A Denver veterinarian who starred in Animal Planet shows including â€śEmergency Vetsâ€ť and â€śE-Vet Internsâ€ť warned Southern veterinarians that legalized marijuana in Colorado has created an epidemic of dogs eating pot cookies or brownies and getting sick.
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, 67, who is on the staff of Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, spoke to veterinarians in Birmingham last week at the annual Southern Veterinary Conference and later did an interview with AL.com.
Since recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado in 2014, there are now 717 marijuana dispensaries, â€śmore than Starbucks,â€ť he said.
â€śBecause of the amounts of money itâ€™s generating for schools and infrastructure, I think it will be everywhere,â€ť Fitzgerald said. â€śThe places have chemists and botanists, and so the stuff is much stronger than the stuff that we had (in the 1960â€˛s).â€ť
The THC level of marijuana has gone up dramatically and now registers as high as 22 to 28 percent in testing by Rocky Mountain Poison Control, Fitzgerald said. â€śThereâ€™s not a lot of regulation in the strength of the stuff,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s awful strong.â€ť
Dogs are eating treats made with marijuana and getting sick, Fitzgerald said.
â€śOur problem in veterinary medicine is not in relation to intoxication but ingestion,â€ť he said. â€śThese dogs and cats, primarily dogs, because dogs have a sweet tooth that cats donâ€™t have, they ingest the edibles, the cookies, the brownies, the pies.â€ť
Itâ€™s a daily occurrence at pet hospitals, Fitzgerald said.
â€śWe see one to two dogs a day at our busy 24-hour practice in Denver,â€ť he said.
It has also happened in Alabama. One woman visiting an emergency pet hospital in Trussville recently said she brought in her sick dog after it ate her sonâ€™s entire stash of marijuana. The dog was sick for several days, she said.
Marijuana consumption usually results in three to five days of being sleepy for dogs, Fitzgerald said. â€śThe good news is the lethal toxic dosage is three grams per kilogram, and they never hit that much,â€ť he said. â€śThe bad news is how long it lasts. We donâ€™t have an antidote for it. We just have to ride it out with them and support them while theyâ€™re so loaded.â€ť
On rare occasions, it can be fatal for dogs.
â€śIâ€™ve seen two deaths,â€ť he said. â€śWe had two four-pound Yorkies that probably ate 20 to 30 cookies. They died of respiratory arrest. They just got so loaded.â€ť
Dogs get stoned, just like people, he said.
â€śTheyâ€™re stumbling, cold, with dilated pupils, they hyper-salivate, all of them have urinary incontinence, accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, theyâ€™re hypersensitive to light and sound,â€ť Fitzgerald said. “You can spot them across the room, drunk-acting. Animals depend on us for good decisions. If we take an animal home, weâ€™re duty bound to provide a safe environment.â€ť
Stoned dogs results from carelessness, he said.
â€śPeople are lazy and leave this stuff out so they can blunder into it,â€ť Fitzgerald said. â€śDogs are ingenious about getting up on a counter top.â€ť
There has been an increase of children also ingesting marijuana, he said.
â€śWe can use dogs as a sentinel to whatâ€™s happening with children,â€ť he said.
The Medical Cannabis Study Commission met for the first time today. The panel heard a presentation on the specifics of the bill and on policies in 33 other states that have approved medical marijuana.
Fitzgerald said pet owners ask him on a daily basis if they should treat their dogs with CBD oil, or cannabidiol, made from cannabis. â€śIâ€™ll be the first guy to use it if it works,â€ť he said. â€śWe have to be realistic. We need strong clinical trials. So far, the evidence is not there. Until we get strong clinical evidence, I think itâ€™s premature.â€ť
Rock star security
During the 1960s and 1970s, Fitzgerald worked security for the Rolling Stones, and guitarist Keith Richards encouraged him to do something better with his life after the June and July 1978 U.S. tour.
â€śKeith told me at the end of the 1978 tour, youâ€™ve been with us â€™69, â€™72, â€™75, â€™78 (U.S. tours),â€ť Fitzgerald said. â€śâ€™You could do something. Weâ€™re not going to be doing this when weâ€™re 50. Why donâ€™t you go to school?â€™ He wrote my recommendation for vet school.â€ť
Fitzgerald also worked security for Elvis Presley concerts on his last concert tour in 1977, including a show at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery on Feb. 16. Presleyâ€™s last concert was June 26 in Indianapolis. Presley died Aug. 16, 1977 at his Graceland home in Memphis.
Fitzgeraldâ€™s previous trips to Birmingham came working security for Willie Nelson, who played April 12, 1978 at Boutwell Auditorium. â€śI came with Willie a couple of times,â€ť he said.
Fitzgerald has also worked as a comedian in Denver comedy clubs.
In 2000, Fitzgerald began working with scientists on tracking devices for rattlesnakes. â€śWe wanted to see how far they range, how long they live,â€ť he said. Rattlesnakes range about four to seven miles, but then return to the den where they were born to reproduce, he said.
Rattlesnakes can live for 19 years or more. One snake that was in the study in 2000 is still slithering around out there, he said.