’ve seen great potential benefits in human use. Animal systems are a little different, so that’s why we really need to test it.”

Dr. Smiley says he doesn’t and legally can’t recommend marijuana for pets, and agrees that more studies need to be done.

“We don’t have the data to back it up,” said Dr. Smiley.

“We definitely need to have more research. With it being a Class I drug, it’s illegal for a lot of studies to happen. It has to be a very, very controlled environment. We need more research; we need to know how that drug performs and then what benefit that drug provides the dog or cat. So I really can’t speak into if it’s good or bad for veterinarian patients because we don’t have the data right now,” Smiley said.

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