CBD has become popular in the horse community for many of the same reasons humans have gravitated to it over the last couple of years. Just as many family physicians warn against adult use of CBD due to what they perceive as a lack of research, most veterinarians caution getting on board with the cannabinoid. That hasn’t stopped owners from experimenting with CBD oil for horses. While this sounds risky at first glance, keep in mind that mammals have consumed hemp, the source of CBD, for centuries without any apparent toxicity and while I agree we need all of the studies we can get, a body of evidence exists suggesting cannabidiol’s (CBD) safety. 

Hemp Supplementation is Already a Staple in Livestock Feed

Throughout the livestock industry, the practice of supplementing feed with hemp is commonplace. Hemp’s oils contain CBD, and the seed is rich in protein, magnesium, and Omega 3 fats. Adding hempseed cakes to the diets of dairy cows “resulted in the maximum yields of milk and Energy Corrected Milk( ECG is an industry term for comparing the efficiency of cows)” for researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in 2010. A study published in March 2019 found that hemp supplementation to chicken feed improved their cholesterol and gut health. Scientists testing dairy goats the previous September saw similar improvements to in cholesterol. Along with livestock experiments, many commercial farmers report adding hemp to their animals’ diets makes them healthier overall.

The term hemp means any cannabis with less than 0.3% THC content in the United States. Hemp oil contains the full spectrum of more than 60 cannabinoids, and many varieties produce a high ratio of cannabidiol (CBD). Hemp is nonintoxicating, meaning it won’t get you high. In fact, no raw cannabis can get you stoned, no matter its potential THC content. Hemp CBD for horses is usually well tolerated by the animals. 

THC Must Be Decarboxylated to be Intoxicating

A point often forgotten about cannabis, even the most THC filled variety won’t get anyone high in its raw form. THC must go through the chemical process decarboxylation by heating it to a very high temperature before the plant can provide any intoxicating effects. Raw cannabis contains THCA, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, which will only become THC when heated. Cooking or smoking are the most common ways of decarboxylation. THCA is an antioxidant on its own, just not an intoxicating one.  This often-confused fact is critical to understand in the conversation of CBD for animals.

Most Medical Research Begins with Animal Models

Most medical research is done on animals. Liability issues make early-stage experimentation almost impossible to do on humans, so animal models are usually used as preliminary screening before moving on to human trials. CBD is no different since all mammals have an abundance of cannabinoid receptors in the brain and throughout the body, referred to as the endocannabinoid system. 

No cannabidiol experiments to date have demonstrated toxicity to healthy mammals even at high doses, but CBD does consistently combat inflammation in the laboratory. The Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology found that oral CBD “blocked progression” of several types of arthritis in mice. Another report in the journal Pain in 2017 found that CBD not only reduced the pain from osteoarthritis in rat’s knees but slowed the growth of additional arthritis. Sativex is a nonintoxicating CBD and THC prescription medication FDA approved in 2007, which has shown effectiveness in diminishing multiple types of pain in humans.

Studies have observed CBD directly reducing anxiety and fear in both animals and humans. Brazillian scientists discovered 600 mg doses of cannabidiol effectively curtailed pre-speech nervousness in subjects who feared public speaking. An experiment on rat models, titled “Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain,” was published in the January 2019 edition of the Pain journal. Their results suggested that CBD had pain and anxiety-reducing effects on the endocannabinoid system.

Competitive Horse Federations Ban CBD

The evidence from mice, livestock, and humans show promise that CBD could have similar effects on horses. Anxiety and joint pain associated with arthritis are two of the most common disorders for which they receive treatment. Show and competition amplify both the frequency and severity of both. 

Equestrians will tell you the travel schedules and unfamiliar crowded venues that are part of their lifestyle are sickening sources of stress for many of their animals. The pounding that show-jumping and racing put on joints accelerates arthritis, especially because successful horses are often pushed to compete through injuries, preventing proper healing.

Unfortunately, the Fédération Equestre Internationale and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) have chosen to ban the use of CBD oil, going so far as to screen for cannabinoids in competition drug tests. According to USEF’s policy, as of September 1, 2019, positive results for cannabinoids will incur violations. 

Ironically, current cannabinoid screening tests only detect THC, so the USEF can’t recognize CBD in their analysis. Keep in mind that full-spectrum CBD oil will contain trace amounts of CBD, so it’s possible for a positive test result. Even if you take a CBD isolate, you are best to discontinue use 30 days before an event. 


Equine Federations Allow Performance-Enhancing Steroids

CBD is promising as a pain and inflammation reducer, not an athletic performance enhancer. Horseracing just so happens to be one of the world’s great examples of sports doping, making it all the more unfortunate to see the governing bodies not taking every step they can to protect equine health. 

True performance enhancers, anabolic steroids, are not just rampant in the industry; they are allowed by the federations. USEF only restricts steroids stanozolol (Winstrol), boldenone (Equipoise), testosterone, and nandrolone 30 days from the competition. That’s right, just a month before. Otherwise, trainers find that doctor prescribed “anabolic steroids are useful in energizing horses and restoring their appetite when they return from illness or injury.” Anabolics pack on muscle and increase aggression. They also increase red blood cell count, allowing supraphysiological cardiovascular capabilities that place significant stress on the heart and other organs. 

Since these steroids are controlled substances, doctors must prescribe them. CBD, on the other hand, is no longer on the list of such controlled substances, so it doesn’t need a prescription. There’s no money in CBD for commissioned veterinarians, and there is in pain and anxiety medication as well as the performance-enhancing anabolic drugs.    

Owners Give Their Horses CBD in Hopes of Improving Quality of Life

When an owner gives CBD a try, they are doing so because they feel confident it’s much safer than many pharmaceutical options, not to see if the animal likes being stoned. A list of conditions owners reported CBDs effectiveness for includes: pain from arthritis or laminitis, anxiety during stall confinement, stress during traveling and shows, ulcers and leaky gut, healing from surgery or injury, immune system depression from Cushing’s disease, appetite regulation, obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance.  CBD horse pellets are one way to ensure that the animals receive their CBD or you can try hemp CBD for horses in oil form. 

Anecdotal reports lack the controls of real peer-reviewed scientific experiments. Owners don’t necessarily have the training and resources to know what caused the results in their animal. It could have been a coincidence their symptoms improved when CBD was introduced. Until there is direct research done on specific animals, it’s hard to say CBD can improve any condition, however as the numbers of users rise its safety and efficacy should become clear beyond the data any lab can provide.

If you are considering giving CBD oil for horses, consult with your veterinarian. They might not give you the go-ahead, but they can at least evaluate the health of your animal. Often with the best intentions, owners can miss a major underlying disease causing the symptoms they hope to treat naturally. We may find that CBD becomes a staple in wellness in the coming decade, not just for humans, but for all animals. 


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