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Ask a Vet: Emergency visits rise in states with legalized pot

POSTED: April 6, 2014 1:30 a.m.

Marijuana has been legalized in several states.

Some states have allowed for its use as a medicine to help with chronic pain, ocular disease, multiple sclerosis and other diseases. (This is probably not due to my previous article encouraging such research, but still I appreciate the progress.)

Two states have even legalized recreational use. Those two states are raking in tax dollars as a result, but emergency visits to the veterinarian related to exposure also have bloomed.

Yes, too much of anything can be problematic, even natural things. If you pay attention when you’re in vet school, you’ll get to know the signs of marijuana exposure in dogs and cats. And once you’ve seen them, they’re hard to miss in the future.

Exposure is rarely a problem. Overexposure is the issue.Being smaller than most humans, our pets don’t require as much THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, to show signs of toxicity. Signs include salivation, vomiting, pupils as big as they can get or sometimes pinpoint, trembling and being generally freaked out.

When I was in vet school, it was hard to get an owner to tell me the truth about this exposure. But doctor-patient privilege protected them, and eventually I could get some specific history. Usually, the roommate’s stash was to blame.

Supportive care and time usually cures the patient. Only rare cases result in serious health issues.

So why the rise in visits to the emergency vet? Safety.

Once you know your pet isn’t going to get you thrown in jail, you can take him in and get him examined without worrying.

It’s like legalizing alcohol. Maybe you feel more free to drink when it’s legal. Or maybe you no longer have to hide it from the world, and the actual number of people drinking doesn’t change at all. A suddenly more toxic supply of marijuana is highly unlikely. No pun intended.

Still, remember: Don’t let your pet get into any of your medications, food, trash or recreational supplies such as fireworks and Lego blocks. A few safety steps now may avoid a huge hassle later.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at mattsisk2003@yahoo.com.


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