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Is cbd oil good for horses

Cannabidiol (CBD) and horses: What is it good for?

Hemp seeds, from which hemp oil is extracted. © ElinorD [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], from Wikimedia Commons CBD. Whether you’re already using it, you’re thinking about it, or just plain never heard of it, it’s worth getting more familiar with. No, it is not the latest “snake oil” touting cures from hair loss to ingrown toenails. Instead, it is a chemical messenger in the “endocannabinoid system”, a natural and crucial part of the body. Research on this system is extensive, with years of examination and hundreds of studies.

My goal in writing this article is to offer you an overview of how CBD can impact your health as well as the health of your horses, dogs 1 , and cats. From a personal perspective, I have experienced significant pain relief from sciatica. Many of my clients have decided to use it for themselves, offering them better sleep, lessened anxiety and depression, improved digestive health, allergy relief, and reduced pain.

Chester is my 22-year-old horse. He suffers from arthritis in his hocks and knees and is now moving with much greater ease. Clients who have decided to try CBD for their horses have offered very positive feedback. Inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and ulcerations are showing improvement, as well as pain relief from laminitis. Horses with anxiety or “sensitive” behavior, have a more relaxed demeanor. And, metabolic conditions may be potentially alleviated, which is quite exciting. While it’s too soon to tell if leptin and insulin levels are declining from CBD treatment, there have been studies showing how CBD reduces insulin resistance and obesity 2 , as well as appetite, in people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. 3

What is CBD and is it marijuana?

CBD is short for “cannabidiol”, one of more than 80 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. CBD and THC are the two most studied, and this is where many misunderstandings stem from.

Cannabis sativa L. (genus, species, and subspecies) is the “umbrella term” for the plants known as hemp and marijuana. Marijuana is particularly high in THC, the cannabinoid that creates a psychoactive “high.” CBD, on the other hand, does not create this effect.

Hemp-derived CBD is not marijuana. Although both hemp and marijuana belong to the Cannabis genus, their genetic composition distinguishes them to produce vastly different amounts of THC. Hemp-derived CBD is high in CBD and very low in THC (less than 0.3%).

Though hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 US states, thanks to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill 4 , federal law does not preempt state law, and there are still some restrictions within various states 5 . Just as many cities throughout the country prohibit alcohol sales, there are local and state laws that restrict industrial hemp products. But bottom line, it is legal to purchase and consume hemp-derived CBD products. The FDA 6 does not regulate it so it behooves you to choose a reputable company that is willing to disclose the source, extraction method, and analysis of their products.

A young cannabis plant in the vegetative stage. Plantlady223 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a major signaling system that exists in you and your animals. It continually monitors any instability within the body and returns it to a state of balance or homeostasis so that the internal environment remains stable.

CBD and other cannabinoids are compounds that activate this system. Cannabinoids, both naturally produced by the body (endogenous), and those supplemented from cannabis (exogenous), act as “keys” to these receptors, turning on a variety of functions.

Within the ECS there are two main cell receptors — CB1 and CB2:

  • CB1 receptors exist mainly in the brain and central nervous system. They impact areas such as appetite regulation, memory, emotions, and feelings of pain.
  • CB2 receptors are concentrated in the gastrointestinal tract and peripheral nervous system (nerve cells outside the brain and spinal cord) and modulate immune cell functions. When activated, they help reduce inflammation.

Endogenous cannabinoids are produced when the body signals that they are required, but are quickly degraded. Offering CBD (exogenous cannabinoid) allows the ECS to work harder and be more productive to help us and our animals deal with health issues such as:

  • Anxiety and depression 7
  • Insomnia 8
  • Pain and inflammation 9
  • obesity/increased appetite/leptin resistance 10,11
  • Metabolic syndrome/insulin resistance 12
  • Immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases 13
  • Digestive disturbances/ulcers/colitis 14
Side effects

CBD has a favorable safety profile 15 . If overdosed, it can have some mild effects. These can include drowsiness, decreased blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue, and diarrhea. If you or your animals experience any of these, you can cut back on the dosage. Long-term use appears to be safe, though further research is needed.

Noteworthy: Until we know more, CBD should not be taken by pregnant women, though many women purport relief from nausea during pregnancy. Consult your veterinarian before giving it to a pregnant animal. It should not be given to children without professional permission. Since it can interact with some drugs 16 , including anti-epileptic and blood thinner medications, it is best to consult with your doctor or pharmacist when you have any doubts.

Let’s talk horses

As of this date, there are few, if any, research studies that use horses as subjects. But I expect this will quickly change as more and more companies are selling CBD for equine consumption. In the meantime, anecdotal responses are highly favorable. From first-hand accounts of horse owners, hemp-derived CBD appears to stimulate the horse’s ECS in the same way it does yours. It is well tolerated, without any euphoric or adverse effects. Specific health conditions that CBD may improve, based on currently available studies with humans and laboratory animals include:

  • Pain 17 from arthritis 18 or laminitis
  • Anxiety during stall confinement 19
  • Stress during traveling and shows 20
  • Ulcers and leaky gut 21
  • Healing from surgery or injury 22
  • Immune system depression from oxidative stress 23 experienced with Cushing’s disease
  • Appetite regulation 24
  • Obesity 25
  • Inflammation, with the potential to reduce leptin levels 26
  • Insulin resistance 23
Horse competition rules and testing

The FEI and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) have strict rules regarding medicating horses before events. Recently, the USEF announced that as of September 1, 2019, positive test results for cannabinoids will incur violations.

Since it is THC that is detectable by a blood or urine test, it is highly unlikely for a positive test result to occur since hemp-derived CBD contains only minute amounts of THC. Nonetheless, it is possible, so it is best to discontinue its use 7 to 10 days before an event. Even if you choose a CBD isolate or broad-spectrum product (which does not contain any THC), it is best to err on the side of caution by stopping before an event.

Choose a safe, quality product

First, know where the hemp was grown. Choose products grown in the US or Canada. If it was grown overseas with potentially relaxed growing standards, it could be contaminated with chemicals, bacteria, and heavy metals that put your health at risk.

To ensure a clean, safe product, it is best to buy CBD that has been tested and offers a Certificate of Analysis (COA) posted on the company’s website This document shows how the company meets and adheres to product specifications and standards of production.

Some other things to pay attention to with CBD products:

  • Check the label for accurate CBD content per dose.
  • Choose a product from an organic source.
  • Look for the percentage of THC on a provided COA.
CBD isolate, full-spectrum, or broad-spectrum?

CBD isolate means that the product contains only CBD with no other naturally occurring cannabinoids, including THC. That also means that other substances that are found in the plant, such as terpenes and flavonoids, have been fully extracted.

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If you are undergoing a drug test for a job, it is best to use the isolate or stop your usage of the full-spectrum product a week or two before the test.

Full-spectrum is a whole plant CBD, meaning that it contains CBD and other cannabinoids (less than 0.3% THC), as well as terpenes, flavonoids, and active essential oils.

Broad-spectrum products also contain the whole plant compounds like full-spectrum, but the THC has been removed.

The “entourage effect”. It used to be thought that CBD isolate was the best approach. But it is now better understood that the cannabinoids and plant compounds found in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD create a synergism where they work together to complement each other, offering a greater impact on health conditions.

It’s important to note that dogs and cats can benefit from hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD, even though they cannot tolerate THC from marijuana. The tiny amount of THC found in this product is safe may further increase the entourage effect.

Why is it so expensive?

It takes a lot of hemp plants to create a CBD oil (tincture). Products called “ hemp oil ” are not necessarily concentrated with CBD. Hempseed oil is a nutritious oil, high in essential fatty acids, but it is not a good source of CBD. Before you buy, read the label carefully to determine just how much CBD exists in the product.

What extraction method is best?

When researching a CBD product for you and your animals, it is best to know the extraction method used to remove CBD from the plant. Going through each method is beyond the scope of this article, but the approach that is most complete and the cleanest is a CO2 extraction. It uses carbon dioxide (CO2) to extract CBD from the plant to create products that are pure and very powerful.

How much CBD is in one dose?

The label should provide you with the amount of CBD per dose. But it can be confusing.

When using a CBD tincture, you should see the number of mgs of CBD in the full bottle. Some products can be very diluted, so be sure the manufacturer’s label is detailed and specific.

Many tinctures will offer directions by the “dropper-full.” But getting a full dropper is not always possible or can be inaccurate. The best approach is to first determine the amount of CBD in each drop. By knowing how many mgs are in each drop, you can accurately dispense the desired dosage.

To do this, you need to know these three things:

  • There are 30ml of oil in a typical CBD tincture bottle,
  • A full dropper-full is 1ml, and
  • There are 20 drops in a ml

Two examples:

1. CBD tincture that offer 2500mg of CBD in the entire 30ml bottle:

  • Divide 2500 by 30 to get the number of mg per dropper-full (1ml). This calculates to be 83.3mg of CBD in 1ml
  • Divide 83.3 by 20 to give you the level of CBD per drop. This calculates to be about 4mg per drop.

2. CBD tincture for pets that offers 250mg of CBD in the entire 30ml bottle:

  • 250 divided by 30 = 8.3mg of CBD in one dropper-full (1ml)
  • 8.3 divided by 20 = .42mg (slightly less than ½mg) of CBD per drop

Other forms of CBD such as pellets, gummies, capsules, and topicals should offer specific amounts of CBD per dose.

What is the best dosage?

Dosages are weight dependent and based on the severity of the situation. It is best to start slowly, and then increase the dose as needed. A little trial and error is necessary to find the right dose that is best for you or your animals. Keep in mind that it takes about 2 weeks for the body to experience relief and will continue to improve over time.

Dosage recommendations are not standardized. However, through research studies and applications, here are generalized daily guidelines. I have found that dividing the dose into two servings is better than administering once daily.

  • Pets:
  • Under 25lbs: 10mg
  • 25 to 75lbs: 10 to 20mg
  • 75 or more lbs: 20-40mg
  • People:
  • Less than 100lbs: 20 to 40mg
  • 100 to 174lbs: 30 to 60mg
  • Over 175lbs: 60 to 90mg
  • Horses:
  • Minis: 25 to 50mg
  • Full sized (1100lbs): 75 to 170mg
  • Large breeds: 120 to 200mg
How to administer CBD

There are several ways to provide CBD:

  • Sublingual: Placing the drops under the tongue and holding them there for 30 seconds provides good bioavailability and kicks in quickly. This is difficult to do for animals and is not recommended since most droppers are made of glass and can cause injury if bitten.
  • Oral: Adding CBD to food, swallowing a CBD capsule, or chewing a CBD gummy, will take the longest time for the effects to become apparent, but this method is longer lasting than under the tongue. Pellets (typically available for animals) that are extruded are better absorbed than pellets that use binders, providing improved bioavailability and hence, lower effective dosing 27 .
  • Pulmonary: CBD vapes are available. While this has the highest bioavailability, it has the shortest duration of action. I typically do no recommend this for people with any respiratory conditions, since it could be potentially harmful.
  • Topical: CBD is absorbed well into the skin and is beneficial for targeted areas 28 .
Bottom line

Even though experts have been studying for decades the benefits of CBD, there is still research that needs to be done, especially for horses. Nevertheless, the outcome thus far is encouraging, revealing long-reaching benefits on the natural endocannabinoid system, providing relief from mental and physical ailments that affect us, our families, and our animals.

References

[1] Kogan, L., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., Hellyer, P., and Rishniw, M., 2018. US veterinarians’ knowledge, experience, and perception regarding the use of cannabidiol for canine medical conditions. Frontiers of Veterinary Science, volume 10.
[2] Parray, H.A., and Yun, J.W., 2016. Cannabidiol promotes browning in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, volume 416, number 1-2, 131-139.
[3] Tarragon, E., and Moreno, J.J., 2019. Cannabinoids, chemical senses, and regulation of feeding behavior. Chemical Senses, Vol 44, pages 73-89.
[4] Everything you need to know about the 2018 Farm Bill (updated): http://bit.ly/2XhZuiI
[5] Is CBD oil legal in all 50 states? http://bit.ly/321o5M9
[6] FDA regulations of cannabis and cannabis-derived products. http://bit.ly/2JezpvH
[7] De Gregorio, D., McLaughlin, R.J., Posa, L., et al., 2019. Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain. Pain, volume 160, number 1, 136-150.
[8] Maple, K.E., McDaniel, K.A., Shollenbarger, S.G., and Lisdahl, K.M., 2017. Dose-dependent cannabis use, depressive symptoms, and FAAH genotype predict sleep quality in emerging adults: A pilot study. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, volume 42, number 4, 431-440.
[9] Hammell, D.C., Zhang, L.P., Ma, F., Abshire, S.M., et al., 2015. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviors in rat model of arthritis. European Journal of Pain, Vol 20, Number 6.
[10] Kunos, G., Osei-Hyiaman, D., Liu, J., et al., 2008. Endocannabinoids and the control of energy homeostasis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, volume 283, number 48, 33021-33025.
[11] Rossi, F., Punzo, F., Umano, G.R., et al., 2018. Role of cannabinoids in obesity. International Journal of Molecular Science, volume 19, number 9.
[12] Mastinu, A., Premoli, M., Ferrari-Toninelli, G., et. al., 2018. Cannabinoids in health and disease: Pharmacological potential in metabolic syndrome and neuroinflammation. Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation, Vol 36, Number 2.
[13] Zgair, A., Lee, J.B., Wong, J.C.M., et al., 2017. Oral administration of cannabis with lipids leads to high levels of cannabinoids in the intestinal lymphatic system and prominent immunomodulation. Scientific Reports.
[14] Irving, P.M., Iqbal, T., Nwokolo, C., et al., 2018. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, pilot study of cannabidiol-rich botanical extract in the symptomatic treatment of ulcerative colitis. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Vol 24, Number 4.
[15] Iffland, K., and Grotenhermen, F., 2017. An update on safety and side effects of cannabidiol: A review of clinical data and relevant animal studies. Cannabis Cannabinoid Research, volume 2, number 1, 139-154.
[16] Medical cannabis – adverse effects and drug reactions. http://bit.ly/2Xcq6BE
[17] Cannabidiol: A new option for patients in pain? DVM360, September 2017, p 32-33.
[18] Malaita, A.M., Gallily, R., Sumariwalla, P.F., et al., 2000. The nonpsychoactive cannabis constituent cannabidiol is an oral anti-arthritic therapeutic in murine collagen-induced arthritis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA.
[19] Maroon, J., and Bost, J., 2018. Review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids. Surgical Neurology International, volume 9.
[20] Campos, A.C., Moreira, F.A., Gomes, F.V., et al., 2012. Multiple mechanisms involved in the large-spectrum therapeutic potential of cannabidiol in psychiatric disorders. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London Series B Biological Science, volume 367, number 1607, pages 3364-3378.
[21] Couch, D.G., Cook, H., Ortori, C, et.al., 2019. Palmitoylethanolamide and cannabidiol prevent inflammation-induced hyperpermeability of the human gut in vitro and in vivo – A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind controlled trial. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Vol 25, Number 6.
[22] Styrczewska, M., Kostyn, A, Kulma, A., et al., 2015. Flax fiber hydrophobic extract inhibits human skin cells inflammation and causes remodeling of extracellular matrix and wound closure activation. Biomedical Research International.
[23] Booz, G.W., 2012., Cannabidiol as an emergent therapeutic strategy for lessening the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, volume 5, number 5.
[24] Garamond, J.A., Whalley, B.J., and Williams, C.M., 2012. Cannabinol and cannabidiol exert opposing effects on rat feeding patterns. Psychopharmacology, volume 223, number 1, 117-129.
[25] Ignatowska-Jankowska, B., Jankowski, M.M., and Swiergiel, A.H., 2011. Cannabidiol decreases body weight gain in rats: Involvement of CB2 receptors. Neuroscience Letters, 490, 82-84.
[26] Tarragon, E., and Moreno, J.J., 2019. Cannabinoids, chemical senses, and regulation of feeding behavior. Chemical Senses, Vol 44, pages 73-89.
[27] Forefront Equine makes an excellent extruded CBD pellet without THC. Available on Dr. Getty’s Free Shipping Store: http://bit.ly/2KOL7Al
[28] Hammell, D.C., Zhang, L.P., Ma, F., Abshire, S.M., et al., 2015. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviors in rat model of arthritis. European Journal of Pain, Vol 20, Number 6.

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Juliet M Getty

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. has been called a “pioneer in free choice forage feeding,” and her articles and interviews often appear in national and international publications. » Read Juliet’s profile

Navigating the Sea of CBD and Its Use In Horses

Learn what we know about CBD’s efficacy and potential use in horses.

What we know about CBD’s efficacy and potential use in horses

Perhaps the most important fact I can relay about CBD, or cannabidiol, to horse owners is that only one report on its effects in horses has been published. Ever.

Erin Contino, MS, DVM, Dipl. ACVSMR, and Katherine Ellis, DVM, MS, both of Colorado State University’s (CSU) Orthopaedic Research Center, in Fort Collins, co-authored that case report involving a single horse. They used CBD to help the owner treat cutaneous (skin) hypersensitivity and mechanical allodynia (a painful sensation caused by an apparently innocuous stimuli, like light touch) in the 4-year-old Quarter Horse mare.

In this case the owner and veterinarians didn’t know the inciting cause, but they thought it was an insect sting that resulted in a persistent, severe hypersensitivity.

“This mare had a four- to five-month history of sensitivity to touch near the withers and shoulder region,” says Contino. “She would violently twitch and sometimes even strike and kick out during grooming of that area . She had a few episodes of unprovoked frantic bucking on the longe when tacked up and could not tolerate wearing a blanket. It was getting to the point that the mare’s owner was concerned about her becoming dangerous even in her stall.”

Over several months they treated the mare with a gamut of medications: anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamin E, magnesium, the nerve pain medication gabapentin, and aquapuncture with vitamin B12.

“With no improvement, the owner was growing increasingly concerned and frustrated,” Contino says. “Additional diagnostics and treatment avenues were broached, but the owner, based on her own personal experiences with the product, ultimately elected to try CBD.” The owner sourced pure crystalline powder CBD via a noncommercial avenue. The mare received 250 milligrams by mouth twice daily to start, a dose Contino selected after consulting with colleague Chelsea Luedke, MS, DVM, cVMA, of nearby Heritage Equine Clinic, who had used CBD in several of her own clinical cases for a variety of painful conditions.

Within 36 hours of beginning treatment, says Contino, the mare exhibited a surprising and impressive improvement in her clinical condition. “She would permit light and firm touch over her neck, withers, and shoulder and before long could be longed and tacked without exhibiting any adverse behaviors,” she says.

After 60 days Contino slowly tapered the dose to a maintenance amount of 150 milligrams by mouth once daily.

While this positive outcome might make horse owners want to run out and buy CBD, which is widely available and easy to get, it would first be prudent to learn more about this hemp plant derivative .

CBD Basics

Cannabidiol is one of more than 100 cannabinoids that can be isolated from the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabinoids, including CBD, are plant- derived compounds called phytochemicals that give plants their vibrant colors and smells and help protect against insects and the sun’s UV rays. Phytochemicals purportedly provide beneficial health benefits to animals consuming them. Common examples of phytochemicals include anthocyanins found in berries and red wine that might be associated with lower blood pressure and resveratrol found in red wine, grapeseed extract, and dark chocolate that functions as an antioxidant—a compound that squelches cell-damaging molecules called free radicals in our bodies.

While C. sativa is the only species of cannabis plant, different varieties of C. sativa produce different cannabinoids. Both hemp and nonhemp varieties contain CBD; however, some nonhemp varieties also contain up to 30% THC—a potent psychoactive cannabinoid (the main one found in marijuana). Hemp contains little to no THC and is largely cultivated for its fiber, seeds, and CBD-laden oil.

Manufacturers can cold-press and sell CBD oil as-is or isolate the CBD component to produce a variety of consumer ready equine products, such as tinctures, balms, pellets, and powders.

CBD in Action

The biological benefits of CBD oil have been explored in a variety of settings since approximately 4000 B.C. Despite this lengthy history, the Food and Drug Administration didn’t approve the first CBD product until June 2018. Epidiolex, the only FDA-approved CBD product, is indicated for controlling seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes in children. Epidiolex contains 100 milligrams of CBD/milliliter and is administered at a dose rate of 5 milligrams/kilogram per day. In some patients doctors slowly increase the dose to a maximum of 20 milligrams/kilogram per day.

Though not FDA-approved for any purpose besides treating human patients with two types of seizure activity refractory to other drugs, CBD has been explored for other applications, including:

  • Other seizure disorders, such as ­epilepsy;
  • As a calming/anxiolytic agent, antidepressant, and antipsychotic;
  • Analgesia (pain relief in cancer patients, for example);
  • As an anti-inflammatory agent for arthritis;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Alzheimer’s;
  • Parkinson’s;
  • Multiple sclerosis; and
  • Huntington’s disease, to name a few.

In fact, a Google search can make it appear that CBD can cure pretty much whatever ails you. This is not the case, however, and we can’t assume the available evidence surrounding CBD safety and efficacy in humans translates to horses.

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CBD in Veterinary Medicine

Studies in horses, dogs, mice, and other animal species are sparse, making clear recommendations regarding dosing, safety, and efficacy in animals impossible at this time. Some researchers, however, devote much time and energy to this field due to the number of conditions resistant to currently approved pharmaceutical ­options. Veterinarians struggle to fully control osteoarthritis (OA, joint tissue degeneration) pain, for example, using steroidal and non-steroidal anti-­inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), weight ­management, and oral joint health supplements. Therefore, supplemental or alternative therapeutic options would benefit the industry immensely.

Given the large number of dogs with OA, CBD research in veterinary medicine and companion animals largely focuses on canine arthritis. In 2018 Cornell University researchers published one of the most widely referenced studies to date. They administered 2 milligrams/kilogram oral CBD oil twice daily in dogs diagnosed with OA based on radiographs. Treated patients appeared to be more comfortable and active in this blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Further, the researchers noted no side effects in dogs treated at this dose for one month.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine recently evaluated the analgesic (pain-killing) properties of a commercial CBD pellet in chronically lame horses. They compared objective lameness data of horses treated with CBD, the NSAID phenylbutazone (Bute), or a placebo control. Their results will become available pending acceptance and publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Cannabidiol’s anti-anxiety and calming effects have also piqued horse owners’ interest; however, no data on this application exist. Kimberly Guay, PhD, PAS, an associate professor in Animal Sciences and Veterinary Technology at Tarleton State University, in Stephenville, Texas, hopes to study the use of CBD in horses suffering from stress or anxiety. In particular, she would like to determine if CBD can support horses while they acclimate to novel situations or training sessions. Guay suggests that CBD could prove itself a beneficial training tool to minimize horses’ unpredictable reactivity by mediating stress.

Mechanism of Action

A major concern veterinarians have about unguided CBD administration is that scientists don’t really understand how it works. Take, for example, the prescribing information for Epidiolex, which states, “The precise mechanisms by which Epidiolex exerts its anticonvulsant effect in humans are unknown. Cannabidiol does not appear to exert its anticonvulsant effects through interaction with cannabinoid receptors.”

Now, let’s back up a minute—yes, our bodies have components designated for metabolizing and even making cannabinoids. Combined, they make up an endocannabinoid system that includes:

  1. Endogenous (naturally produced by an animal’s body) cannabinoids;
  2. Cannabinoid receptors; and
  3. The enzymes that synthesize and degrade the endogenous cannabinoids.

The main cannabinoid receptor, CB-1, exists throughout the central nervous system. Many pro-CBD publications and manufacturers theorize that exogenous (supplemental) ­cannabinoids—such as THC and CBD—bind to and activate CB-1 receptors. When cannabinoids bind to CB-1 receptors, they might have positive effects such as calming and pain relief. Research conducted during the development of Epidiolex says otherwise, leaving a massive void in our understanding of how CBD or other cannabinoids used as nutritional supplements function.

Read the American Veterinary Medical Association’s stance on CBD at avma.org/cannabis-use-and-pets, and learn more from the FDA at tinyurl.com/y3l8ygjy.

If you elect to try CBD for your horse, choose your product wisely using the ACCLAIM and SMART supplementation strategies described here.

Barriers to Overcome in Horses

Again, only one published study about CBD use in one horse exists. Despite research showing its positive effects in dogs, we must not forget that horses are not large dogs. The pharmacodynamics (how a drug affects the body) of CBD reported in canine studies could differ substantially from the pharmacodynamics of CBD in horses. This means the way CBD gets absorbed, distributed throughout the body, broken down, and excreted could vary markedly between species.

“I don’t think it is appropriate to extrapolate safety and dosing information from other species,” says Contino. “In the published case study referenced earlier, the mare was receiving 1 milligram/­kilogram, which is substantially lower than the majority of studies in other species.”

Although Epidiolex is labeled at 5 ­milligram/kilogram per day with a maximal dose of 20 milligram/kilogram per day for humans, Contino suspects horses have a lower therapeutic threshold. Further, higher dosing might be cost-prohibitive.

“Based on my research, the cost for crystalline CBD is $0.02-0.05/milligram, and oil is $0.09-0.17/milligram,” she says. “At 1 milligram/kilogram/day, for your average 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) horse, that would be anywhere from $10 to $85 per day. In other species studies often investigate efficacy at 5 milligram/kilogram/day—five times the dose and cost.”

Why can’t we get the data we need? Research requires funding that can be hard to come by. Contino says research efforts might have inadvertently slowed because several equestrian sport governing bodies banned the use of CBD in competition.

“When the CBD market exploded with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized the cultivation of hemp, there was a plethora of companies that expressed interest in performing research on CBD in horses,” Contino says. “But when CBD was banned by both the USEF and FEI, there was a seemingly immediate drop-off in the number of companies inquiring about performing research.”

Also, without pharmacodynamic data, we don’t have withdrawal times for CBD in horses. This means owners using CBD during training wouldn’t know when to stop administering the product so it clears the system prior to competition.

CBD on the Lam

Excited to try CBD? Great! But bear in mind that it is illegal for your veterinarian to recommend, administer, or prescribe CBD to your horse, though owners can legally administer CBD to their horses.

Additionally, the CBD supplement manufacturer cannot claim on the label that the product diagnoses, cures, mitigates, treats, or prevents disease.

Some manufacturers ignore this labeling rule and do make illegal drug claims. The FDA, however, has limited resources and simply cannot enforce all its laws.

“The law always trails innovation,” says Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, of Veterinary Business Advisors Inc., in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. “Because horses, people, and other animals aren’t immediately dying after using CBD products, then this part of the industry is just not drawing a lot of attention in terms of a major safety issue.”

Lacroix describes the three main legal issues surrounding CBD:

  1. Horse owners are using CBD to “treat” pain, anxiety, and other medical conditions. The FDA mandates that only manufacturers of an FDA-approved drug can include label claims to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.
  2. CBD (Epidiolex) is an FDA-approved drug, so companies can’t claim it’s a nutritional supplement when it’s already proven to have a therapeutic purpose.
  3. While manufacturers often market CBD as a nutritional supplement, CBD itself does not naturally occur in the body and, therefore, is not ­supplementing endogenous levels. Compare it to other nutritional supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, that do occur naturally in the body. For animals, products are either drugs or foods, and CBD is not food.

Take-Home Message

Contino believes CBD has potential in the equine industry—more than just as a last-ditch effort once all other treatments have failed. “Our lack of data does not negate the potential of CBD as a therapeutic medication and/or the importance of research into its efficacy and safety,” she says. In fact, she and her colleagues from CSU are in the process of starting a pharmacodynamic, elimination, and safety study on CBD in horses.

“We are hopeful we will have answers to a lot of these questions in the near future, which is exciting,” Contino says.