Is CBD ok for horses, and should you try it?
Few health-related products have ramped up as quickly as CBD. What was once thought of as taboo is now a widely-available tool for humans and animals, alike.
There is a growing body of evidence that cannabinoids, found in the hemp and marijuana plant, can be beneficial to humans and horses. Research and studies have shown cannabinoids like CBD, and even THC, can have powerful medicinal benefits ranging from things like pain relief, inflammation, anxiety, and better sleep.
More recent research has shown promise in the regrowth of bone and even controlling drug resistant ‘superbugs’ like MRSA bacteria (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
The number one rule is to source substances from brands you can trust—as in, don’t buy CBD at a gas station! And, as with any drug for your horse, always start by asking your vet for advice and guidance.
What are Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System?
Every mammal has an endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is biological system comprised of neurotransmitters and receptors called CB1 and CB2, both endocannabinoids, which are created within the body, and phyto-cannabinoids (like CBD or cannabidiol), which are created by the cannabis plant interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors.
- CB1 receptors are contained mostly in the brain and central nervous system.
- CB2 receptors are found mostly in the gut, organs, and throughout the body including skin and other tissues.
Cannabis is the common name for the Cannabis Sativa L plant species, the plant is split into two classifications based on the amount of THC in the plant, Marijuana and hemp. Marijuana, either medical or recreational, is generally regarded for its THC content, the cannabinoid that causes a “high.” THC also has a number of medical benefits, like pain relief.
Hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC and is legal in all 50 states (Europe is 0.2%). Non- intoxicating cannabinoids can be found in both plants, but are primarily derived from hemp due to the legal restrictions of working with marijuana. Don’t worry, as long as you steer clear of THC, your horse won’t be getting high.
Hemp can be confusing. You may have seen hemp seed oil in your local tack shop or on grocery store shelves. This is very different from the oils that contain cannabinoids.
Hemp hearts and other cereals use seed and fiber from the plant’s stalk. The cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are produced in the flower or “buds” of the plant.
Cannabinoids in sports
Athletes are turning to cannabis in increasing numbers looking for alternatives for recovery from training and competitions. NFL players like Rob Gronkowski and Marvin Washington, and US Soccer star Megan Rapinoe have used CBD products as an alternative to opioid painkillers with harmful side effects.
Horse and dog owners are starting to take notice and studies in dogs have shown a reduction in the effects of arthritis and a number of promising equine trials are underway. Much like human athletes the benefits for cannabinoids in equine sports appear to have the same benefits for their horses as they are showing for riders like Olympic dressage medalist Stephan Peters who has been using a CBD product for years to help manage his own anxiety.
On the equine end of the partnership, international event rider Ema Klugman has been finding success managing the stress of early training and improving focus in her young horses by using Equilibrium from CannaHorse.
But is it safe and how much does a horse need?
When it comes to safety, high quality CBD products have shown to be safe in multiple animal species including a number of trials that have recognized safety in horses. The issue with safety is what is on the label is not necessarily what is in the product and that’s why it’s vitally important that products are purchased from reliable manufacturers using premium quality ingredients.
Cannabinoids are complex molecules and have an interesting relationship with oxygen. Like many substances, air (Earth’s atmosphere is about 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen) can cause CBD products to degrade. Oxygen can also change the composition of certain cannabinoids like THC. When left out in the air, THC will degrade into a separate cannabinoid called CBN, which could cause more drowsiness than originally intended.
Hemp can also be an amazing bioaccumulator, meaning it will absorb anything and just about everything from the ground or that might be sprayed on it while growing. It’s important that it is grown in conditions free from toxins in the soil, or dangerous herbicides and pesticides often sprayed on crops.
Dosage is sort of a moving target in humans and animals. In humans, dosage is somewhat dictated by the desired outcome, with certain ailments requiring a higher dose than others.
The format that the CBD is provided in is going to dictate how much you need to give your horse, as well. Water soluble products like CannaHorse Equilibrium are designed to be absorbed orally to provide maximum effect. In comparison, pellet products have to be absorbed by the horse’s gut, which is very big and often filled with roughage, so it can be slow acting and much less is absorbed by the horse.
I want to try it, what should I look for?
CBD products for humans come in a variety of formats from oils, tinctures, capsules, to gummies and novelty products like cookies and even ice cream. Topical products are becoming more popular and can provide targeted relief of physical issues.
Manufacturers of CBD products vary in quality, and while it’s good advice to only buy from a brand you trust, it’s hard when so many brands are new. Look for brands with a quality website, high quality packaging, and transparency in their ingredients. Every company should offer Certificates of Analysis for each lot of their products.
There are a couple of additional things to keep in mind:
- How is the product stored? Pelleted products may be convenient, but when opened, they are exposed to air. Is the CBD content the same on the day you buy it as it is on day 30 after opening? Probably not.
- Also watch out for wild claims of medical benefits, as these are usually associated with companies making dodgy products that can’t be sold on their own merit.
Whether to try CBD for your horse is a personal decision, and one to make in consultation with your vet. Having a natural option to try, depending on the issues you horse is experiencing, may make all the difference. If you have more questions, reach out to the team at CannaHorse!
What horse calming supplement should I use?
I hear this question several times a week, so I thought I would expand on the subject! Whether your horse is on rest with hand walking, gets anxious during trailering/farrier/veterinary visits, or needs some edge taken off for riding- there are literally hundreds of options to try! Let's start with the different categories of calmers; arranged in order of efficacy.
If the horse needs a mild calming effect, I'll typically recommend a magnesium or herbal product with tryptophan, such as Quietex or Quiessence. There are lots of combinations of other ingredients including valerian root or Thiamine/Vitamin B1. An alternative is Mare's Magic– made of raspberry leaf extract. Surprisingly, I have had good results in geldings as well. Just remember (as with a lot of the below options- these are not all show safe, so be sure to check prohibited substances listed by your horse show regulatory body). If you're using a paste, closely follow the dosing instructions to allow enough time before the anticipated activity. Once a horse gets excited or anxious, it's far more difficult to get them to calm down!
At the next level, I will use Platinum Gentle for horses that are on stall rest with or without hand walking because it offers a reliable calming effect for most horses. Platinum Tranquility is the next step up for nervous horses. Even though these are costly options, preventing further injury or averting a riding accident can be a very smart investment!
A rapidly emerging market is cannabis therapy using hemp products. Horses seem to be very responsive to cannabidiol (CBD) in cases of significant anxiety. It's a safe alternative to sedatives, which we'll discuss next. One option is a hemp paste for horses by VetCS. Some hemp products contain THC in them, so make sure you get CBD products from a reliable source as USEF/FEI tests for THC.
Let's transition to prescription based products. A very reliable calming option is Zylkene. It's a milk protein product that is very effective and time to onset is as quick as 24 hours after the first dose. This can be cost-prohibitive for long term use, but provides a dependable option for very nervous horses. Prozac and other medications (Gabapentin, hydroxyzine) can offer calming effects although that's not their primary mechanism of action. Be wary of intravenous forms of magnesium being given to show horses to calm them, this route is not without serious risks!
The last group of medications are reserved for highly anxious horses, because they are truly tranquilizers. Acepromazine is the classic go-to for injectable sedation and can be given IV, IM, or by mouth. This requires 30-40 minute delivery prior to activity, much like an oral paste. The effects are dose-dependent, and some ataxia (unsteadiness) will ensue at the higher doses. Another short-term injectable medication is SediVet (Romifidine hydrochloride) but it's extremely difficult to get a hold of right now. It produces a more reliable sedation with less ataxia than Ace. There are several long-term tranquilizers that can be used in horses, but they are not without significant risk. Long term sedatives can cause significant neurologic behaviors that cannot be reversed and you guessed it: the horse has to work through severe side effects for 1-2 weeks! This group of long term sedatives are used rarely; however, it is hard to tell if a horse has been given one of these medications, which makes a drug screen an important testing modality if you're looking to buy a horse.
You can see why I thought this was an important topic – there are so many options! As always, we are happy to answer any questions you may have on safe methods to calm your horse(s). Happy trails