Emergency pet marijuana calls are up by 765%

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The last ten years have seen a massive spike in dogs getting accidentally stoned. Tom Shell’s dog Stella is one of them — a few weeks ago, he came home to find her on a real wild ride. 

When Shell walked through the front door, his 13-year-old mini Australian shepherd was lounging on the couch, looking confused as hell. At first, he thought the dog was having a glaucoma flare-up because she was “looking kind of hazy-eyed.” But when Stella slid off the couch and started stumbling in Shell’s direction, unable to walk properly, he knew something was seriously wrong.

Concerned, Shell put her back on the couch. That’s when he noticed that his office door was open, the remains of his torn backpack strewn across the middle of the room. 

He realized he’d come home to an absolutely blazed dog — a growing problem as legal weed makes increasingly potent and enticing edibles more accessible across America. Even in states where weed remains illegal for any sort of use, the presence and consumption of the drug is becoming widely accepted. 

According to the ASCPA Poison Control Center, the 24-hour hotline received 208 marijuana-related calls in 2008, 979 in 2016, and 1,486 in 2017. In 2018, the center received 1,800. That’s an increase of 765 percent over the 10-year period. 

The 24-hour hotline received 208 marijuana-related calls in 2008. In 2018, the center received 1,800. 

Dr. Tina Wismer, the ASPCA call center’s medical director, says that in the past, the majority of callers were pet owners whose cats and dogs got into “plant material” like discarded roaches or wayward dime bags. She attributes some of the uptick in cannabis-related cases to the destigmatization in recent years, acknowledging that pet owners may be more willing to call the hotline now that weed is more widely accepted.

But Wismer also blames the widespread availability in edibles for the uptick in emergency calls. Legal edibles smell like normal baked goods, and what pet can resist tasty treats? (Cat parents, take note: Wismer says that felines still tend to go for straight bud.) 

Dogs’ appetite for human food is what’s really moving the needle. “Dogs, oh my gosh, especially [with] the chocolate-based edibles, the number of those calls has skyrocketed,” Wismer said during a phone interview. 

Now that people in legal states can get edibles delivered to their homes as quickly as a pizza, hiding a stray brownie may hardly be a priority. Ten years ago when it was more frowned upon, people were more stringent about keeping their edibles under lock and key. But when everyone has a stock of sugary THC it doesn’t merit a second thought. 

Which brings us back to Shell, who had come home to find his dog totally baked. 

Shell, a Los Angeles-based film director, had been working on set when a crew member generously gave him a homemade brownie topped with vanilla icing. Having spent his 50-some years in a relaxed California culture where weed isn’t a big deal, Shell tossed the edible, safely wrapped in a plastic bag, in his backpack and “forgot about it for a day or two.” 

But dogs have a remarkable sense of smell; they have 300 million olfactory receptors to our six million. A plastic bag was no match for Stella, who managed to sniff out the brownie, rip apart Shell’s backpack, and eat the whole thing.

“She had kind of a sheepish look on her face, too, like when she breaks into the trash,” he said. “She ate part of the baggie as well, I think.”

Shell's dog, Stella, stoned as hell after eating a pot brownie.

Shell’s dog, Stella, stoned as hell after eating a pot brownie.

Image: tom shell

Dogs are particularly sensitive to weed — according to Hemp Industry Daily, they’re up to 10 times as sensitive to THC than humans are. Dr. Ken Pawlowski, a veterinarian based in California, told the Los Angeles Times that “dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than any other animal that we know.” 

And while the amount of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in professionally manufactured edibles is strictly regulated in states where they’re sold legally, the potency of homemade treats is a wildcard. In California, edibles can’t contain more than 100mg of THC per package, and 10mg per serving.

Shell panicked: “I didn’t know what kind of [THC] dosage this guy had in there. He said you could eat the whole thing, but for all I knew it was good for two people.”

Symptoms of marijuana ingestion in dogs include ataxia (wobbling or stumbling like they’re drunk), overreacting to sound and movement, urinary incontinence, dilated pupils or glassy eyes, and in severe cases, low blood pressure and low heart rate. If the dog’s blood pressure and heart rate drop to dangerously low levels, it can be fatal.

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Once he realized what Stella ate, Shell rushed her to an emergency vet center. Feeling like “the worst father in the world,” he waited as the staff gave her medication to induce vomiting to get rid of the chocolate (which is also toxic to dogs), and then gave her more medication to stop the vomiting process. Once a dog’s vital signs are stable, there’s little more to do than wait until the dog sobers up. Because there are few clinical studies on cannabis in animals, figuring out how quickly a dog can metabolize weed is a guessing game — though most vets agree that they feel the effects more severely than humans. 

Wismer says vets will occasionally treat dogs with a lipid injection to sober them up; since cannabinoids are fat-soluble, they “bind to the compounds and help the dog wake up quicker.” But more often than not, if the dog’s blood pressure is stable, the vet will just send them home and instruct their owners to keep an eye on them. 

And so Shell waited. “I brought Stella back home, and she was stoned as can be for the rest of the afternoon,” Shell said. He’s pretty sure the dog was “enjoying the ride” — she spent the night eating snacks and curling up next to him. 

“She was very clingy … but in a mellow way,” Shell said. “[Stella] didn’t seem upset. She wanted to be near people, that’s for sure.”

As veterinarians field calls from frantic dog parents, the pet industry is also dipping its toes in cannabis products, albeit non-psychoactive ones. CBD tinctures and CBD-infused treats are gaining popularity as an alternative treatment for pets with severe anxiety and chronic pain, but there’s little research on how dogs metabolize THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. (Pet-grade CBD edibles apparently work on humans, according to a valiant SF Gate reporter who ate several handfuls of bone-shaped treats to see if they had the same effects as CBD products for humans.) 

Min Lee, brand president at Honest Paws, which infuses its dog treats with CBD oil, wants to see stricter regulations to prevent pet products from being tainted by THC. He worries that cannabis companies aren’t making products specifically for animals, and will “repackage human products” without first consulting veterinarians about the potential side effects. 

“Unfortunately, the pet industry is always going to be a little slower to adopt regulations and standards than the human industry only because humans have a voice,” he said during a phone interview. 

Wismer says the poison control hotline has even fielded calls from pet owners whose dogs ate a large amount of CBD treats and exhibited the same symptoms seen in dogs who got into edibles. 

“No one’s regulating these products — is there actually some amount of THC in them?” she questioned. Or is it that dogs make different metabolites than people do? Is it just dose related? Unfortunately, no one really knows what the answer is.”

THC in itself isn’t toxic for canines — some pet owners believe that the “entourage effect,” the combination of psychoactive and non-psychoactive compounds found in a non-processed cannabis leaf, can be more effective than just CBD when treating pain. It’s usually the ingredients found in human edibles, Lee says, that are the root of life-threatening cases since dogs can’t digest chocolate, cherries, xylitol, and macadamia nuts. Wismer adds that chocolate may affect blood pressure and heart rate, putting dogs at more risk of dying. But because of the lack of research in how THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids affect dogs, she’s cautious about endorsing CBD products for pets. 

The passage of the Farm Bill in 2018 legalized hemp, which could pave the way for more studies into the drug’s therapeutic effects. But veterinarians still can’t prescribe cannabis to their patients, and Wismer is hesitant to recommend CBD treats to pet owners because the evidence is largely anecdotal. 

“The problem is, we don’t know what the right dose is to treat different things,” she said. “Is the dose different for treating pain than treating anxiety?” 

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If you do want to treat your dog’s pain or anxiety, Lee suggests looking for products that use full spectrum oil and human-grade ingredients. 

“Try to identify pet brands that actually work with veterinarians,” Lee explained.

Shell isn’t opposed to the possibility of giving Stella CBD, if there was a need to do so — he even gave his late Shiba Inu, Bonsai, CBD oil toward the end of his life to alleviate his arthritis — but he has been more careful with keeping human-grade edibles out of her reach. He feels lucky that the homemade brownie was a relatively low dose, but worries that she could get into more potent gummies. 

“If the dog got into those and ate the whole thing,” Shell said, referring to a tin of high-end weed candies he was recently gifted, “It would have been disastrous. I’ve taken measures to make sure I’ve got triple protection [around weed] but it’s just one of those things where she’s got really good sniffers and I just wasn’t thinking about it.” 

Fortunately, Stella made a full recovery and was “ready to rock and roll” by the next day, back to her usual hyper self. 

“It wasn’t a terrible experience,” Shell reflected. “Except for the $250 to 300 emergency care bill.”

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Entrepreneur First eyes further Asia growth to build its global network of founders

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed.

The Entrepreneur First program is billed as a “talent investor.” It matches prospective founders and, through an accelerator program, it encourages them to start and build companies which it backs with financing. The organization started out in London in 2011, and today it is also present in Paris and Berlin in Europe and, in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Bangalore. To date, it says it has graduated over 1,200 founders who have created more than 200 companies, estimated at a cumulative $1.5 billion on paper.

Those six cities cover a spread of unique cultures — both in general life and startup ecosystems — but, despite that, co-founder Matthew Clifford believes there’s actually many commonalities between among its global founder base.

“It’s really striking to me how little adjustment of the model has been necessary to make it work in each location,” Clifford — who started EF with Alice Bentinck — told TechCrunch in an interview. “The outliers in each country have more in common with each other and their fellow compatriots… we’re uncovering this global community of outliers.”

Despite the common traits, EF’s Asia expansion has added a new dimension to the program after it announced a tie-in with HAX, one of the world’s best-known hardware-focused accelerator programs, that will see the duo co-invest in hardware startups via a new joint program.

“We saw early that hardware was a much more viable part of the market in Asia than it is traditionally seen in Europe [and] needed a partner to accelerate the talent,” Clifford said.

Already, the first four beneficiaries of that partnership have been announced — AIMS, BOPSIN, Neptune Robotics and SEPPURE — each of which graduated the first EF cohort in Hong Kong, its fourth in Asia so far. Going forward, Clifford expects that around three to five startups from each batch will move from EF into the joint initiative with HAX. The program covers Asia first but it is slated to expand to EF’s European sites “soon.”

Entrepreneur First held its first investor day in Hong Kong this month

Another impending expansion is EF’s first foray into India via Bangalore which starts this month, and there could be other new launches in 2019.

“We’ll continue to grow by adding sites but we are not in a rush,” Clifford said. “The most important thing is retraining quality of talent. It may be six months until we add another site in Asia but there’s no shortage of places we think it will work.

“We operate a single global fund,” he added. “We’re a talent investor and we believe there are strong network effects in that. The people who back us are really betting on the model… [that it’s] an asset class with great returns.

While it appears that its global expansion drive is a little more gradual than what was previously envisaged — backer and board member Reid Hoffman told TechCrunch in 2016 that he could imagine it in 50 cities — Clifford said EF isn’t raising more capital presently. That previous investment coupled with management fees is enough fuel in the tank, he said. The organization also operates a follow-on fund but it has one major exit to date, Pony Technology, the AI startup bought by Twitter for a reported $150 million.

Still, with hundreds of companies in the world with EF on the cap table, Clifford said he is bullish that his organization can target an international-minded breed of entrepreneur worldwide. The impact he sees is one that will work regardless of any local constraints placed on them.

“With our global network of capital, we always want capital, not talent, to be the limiting factor. Our goal is to make being ‘an EF company’ more relevant to your identity as a startup regardless of your location,” he told TechCrunch

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Europol Now Going After People Who Bought DDoS-for-Hire Services

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If you were a buyer of any online DDoS-for-hire service, you might be in trouble.

After taking down and arresting the operators of the world’s biggest DDoS-for-hire service last year, the authorities are now in hunt for customers who bought the service that helped cyber criminals launch millions of attacks against several banks, government institutions, and gaming industry.

Europol has announced that British police are conducting a number of live operations worldwide to track down the users of the infamous Webstresser.org service that the authorities dismantled in April 2018.

Launched in 2015, Webstresser let its customers rent the service for about £10 to launch Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against their targets with little to no technical knowledge, which resulted in more than 4 million DDoS attacks.

According to the Europol announcement published on Monday, the agency gained access to the accounts of over 151,000 registered Webstresser users last year when it shut down the service and have now uncovered a “trove of information” against some users that could help the agency track them down.

Europol said more than 250 users of Webstresser and other DDoS-for-hire services will soon face potential prosecution for the damage they have caused.

“Size does not matter — all levels of users are under the radar of law enforcement, be it a gamer booting out the competition out of a game, or a high-level hacker carrying out DDoS attacks against commercial targets for financial gain,” Europol said.

In the United Kingdom, several webstresser.org users have recently been visited by the police. In the Netherlands, the police are trying to link user profiles to the identities of Dutch people, while “a Dutch user of webstresser.org has already received this alternative sanction.”

Other countries, including the United States, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Romania, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Australia, Colombia, Serbia, have also joined the fight against DDoS attacks.

While some of these countries are focusing their actions specifically against the Webstresser users, some have intensified their activities against the users of any DDoS booter or stresser service.

“To this effect, the FBI seized last December 15 other DDoS-for-hire websites, including the relatively well known Downthem and Quantum Stresser,” Europol said. “Similarly, the Romanian police has taken measures against the administrators of 2 smaller-scale DDoS platforms and has seized digital evidence, including information about the users.”

So, users of all DDoS-for-Hire services are in danger of being prosecuted.

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Cisco to integrate ACI with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure in multi-cloud play

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Cisco is outlining an architecture change that better reflects multi-cloud deployments as well as hybrid data center management. The company’s vision revolves around a “data center anywhere” approach.

Also: Cisco, AWS pair up on Kubernetes management

The architecture rhymes with the multi-cloud approach that subsidiary AppDynamics pitched last week. According to Kentik, more enterprises are using multiple clouds and increasingly combining Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud along with their own infrastructure.

That reality is why companies like Cisco, Dell, HPE, and IBM are increasingly working in cloud providers with their automation and data center platforms. 

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At Cisco Live EMEA, the networking giant outlined the following:

  • Expanding Application Centric Infrastructure, or ACI, into AWS and Microsoft Azure clouds;
  • Extending its HyperFlex systems into branch offices and remote locations for edge computing;
  • Improvements to CloudCenter to manage applications and cloud environments;
  • One enterprise agreement to buy technology across the company’s data center platforms.

Of those developments, the ACI move may have the broadest impact. By connecting ACI to the two largest cloud providers as well as Cisco’s AppDynamics unit, the company is making a push to manage everything from containers to hypervisors to applications. Cisco calls the effort ACI Anywhere.

The biggest challenge for Cisco and its ACI Anywhere strategy is that Dell’s VMware is sold alongside AWS in a broad partnership.

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Enhancements to the CloudCenter Suite are designed give Cisco more of a play into data center and workflow automation as well as cost optimization for various infrastructure.

As for licensing agreement changes, Cisco said its customers can buy three- and five-year licensing agreements across seven suite including ACI, Hyperflex, Intersight, and Tetration.

Most of the products will be available in the second quarter.

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IBM, The Open Group form data scientist certification

IBM and The Open Group, a certification consortium, said they have launched a data scientist certification in a bid to formalize training for what represents one of the hottest career areas.

The data science skill shortage has been a topic of discussion in recent years. A LinkedIn study reckons that more than 151,000 data scientist jobs go unfilled. While automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence may be able to alleviate the skills shortage more humans need to enter the field.

IBM and The Open Group will validate a data scientist certification that will gauge skills and qualifications. IBM said the certification will be available directly to its employees to provide new career paths. The cert will be based on project works, three levels of certification and badges.

TechRepublic: 4 data science certificates to boost your career and salary |  Job description: Data scientist (Tech Pro Research) | 

Big Blue also said that it has created an internal data science apprenticeship program. The program is 24 months and designed for candidates who may not have a college degree. The apprenticeship consists of education, mentorship and practical experience.

People who complete the apprenticeship and meet requirements will reach level 1 of The Open Group Certified Data Scientist rating.

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