Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabis-derived compound that's been the topic of numerous studies for its wide-ranging wellness benefits. It works by supporting the endocannabinoid system present in all mammals.
Humans have always had a special relationship with equines for more than 5000 years. In this article, we'll be taking a look at some of the most prominent research about CBD and horses.
There are a lot of CBD products out there targeting horse owners. Since there's a lot of noise on the internet, we'll also help you determine the good products from the bad.
The Cannabis Plant And CBD
The umbrella of the cannabis plants encompasses both industrial hemp crops and recreational marijuana. The largest distinction between the two is their phytochemical makeup and uses. The most important phytochemicals are compounds called cannabinoids, and most notably, THC and CBD.
THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, and it induces the high associated with marijuana use.
In the United States, cannabis with up to 0.3% THC by dried weight is considered a hemp crop, and it became federally legal with the Farm Bill (2018). Anything with over 0.3% THC threshold is considered a marijuana plant, and it remains federally illegal.
Each state regulates medical marijuana laws, making it available for those with severe health conditions—but it remains largely unaccessible throughout the United States and it's not even an option for animals.
Most CBD in clinical studies and the ones for legal sale are derived from industrial hemp plants. It's important to make this distinction because hemp crops do not have a high enough THC content to produce any intoxicating effects on humans or animals.
The Endocannabinoid System And Horses
Before we dive into the interesting studies, it's worth learning about the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a regulatory system present in all mammals that supports homeostasis (balance) for some of the most vital systems in our bodies including stress, endocrine, metabolism, memory, and immune response.
Cannabinoids like CBD interact with this system to exert their effects.
More studies are needed to fully understand the ECS in horses, but from what we currently understand, the ECS works in much the same way in horses as it does in humans.
The endocannabinoid system is made of three key parts:
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that bind to receptor sites (CB1 and CB2) all over the body to relay messages to maintain optimal balance. Enzymes then break down the endocannabinoids when they've completed their tasks.
Supplementing plant-based cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, CBN, and THC have been found to have positive effects in supporting the endocannabinoid system function. CBD helps to increase the levels of the body's own endocannabinoids by inhibiting the enzymes that break them down, and it's been shown to have unique interactions at other receptor sites in the body.
With more endocannabinoids present, the body is better able to handle exterior and internal stressors and bring the body into baseline optimal function.
Rather than pushing on receptors to elicit a response, supplementing cannabinoids provides gentle and well-rounded benefits because the ECS is so broad-reaching in its effects and every animal's baseline for health is different due to genetics, lifestyle, and stress levels.
3 Interesting Studies On CBD Horse Owners Should Know About
As of writing this article, there are very few research studies conducted on horses, but this is expected to change as CBD grows in popularity and more brands enter into the space of pet and equine hemp-based wellness products.
There is much anecdotal evidence by equine owners and trainers regarding the positive benefits of CBD towards their horses' health, but we want to focus on some of the current studies looking at using CBD in horses.
1. Stress Support In Horses And CBD
Tarleton State University researchers are investigating the effects of different types of CBD products from oil or CBD pellets (made from hemp) to observe their effects on the stress response in horses. Researchers measure cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and look for changes in behavior.
Many people buying CBD oil swear by its benefits towards relaxation and stress support. Think of the strange behaviors you do when you're under a lot of stress like fidgeting, mood swings, difficulty concentrating. Unsurprisingly, horses tend to exhibit similar behavior under stressful situations, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD. This study looks at how CBD may support healthy levels of stress in horses with oral supplementation .
2. Behavior Modification And CBD Oils Doses In Horses
Murray State University is conducting a pilot study investigating the effects of CBD for behavior modification in horses. The researchers are looking at CBD oil doses required to elicit physiological and psychosocial changes in horses. The findings thus far have been promising, but it's still underway.
Here's what they've found so far that will require further study:
- The current dose recommendations based on some CBD brands offering CBD products for horses of 25–50 mg may not be appropriate given the large bodyweight of equines.
- Several weeks of consistent supplementation of CBD at lower doses are required to see changes in behavior in horses, which may imply that the cannabinoids accumulate in the tissues.
- High doses of CBD may have a more immediate effect on painful neuropathic conditions such as arthritis
- Liver enzyme changes that break down cannabinoids need more observation 
3. Pain Support And CBD
CBD supplements interacts with ECS receptors in the nervous system that control the sensation of pain. Oklahoma State University's College of Veterinary Medicine is taking a closer look at CBD's potential benefits towards pain and inflammation in horses because it's been extensively studied for its promising results with arthritis in dogs.
Researchers gave horses pelleted CBD daily and evaluated the horses for lameness. Results of this study coupled with previous reports in other animals suggest further study of CBD in horses is warranted before its use as an anti-inflammatory can be recommended.
Side Effects Of CBD In Horses
CBD has been shown to be a safe and well-tolerated compound in humans and animals. There is no known lethal dose, and the potential side effects are mild and temporary.
The side-effects observed with CBD use in horses are similar to what humans may experience, and it typically occurs when very high doses of CBD are administered.
The adverse effects of CBD include:
Since animals can't let us know when something doesn't feel right, we have to carefully monitor their behavior and mood to ensure they're not uncomfortable. Before you give CBD to your horse, you should consult with your veterinarian for guidance and to ensure it's the right for your horses, especially if they're on any medications to avoid possible negative drug interactions.
If your horse is experiencing any of these side effects, keep a close eye on them and let them rest it off. These negative effects should subside once the CBD has taken its course 5–6 hours.
CBD And Drug Testing For Horse Competitions
The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) have strict rules regarding medicating equines before competitive events. As of September 1, 2019, USEF announced that positive test results for any cannabinoids will incur violations.
If you're concerned about your horse disqualifying for an event because of CBD supplementation you should discontinue its use for 2 weeks or more before testing for the event as it's best to err on the side of caution in these cases.
What To Look For In CBD Products For Horses
1. Avoid Unrealistic Health Claims
Anytime you come across a CBD brand for horses or humans that promises to cure, treat, or mitigate a health condition, it's a red flag.
Given the popularity of CBD in recent years, it's safe to say there's a craze surrounding the cannabis plant derivative. Many people are turning towards CBD to support their health and wellness, but it's important to underline that CBD is not a cure-all compound, and it's unethical for brands to try to convince you otherwise.
Because the industry is so new, government regulation in terms of marketing is slow for adoption, which means there are brands on the market over-promising the benefits of CBD to make a quick sale.
2. Horse Specific Products (The Appropriate CBD Potency)
CBD dosage is largely dependant on weight. Since horses way significantly more than humans, the CBD potencies you find on the market for humans or smaller pets like cats or dogs will not be appropriate for use for your horse.
CBD for horses is much more potent. The research we've outlined underscored that upwards of 50 mg of CBD to show any effects. Purchasing CBD with not a high enough potency will be a waste of money and may not provide enough support for your horse.
3. Hemp Sourcing & Testing
Hemp crops are highly sensitive to their growing environment. In fact, hemp has been used to absorb contaminants like heavy metals in the soil to clean farmland.
Given that hemp is susceptible to its growing conditions, it's important that the hemp crops used in CBD products come from farms that take their farming practices seriously. Look for hemp sources from the United States as the US has very high agricultural practices.
Since we can't depend on companies alone for hemp sourcing transparency, it's imperative that the brand provides a certificate of analysis (COA) from an independent lab to prove the cannabinoid profile and safety of the compound.
Traces of heavy metals, pesticides, and residual solvents have been detected in hemp extracts that can be harmful to you and your pet. Since a COA isn't a federal requirement, you can eliminate shopping from brands who don't value providing their customers this level of transparency.
4. Quality Ingredients
What makes a great CBD product is more than the CBD itself—although it is the main star of the show.
Read the other ingredients in the product to ensure there aren't any nasty fillers, preservatives, or other questionable ingredients that could cause irritation in your horse.
Excellent carrier oils for CBD include hemp seed oil, MCT coconut oil, and grape seed oil. Make sure these oils are of quality to avoid the CBD oil from going rancid.
5. Full Spectrum Or Broad Spectrum
Full spectrum or broad spectrum refers to the hemp CBD extract type. There are three on the market, including CBD isolate.
CBD isolate only contains one compound—CBD. These tend to be cheaper because manufacturers can sell CBD isolate in bulk and it requires less careful processes to preserve the other cannabinoids and terpenes.
Full spectrum extracts are the least processed hemp extract. It contains a wide range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and plant esters from hemp. Researchers agree that full spectrum CBD is the strongest and most well-balanced extract due to a concept found in plant medicine called synergy or "the entourage effect." It's a phenomenon where all the cannabinoids and terpenes work together to produce stronger effects than one compound can do on its own.
Full spectrum CBD oil may contain up to 0.3% THC, which isn't enough to produce any psychoactive effects. However, if you choose to go without THC, we recommend a broad spectrum extract.
Broad spectrum extracts undergo further processing to eliminate THC, without compromising the other active cannabinoids and terpenes. These extracts are more expensive for manufacturers to produce, which means they're not as common on the market, but they provide an excellent alternative to CBD isolate.
The Takeaway: Cannabidiol CBD + Equines
While there are a lot of studies on the effects of CBD and its potential benefits. More research is required to investigate the effects of equine CBD products.
The current research underway shows us that the equine endocannabinoid system (ECS) behaves similarly to our own—its main task is to regulate other major systems. That being said, more research is needed to find the ideal CBD dose for horses.
When shopping for CBD for your horses, you should conduct the same due diligence as you would shopping for yourself—look at hemp quality, potency, third-party lab testing, and safe ingredients.
If you're looking to use CBD on your horse with a health condition, we highly recommend you consult your veterinarian for the best route of health care as CBD may not always be the best option.
For more articles like this surrounding current research on CBD, you can check out our blog or sign up to receive the Inside Scoop with news sent straight to your inbox.
Resources Cited In This Articles:
- Cohen, L., Jones, T., Guay, K., Smith, W. B., Nichols, J., & Elwonger, F. (2021). 62 Evaluation of oral supplementation of cannabidiol (CBD) in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 100, 103525.
- Jones, K., Thomas, E., & Porr, S. (2019). Cannibidiol (CBD) supplementation in horses: A pilot study.