Is Marijuana Toxic to Cats?

Marijuana plant
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Question:
Is marijuana toxic to cats?

Will inhaling second-hand pot smoke cause problems? How about eating marijuana brownies or the leaves of the plant? I've heard that it just the same as catnip as far as cats go, but I wouldn't want to do anything to harm my cats.

Answer:

I'm glad you asked, as there seems to be differing opinions out there. Marijuana comes from a plant called "Cannabis sativa." The chemical in Cannabis that produces the altered states of consciousness human users enjoy is called "delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol" or "THC."

Although marijuana is sometimes prescribed for relief from pain and nausea from chemotherapy in cancer patients, and for certain conditions in AIDS patients, it is still questionable whether there is anything  beneficial in this plant for our feline friends. I would certainly remain vehemently against allowing cats to be in close proximity to the smoke from marijuana use, as well as exposing them to a cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoke. 

How are cats exposed to marijuana?

The most common ways cats are exposed to marijuana is by inhaling smoke or ingesting dried marijuana. Although people who have experimented with smoking catnip became happy and relaxed, cats should not be forced to "smoke" any substance.

Because of the cumulative effects of inhaling any kind of smoke, it is inadvisable to smoke marijuana anywhere near a cat, particularly one with asthma or other lung diseases. Remember, humans have choices, cats often do not.

In some cases, cats may nibble on the leaves and/or buds of the growing marijuana plant. Humans may also feed their cats cookies or brownies made with marijuana. This is a double whammy of injury to the cat, as the brownies and/or cookies may also contain chocolate, which is toxic to cats on its own.

 

What are the symptoms of cats exposed to marijuana?

The symptoms are most commonly the same sort you might observe in humans:

  • Lethargy
  • Uncoordinated, Falling over
  • Depression, Sometimes Alternating with Agitation or Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate)
  • Seizures, Sometimes Coma

How prevalent is marijuana exposure in cats?

Although 95% of the references available refer to dogs, it would seem that being relatively smaller animals, cats would have more severe and/or long-lasting symptoms. I have not seen any statistics as to how many cats may have died from marijuana toxicity.

How About Medical Marijuana Uses for Cats with Painful Conditions?

JAVMAnews, published by the  American Veterinary Medical Association, has an article published in June 2013, about Veterinary marijuana. As more and more humans, including pet owners, are looking to legal marijuana for painful symptoms of the disease, The article quoted a woman who owned a 12-year-old labrador-retriever type of dog which had a tumor of the spleen metastasized to his liver and lungs.

The dog had been given two months to live, and the tramadol given for the pain just was not doing its job. The poor dog was so obviously in pain, and completely inactive. 

Fortunately, California has a legalized marijuana law for humans, and Denise,  the dog's owner was able to buy a glycerin tincture of marijuana that is sold as a pet medicine in licensed medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Los Angeles. The dog's improvement in activity and the apparent easing of pain was such that Denise has said she would freely recommend the drug to other dog owners.

Under the same circumstances, I would not hesitate to give medical marijuana to my own cats, if it were available in my current state of Georgia.

What should I do if my cat is exposed to marijuana?

If your cat demonstrates any of the symptoms shown above, you should take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible. If you have reason to believe he was exposed to marijuana smoke or has ingested marijuana in any form, it is extremely important that you give this information to the veterinarian. Quick treatment may ameliorate the most severe symptoms, and even save your cat's life. The bottom line is: Keep your cat away from marijuana at all costs.

Edited by Franny Syufy on 3/3/16