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Cannabis poisoning in pets on the rise since legalization: University of Guelph study

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4 years after pot was legalized, Canada’s cannabis industry still faces challenges
WATCH: Legal cannabis is big business in Canada, contributing tens of billions of dollars to the country's GDP since being legalized in 2018. – Apr 17, 2022

The University of Guelph says a new study from the Ontario Veterinary College shows there has been an increase in cannabis poisonings in pets since Canada legalized recreational marijuana four years ago.

Lead researcher Dr. Jibran Khokhar is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the OVC and said his team surveyed more than 200 North American veterinarians, including 191 in Canada.

He said most vets reported an increase in cases of toxicosis in pets due to cannabis after it was legalized in 2018.

“Those symptoms basically ranged from urinary incontinence, with the pet peeing everywhere, to ataxia, which is movement-related issues, to hyperesthesia where they’re showing increased sensitivity to all of the senses and any stimulation of those senses,” Khokhar said in a phone interview on Thursday.

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He added that the study found dogs being the most commonly affected species, followed by cats.

“But then some surprising species also showed up, ranging from ferrets to cockatoos to iguanas, and even a horse. So, that gives new meaning to getting off your high horse,” Khokar said.

The study also found that pets were accessing cannabis products through exposure. In other words, Khokhar said items such as edibles, discarded joints or dried plants were being found by pets and eaten.

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He said most cases were mild and the effects lasted for about 24 hours on average, but among the veterinarians surveyed, there were 16 deaths reported to researchers.

“That’s a relatively small proportion and it could be related to other additives like chocolate or xylitol that might have been in the cannabis edible,” Khokhar said. “But if the pets are consuming an edible, you have to be concerned about both the cannabis in it, but then also those other ingredients.”

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Khokhar also pointed out that it’s unclear if pet poisonings have actually gone up or if more pet owners are willing to tell the truth now that cannabis is legal.

“They may have come to the veterinarian before legalization and said ‘I don’t know what my dog ate, but he’s acting this way’ even if they knew because of the legal status,” he explained.

“So, it’s possible that we have a plateau effect where now we’ll just have increased reporting and if the rates of cannabis use or edible use don’t change, then I don’t expect this keep going up.”

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The goal of the study is to get a better idea of what the symptoms look like when an animal ingests cannabis products in an effort to develop treatments to either reverse the toxicosis or at least reduce the harm and the duration, Khokhar said.

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He said trips to the vet after a pet has consumed cannabis can be costly.

“If something could be administered that could take that monitoring period from 24 hours to maybe four hours and then the cat can be sent home, that would be a win,” Khokhar said.

If anything, Khokhar said the study could spread more awareness about keeping cannabis products out of the reach of pets or even children.

The research has been published in PLOS ONE.

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