Veterinarians in Portland are seeing a sharp increase in the number of pets that have become ill after ingesting cannabis.
Susan Bragdon thinks her dogs were among those victims.
"The worst was when her eyes rolled back into her head," Bragdon recalls of nearly losing her rescue mutt, Fiona, last month.
Bragdon noticed Fiona's head was lolling, and the dog couldn't stand half an hour after their walk near Reed College. She rushed to the vet in a panic. She says 12-pound Fiona grew cold in her lap on the way.
What was happening to Fiona? The small dog was very, very stoned. Somewhere between Reed's sports fields and Southeast Steele Street, Fiona stopped to "graze" on what Bragdon thought was normal field grass.
But after pumping Fiona's stomach, Dr. Chicory Eddy of the Powell Veterinary Center deduced the grass Fiona had gobbled up was of a more psychoactive sort—probably in a cannedible. After a four-hour lipid infusion and an overnight IV, Fiona returned to health.
Bragdon says she's been walking her dogs at Reed College for decades. She stopped immediately after Fiona's brush with death, but her dogs' misfortune continued.
"Two weeks ago, we went to Sellwood Riverfront Park, a designated off-leash dog park," she says, "and again, one of my little dogs got into edible cannabis. I no longer know if there is any safe, official, off-leash place for dogs to walk."
This time it was her other dog, Wally, who made the trip to the vet, only a week after Fiona's fiasco.
Either Bragdon's small canines are Transportation Safety Administration drug-sniffers in training, or they are unusually unlucky. Regardless, their misfortune highlights what veterinarians say is a growing problem.
Statistics provided by DoveLewis—Portland's leading emergency animal hospital—show there has been a noteworthy uptick in consequential cases of pets ingesting cannabis since Oregon legalized recreational pot.
In 2015, the year recreational cannabis became legal in Oregon, DoveLewis treated 140 dogs for marijuana toxicity. That number climbed to 216 in 2016.
That increase tracks with national trends showing more dogs getting poisoned by cannabis as marijuana prohibition ends in states across the U.S.
Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a veterinary toxicologist in Minnesota who provides phone consultations for the national Pet Poison Helpline, says her organization had a 448 percent increase in marijuana-related calls since 2010. In the past decade, the hotline's vets have managed more than 2 million poisoning cases of varying types—but pot has taken the lead.
"Today, the majority of our cases involve pets ingesting edible marijuana products," Brutlag says. "As many of these 'medibles' also contain chocolate, this can pose an additional risk for poisoning, especially for dogs and cats."
THC, the cannabinoid that has psychoactive effects, can be toxic to pets.
The amount of THC allowed in edibles sold in Oregon jumped from 15 milligrams to 50 mg in January. There's no immediate sign the increased potency has led to greater danger for pooches. In the five months since the change, DoveLewis treated 63 dogs for marijuana toxicity—a slower pace than last year.
Some Oregon lawmakers are taking note. After reading a story similar to Fiona's, state Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby) drafted Senate Bill 662—which would have made intentionally "causing an animal to ingest marijuana" a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $6,500. Though supported by the Oregon Humane Society, the bill failed to get a hearing.
The Oregon Humane Society's attorney, Emily Davidsohn, says the group "would support legislation that protects the welfare of Oregon's animals." But according to members of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation, nothing regarding pets ingesting pot is slated to be included in legislation this session.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulates recreational marijuana. Mark Pettinger, an agency spokesman, says the only pet-related discussions the OLCC has had are about the legality of licensing cannabis products for animals.
Dr. Cornelia Wagner at Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic in Southeast Portland says her clinic's cat and dog owners are increasingly testing some cannabis derivatives as remedies for their pets' ailments.
"We generally see good results with CBD/hemp products," Wagner says, "with regard to arthritic pain in cats and dogs."
That's very different from dogs consuming THC, which DoveLewis says can cause vomiting, stumbling, tremors, seizures and even comas.
Pettinger says, however, that in the nuanced and politicized world of cannabis regulations, the OLCC is strictly focused on matters of human consumption. That means pet owners will just have to be vigilant.
"Hershey's doesn't put on their label 'Do not feed to dog,' but it's in our knowledge that chocolate is bad for dogs." Pettinger says. "The same goes for weed."