There is truth to these stories about “stoned dogs,” temporarily disoriented, unable to move normally.
But it's not a dangerous situation, as stated by Glenda Anderson in the 5/17/12 Press Democrat: “Animals, mostly dogs, are being brought staggering into veterinary hospitals high on pot, a toxic and potentially lethal condition.”
Marijuana is not toxic and it is not potentially lethal, at least in humans. There has never been a single recorded human fatality associated with cannabis use over centuries of worldwide use, precisely because it is non-toxic. It is the safest plant-medicine on the planet.
However, to the unaccustomed, it can be disorienting, especially when eaten, rather than smoked. Cannabis edibles in humans normally take 30-60 minutes to take effect (unlike when smoking which has immediate effect). So the effect is surprisingly strong when it comes on, especially to the inexperienced, which most dogs are.
A first time experience for a dog doing edibles may be very different than for most humans. Plus when leaf has been cooked as opposed to eaten raw, it significantly enhances the high. Perhaps dogs don't have endo-cannabinoid systems and receptor sites that work the same way they do in humans.
This came to my attention when a neighbor brought over their dog, who ate a big helping of left-over damp marijuana leaf we had processed into edibles and left in a pile in the yard. It quickly became obvious that there was still juice left in the leaf when the dog stood on the porch on all fours, swaying back and forth, barely able to balance, unable to walk. After awhile, we couldn't find him, so we figured he must have made it down seven steps and into the woods.
My friend was distressed about where her dog was and what might be wrong. I told her he's probably off somewhere getting a long deep sleep; he'll be back refreshed.
As it turned out, that's exactly what happened — two days later the dog returned, romping and playing with his dog friends, with no signs of the previous disorientation experience.
We know the endo-cannabinoid system is ubiquitous and runs throughout nature from the two-celled hydra to the human brain. I don't know anything in particular about endogenous cannabinoids in dogs and cats, but they are likely to be cannabinoid deficient and unacclimated to a cannabinoid diet, so a little can be a lot. You can overdo it if you've never done it before. Perhaps many of these vet trips are with first-timers.
Frequently when humans overdose in this way — eating rather than smoking it — it's because they didn't know the brownies they were eating were tainted. They found them in the frig — ate a few — and half an hour later it came on.
The dogs don't know either. They eat what's there, with no concept of a measured dose.
I have a friend whose dog had a similar disorienting experience from eating a batch of leftover cooked leaf. He says when his dog ate the raw cannabis leaf, there was no such experience.
We often see dogs and cats nibble at blades of raw grass or other herb, presumably to aid their digestion. That is how it happens naturally in nature, but perhaps eating leaf enhanced through cooking by humans is not suited for dogs.
What could explain this unusual reaction where dogs eating weed seems to super slow down their biological processes, similar to sleep?
Perhaps Dr. Courtney can tell us something about the endo-cannabinoid signaling system in dogs and if it works fundamentally different than in humans.
ms notes: I had an aunt when I was growing up who had a parakeet that was an part-time alcoholic. It was generally out of the cage in her small apartment in San Francisco. Whenever the bird heard the tinkle of ice in a glass it would fly over and perch on the rim of the glass and dip its beak into the drink. It didn't take many sips of a mixed drink or any hard liquor to get the bird sloshed. My aunt had taught the bird to speak about 70 words or so. But when drunk the bird's pronunciation made its speech unintelligible. It also seemed to forget how to fly when drunk. After a few sips the bird would wobble around on the table, get to the edge and try to take off, only to flutter to the floor where it wobbled around some more, unable to fly. I don't know how the bird died, but it might have been cirrhosis of the liver, if bird's have livers.