Can CBD minimize pain and manage obsessive compulsive behaviors in horses? Researchers at Tarleton State University hope to have an answer soon. Observers around the world need to know.
While federal officials have yet to finalize rules allowing the nonintoxicating cannabinoid in animal feed — or even in food products for human consumption — CBD supplements are a hot commodity among horse lovers seeking to ease pain, reduce muscle and joint inflammation, and calm stress in their animals.
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp, leading to a lot of hype about the potential benefits of CBD for horses, but reliable data is scarce.
To be clear, hemp-derived CBD is not marijuana. Both are considered cannabis, but hemp contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the well-known psychoactive substance found in marijuana that can make people high. Hemp-derived CBD products are legal to purchase and consume in all 50 U.S. states.
At Tarleton, equine science classes are sorting facts from fiction to quantify how CBD affects inflammation, stress and negative actions in horses. If hemp for horses emerges as the be-all, end-all that some supplement companies claim, then maybe it could equally enhance the well-being of livestock such as cattle and swine, especially when transporting the animals and during the intensely stressful process of weaning.
Stress in livestock is managed either with behavioral controls, such as limiting time spent in confined spaces, or with sedative drugs. Neither option is optimal, plus sedatives can affect an animal’s balance and the ability to regulate body temperature. If our research shows definitively positive results, CBD could be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for livestock.
We’re exploring the nonpsychoactive compound of both CBD oil and edible pellets while monitoring the physiological effects on heart rate, inflammation and levels of cortisol, a hormone animals produce under stress. Testing is done in a safe, scientifically controlled environment.
We’re also noting how CBD impacts behavioral indications of pain, stiffness and anxiety as well as stereotypical activities common to horses that spend time in a trailer — behaviors called cribbing, or biting on a fence or gate.
As part of our newest project, we’re evaluating CBD effects on granulosa cell growth in the ovaries of horses — and cattle — using in-vitro (test tube) cell culture. It is not yet known how CBD will affect fertility, but research suggests there are endocannabinoid receptors in ovaries. We want to document what happens when those cells are exposed to CBD.
And we’re tracking the time CBD stays in a horse’s system. That’s important when it comes to equine sports. Although an eagerness exists to use CBD products to reduce stress and inflammation, most event organizers are still working through restrictions.
In fact, the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the governing body for competitions such as dressage, jumping and endurance riding, ruled last September that horses testing positive for CBD will incur violations due to the compound’s presumed ability to diminish nervousness and improve performance.
Horse owners and veterinarians monitoring Tarleton’s CBD research have shown tremendous support. And many CBD companies are keen for the university to analyze their products.
Companies are required to submit certificates of analysis for each batch of CBD product used. And only one product is used at a time per project to ensure valid research results and to protect the animals’ safety.
It’s still too early to tell if hemp for horses works. However, anecdotal evidence is favorable. Horses are tolerating it well, without any euphoric or otherwise adverse effects.
More research is needed. We must quantify our results. The proof will be in the numbers.
Kimberly Guay is an associate professor in Tarleton State University’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, specializing in animal sciences and veterinary technology. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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