CBD. What is it? Is it effective? What are the benefits? What are the risks? And what does that mean for your horses?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a hemp derivative used as a pain reliever and stress/anxiety reducer. While it isn’t necessarily a psychoactive drug because it doesn’t give a “high,” it has psychoactive effects due to anxiety/stress reducing properties. According to Dr. Chelsea Luedke, DVM, of VetCS, CBD and hemp products are neither supplements nor pharmaceuticals, but their relaxation qualities can be particularly helpful for horses who are stressed by farrier visits, vet visits or trailering. She also has successfully treated horses with osteoarthritis and similar mobility issues using CBD. Common products include pellets, pastes, powders and treats.
CBD is generally safe. Luedke said “anything toxic” in the soil (i.e. arsenic, cadmium) could contaminate hemp during extraction, but that a “lethal dose hasn’t been determined in human or live animal models.” So, if the product is clean and backed by independent testing, it’s very safe. However, Warren Byrne of CannaHorse believes CBD is well-tolerated by horses, but “no cannabis product should be considered safe for horses,” because of a lack of research and regulation. Byrne emphasized that CBD should be considered medicine, not a supplement.
According to Luedke, here’s what horse owners should know before starting their horse on CBD:
Talk to your vet.
Depending on the product, it gets expensive, so you want every milligram absorbed. Products absorbed in the oral cavity are typically most effective and can take effect within 10 minutes to an hour; give it 30-45 minutes before you need the effect. Luedke has seen owners adapting CBD oil for equine use and says it’s less effective because it doesn’t remain in the mouth the way paste would.
Ensure it’s tested through an independent lab. Look for a Certificate of Analysis (COA); note that it’s the consumer’s responsibility to contact a company and request the COA. That’ll tell you the hemp percentage, if it’s a pure product or if there are contaminants. Make sure it has the lab’s official seal, correct company name and current date.
“Currently there’s no governing body requiring products be labeled or tested a certain way because we’re not in the marijuana or CBD space which has compliance. I’m hopeful a governing body will take over so there’s clarity between companies and products, but at this point, it hasn’t happened,” said Luedke. She added that getting an appropriate dose is key, as she usually sees owners underdosing horses. An appropriate dose would be between 300-500 milligrams daily.
Finally, we asked our sources, Luedke, Byrne, and Allen Cathey of Receptra Naturals, about their thoughts on the USEF’s continued CBD ban and its impact on the industry. Here’s what each said.
Cathey: It’s like anything, everybody’s scared until they know more. I think the USEF is protecting [its] interest in competition horses. They have no studies on it, no results and they know nothing about it. They don’t know if it’s a performance enhancer, they don’t know if it’ll harm the animal or help, so I can understand why they’d [ban it] at this moment. I think they’ll reverse that eventually, especially when these veterinarians and guys like me come out with legit research and data. I have barrel racers and cutting horses and when I worked for a veterinarian [Note: Cathey is a former veterinary technician] I watched horses get injected with pain relievers, etc. because the owners were going to show them anyway. If I can give a horse CBD, which has no harmful side effects we’ve found and get the same effects as Banamine, without harming the animal, and if I’m showing the animal anyway, why wouldn’t I do it
Byrne: The USEF has taken a cautious approach, this is mostly a positive. At CannaHorse, we believe cannabis products are medicine and should be regulated accordingly. Until formal studies showing safety, efficacy, withdrawal times and a therapeutic threshold level are complete, CBD is best left out of competition. Having said that, the USEF statement wasn’t well-researched or based on scientific data. There are many products allowed close to and during competition that offer potentially serious side effects, while, so far, we don’t know of similar side effects with CBD. I expect vets, pharmaceutical companies and supplement manufacturers see CBD as competition. The USEF claims CBD is performance enhancing, yet the [press release] references the WADA, whose stance is that it’s not performance enhancing, allowing it in human athletes including riders, so which is it?
Luedke: I’ve seen firsthand the benefits hemp has and I probably have a different approach than most as I believe national and international competitions should have a level playing field. That they’re re-announcing restrictions on cannabinoids gives credence to hemp’s effectiveness. Though we’re scratching the surface in our understanding about cannabinoids, we’re seeing beneficial effects and that’s something that won’t be allowed [in competition]. I think that’ll decrease product uses for the hemp industry, but I think there are many who want a calm horse when trail riding, at a clinic, or trailering to their trainer; I use it in my horses. You must be careful when showing, obviously, ensure it’s not in their system four to five days prior. Hopefully, there’ll be more data from studies to tell us how long horses have to be off CBD before showing, but I think we’re just discovering how effective CBD is, and I look forward to seeing what happens!
Clearly, there’s still much to learn about CBD and its effects. As always, consult your vet and do your homework before starting your horse on any new supplement or pharmaceutical product.