Marijuana legalization leading to more poisoning cases among pets, study says

GUELPH, Ontario — Cannabis may be legal in some states, but these products are still a danger to pets, a new study warns. Researchers at the University of Guelph have found that the number of marijuana poisoning cases among pets is rising sharply across North America in the wake of Canada legalizing the drug in 2018.

Pets exposed to cannabis may experience poisoning symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening. The research team analyzed 2021 survey data from 251 veterinarians in Canada and the United States, focusing on cannabis poisoning cases over the past few years.

After Canada legalized cannabis in 2018, the country experienced a significant spike in cannabis poisoning cases. The common culprit was leaving cannabis edibles out in the open where pets could eat them. It remains unclear how many of these cannabis products were meant for people versus medicinal use in pets. While the legalization of cannabis could explain the rise in cases, study authors note there is also a possibility that people are simply reporting more cases without fear of legal retribution.

Pets can die from cannabis exposure

Dogs were the most likely pets to fall victim to cannabis poisoning. There were also a number of cases involving cats, iguanas, ferrets, cockatoos, and even horses. Most cases were benign, with some observed symptoms including urinary incontinence, disorientation, and abnormally slow heart rate. Most animals received outpatient monitoring and nearly all made a full recovery.

A small number of cases resulted in the animal dying from cannabis exposure, although the researchers could not rule out other underlying conditions contributing to their death. The researchers propose additional cannabis research to help understand the effects cannabis has on animals.

“This is an important topic to study in the light of recent legalization of cannabis in Canada and across multiple states. In order to understand the mechanisms underlying cannabis-induced toxicosis in pets, and to develop treatments for it, we need to first understand what it looks like; this is what we had hoped to accomplish with this survey, and believe that these findings will help us get a better handle on this under-studied topic,” the study authors write in a media release.

The findings appear in the journal PLOS One.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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