arijuana, hemp, CBD – cannabis is consistently becoming integrated into our everyday lives. New studies and findings are proving the benefits of this adaptable type of plant, leading to heated debates on regulation and legalization. From medical uses to recreational, cannabis has been consumed by humans for centuries. But what about our horses? Let’s not go feeding them pot brownies or hot boxing the barn, but considering a by-product of cannabis might be a useful addition to your horse’s supplement collection.
To clear up confusion, let’s break down exactly what we’re talking about. First and foremost, hemp and marijuana are not the same thing. While often mistakenly used interchangeably, these terms are referring to two different plants entirely. Both hemp and marijuana are part of the Cannabis family, but they have different uses and ways of cultivation that are easily mixed up. And there is one major difference between the two plants: one will get you “high” and the other won’t. Still with me?
Hemp has been gaining popularity as a nutraceutical used to relieve symptoms such as pain and anxiety.
Marijuana has high levels of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive constituent responsible for psychological effects) which gives users the feeling of being “high”. On the flipside, hemp has extremely low levels of THC. Though useless as a recreational drug, industrial hemp is extremely versatile. Different parts of the plant can be used to make a wide variety of products from textiles, to paper, concrete, food, and even fuel. More recently, hemp has been gaining popularity as a nutraceutical used to relieve symptoms such as pain and anxiety. You may have even heard about the product that is commonly called CBD oil or hemp oil. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound extracted from hemp that has a similar chemical makeup as THC. The big difference is CBD doesn’t have the same psychoactive effect as THC. Both CBD and THC are found in hemp and marijuana, but the levels of THC in hemp are negligible. The legality of marijuana is still a messy business at the federal and state level, but CBD oil derived from industrial hemp is considered a food supplement and widely available. The laws regarding marijuana-derived CBD oil and industrial hemp-derived CBD oil vary by state.
Editor's note: we previously stated that the supplement is legal to order online and buy in stores. However, we've updated this wording due to conflicting information and rapidly changing laws. If you're interested in CBD oil, it's worthwhile to research your own state's laws.
But what’s all the fuss about CBD products? Like other products in the essential oil family, CBD has shown to be beneficial in helping a wide range of ailments both in humans and in animals. Studies have shown that using these oils can help with pain, inflammation, and stress by quickly suppressing pain signals, boosting immune functions, and enriching natural occurring cells in your body.
Researchers at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) are continuing to examine CBD trends and their effects. In an excerpt from the KER website, equine nutritionist Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D. states, “Hemp is hardy and fast-growing, and can be harvested for industrial and commercial products such as rope, clothes, paper, textiles, plastics, and biofuel. For horses, the two primary uses of hemp include bedding and oil obtained from hemp seeds. Hemp oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their health benefits. The nervous system of both mature and immature horses also benefits from Omega-3’s, as supplementation decreases stress, improves learning and cognition, and staves off the development of stereotypic behaviors, such as cribbing.”
Sounds great, but CBD supplements have burst onto the scene so quickly, the excitement surrounding the product hasn’t allowed enough time for the science to really catch up. Researchers are just beginning to test the long-term effects on horses, so we can’t 100 percent know all the side effects and potential dangers when it comes to our four-legged friends.
"CBD products have been pushed to consumers as being extremely effective in horses to treat a variety of medical issues from behavior to analgesia,” says Dr. Kent Allen, DVM, the lead veterinarian at Virginia Equine Imaging. Along with his responsibilities at his clinic, he also serves as Chairman of the USEF Veterinary Committee and the USEF Equine Drugs and Medications Committee, and he is the Deputy Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee.
“Even if some of these claims have some validity, the science is lacking. In the U.S., the production of hemp products is not regulated and efficacy claims are not evaluated by the FDA. CBD oil and related products are prohibited by the FEI and USEF. Just because there have been no positive tests to date, the use of these products in horses is done at the consumers own risk."
"For horses, the two primary uses of hemp include bedding and oil obtained from hemp seeds."
With varying processes, the U.S. has significantly different regulations than our neighbors to the north. Though widely available in both countries, the use of cannabis products in Canada is much more lenient with the country legalizing recreational use of marijuana on October 17, 2018. Warren Byrne runs The Horse Agency, a Canadian-based racing and equestrian consulting firm with a variety of clients through the horse show and racing world. He cautions against purchasing non-prescription CBD supplements.
“The ones currently being marketed are made from industrial hemp and often contain toxins and questionable levels of CBD,” Warren says. “There have been zero clinical trials on horses for dosage. All the science says it should work the same as on humans but the ability to manufacture quality product and do any sort of testing is nearly impossible due to federal laws. Colorado State University and Auburn University are doing clinical trials on dogs that are funded by cannabis companies.”
For some equestrians, however, the risk is worth the reward. Jackie Savoye is an up-and-coming Maryland-based Thoroughbred racehorse trainer. Not only does she train horses, but she also has a passion for working with young racehorses to help kick-start their careers. Jackie was looking for a tool to help one of her nervous horse’s transition to the racetrack. After significant research and consulting with a variety of holistic care professionals, she has turned to CBD pellets to help her young horse.
“After using CBD products on my dog, I was excited to learn about the potential to use different oils and pellets on horses,” Jackie says. “As a racehorse trainer there are a lot of stresses bringing a young horse to the racetrack from the farm. I just ordered CBD pellets and am excited to begin to use them on my two-year-old filly in hopes of helping to settle her mind and get her to focus, especially while working and training in the starting gate.”
While browsing commercially available CBD supplements online, it became obvious that the supplements are not advertised with the reassuring testimonials that often accompany other equine supplements. Russell Morgan, a hunter/jumper trainer and grand prix show jumper at Spirit Equestrian, was one of the few public testimonials from a professional rider that I could find on a company website. He said, “What I have experienced and observed in my horses when using CBD from CBD Equus, is it seems to have a calming effect, less muscle fatigue, and I have noticed a reduction in the swelling of inflamed joints.”
Despite the unknowns, there is obvious support for the possible benefits of using CBD oil as a supplement. Richard M. Nash is the CEO of Centaur Health, a company based in Lexington, Ky. He, like many, believes that CBD products for both animals and humans are a part of the next wave in holistic care. CBD products have a range of pricing, but Richard’s will run you between $50 and $170 for a variety of products that target different stress points in horse’s bodies.
“In short, the resurrection of hemp CBD use, when the product is manufactured properly and administered correctly, provides exceptional benefits to injured horses without the gastrointestinal issues we experience using such products as bute, Banamine, et cetera.”
Interested in using CBD? Do your own research to make an informed decision. Talk to other horse owners about their experiences and chat with your vet about your specific horse’s problems and how CBD could help.
Graphics by Alli Addison.