During the first week of April, Charlotte dog owner Elisabeth Robert posted flyers at Mount Philo State Park warning fellow hikers about an unusual trail hazard. The flyers read:
WARNING: Multiple dogs hospitalized after walking Mt. Philo. Tested positive for MARIJUANA POISONING after eating human feces or other dropping of THC compound.
Subsequent media reports, in the Burlington Free Press and elsewhere, revealed that at least four sick dogs had been treated at the Animal Hospital of Hinesburg and Ark Veterinary Hospital in Shelburne after walks on Mount Philo. According to their veterinarians, all the dogs showed signs of, and later tested positive for, poisoning from THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis.
Getting dogs wacked on weed may seem like harmless stoner fun, but it's no laughing matter. While humans may enjoy its effects, cannabis is toxic and potentially fatal to dogs, especially if they consume too much of it. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which operates the nationwide Animal Poison Control Center, handled 199,000 potential pet poisonings in 2017. Of those, 1,486 cases involved marijuana, according to an ASPCA spokesperson.
Yet when word spread on social media that toxic THC turds had sickened the dogs, the news was met with skepticism and even scorn. Some commenters suggested that casting blame on cannabis-contaminated feces was mere Reefer Madness-like hysteria from people who opposed Vermont's imminent legalization law.
So, is it even possible for dogs to get sick from eating pot-laced poop? And, if so, how much cannabis would said stoner need to have consumed to crap out enough to poison not one but four coprophagic canines?
Without a doubt, Vermont has its share of heavy-duty cannabis users. In 2015, the Rand Corporation reported that Vermonters collectively consume an estimated 15 to 25 metric tons of weed annually, which is among the highest rates in the country.
Consequently, THC poisonings of dogs are weekly, if not daily, occurrences in the Green Mountain State. Dr. Dan Inman, a veterinarian at Burlington Emergency & Veterinary Specialists, a 24-7 animal hospital in Williston, said he sees an average of three or four such cases per week.
"It's one of the more common poisonings that come through our door," Inman said. "I can tell you that, when I was in [veterinary] school down in Virginia, I hardly ever saw marijuana toxicity. I've seen a lot of them since moving up here to Vermont."
What does THC toxicity look like in dogs? According to Inman, affected canines can present as "mildly ataxic" — that is, having a stumbling gait — "all the way to the extreme, where I've had dogs come in on a gurney nearly comatose." Other hallmark symptoms include dribbling urine and hyperesthesia, or extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Typically, these dogs have ingested THC-laced edibles such as cookies, brownies or butter, though Inman said he's also treated some that got into their owners' THC oils. The means of ingestion is only rarely determined, and most dogs fully recover. The vet emphasized that BEVS' sole priority is to treat the animals, not to hold their owners accountable.
When asked to weigh in on the theory that the Mount Philo dogs were dosed by dank dookies, Inman demurred.
"I've never heard of that presentation before," he said with a chuckle. "That being said ... could it theoretically happen? Possibly."
What does the research on how humans metabolize marijuana say about cannabis in caca? According to an article in the January 2003 Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics titled "Clinical Pharmacokinetics of Cannabinoids," 65 to 80 percent of THC consumed orally is excreted from the body in feces, mostly in the form of metabolites, or digestive by-products. Less than 5 percent of an oral dose of THC moves through the system as an "unchanged drug," the study found, usually within days or weeks.
For further analysis, we requested help from "Mike," creator and administrator of the cannabis-centric website Prof of Pot. The anonymous self-professed expert in cannabinoids claims to have done his undergraduate studies in neuroscience and earned a doctorate in pharmacology. Though Mike's academic credentials couldn't be independently confirmed, his website features peer-reviewed research.
For his calculations, Mike assumed that our stoned hiker ate a 10-milligram oral dose of THC, as "virtually none" of the smoked stuff shows up in shit. For simplicity's sake, Mike also assumed that said stoner took only one dump that day, presumably in the woods of Mount Philo.
Mike pointed out that THC breaks down into different metabolites; about 20 percent is excreted in the form of 11-OH-THC, which is psychoactive. He then posited that the hiker pooped out 5 percent of his THC unchanged and another 20 percent as the 11-OH-THC metabolite. In all, the excreta contained, at best, one-quarter of the hiker's initial dose.
"Obviously, dogs are much smaller than humans, so it would take less to make them intoxicated," Mike noted. He then theorized that a 2.5-milligram dose for a 50-pound dog would be the equivalent of a 10-milligram dose for a 200-pound human, which is "definitely enough for mild intoxication," albeit less so if the stool was shared by four dogs. And, if the hiker ate a shit-ton more than one hash brownie, the potty-mouthed pups could have been very high indeed.
"I was very skeptical of this theory at first," Mike admitted, "but I have to say that it does seem possible."
Despite that, he concluded that a simpler explanation seems more likely: Someone dropped appetizing edibles along the trail and the dogs, being dogs, gobbled them up. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.