Cannabis use (hemp products) in horses and pets
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants that includes multiple species and several different “strains” within those species. These plants originated in Asia, but are grown in many regions around the world.
Hemp is the term that refers to varieties of Cannabis cultivated for non-psychotropic drug use — to produce hemp fiber, seeds (food) and their oils. Other varieties — often called marijuana — are often used for medicinal purposes and as a recreational drug.
The cannabis plant contains more than 100 different chemicals but the two main ones are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Industrial hemp products are made from plants selected to produce abundant fiber. Some of these strains are bred to produce minimal levels of THC, which is the main psychotropic (mind altering) constituent of cannabis. Other strains of cannabis have been selectively bred to produce a maximum of THC, the strength of which is enhanced by curing the flower. Marijuana’s THC content is usually 10% or more but hemp must have a THC content of 0.3% or less, according to federal and state laws. At this low level, cannabis has no intoxicating effect, for people or animals. The CBD in hemp has many beneficial effects on the body without the dangers that come with THC.
USE ON ANIMALS
Today there are a growing number of CBD products available for pets and horses. People who have used cannabis for medicinal purposes (helpful for certain diseases and pain issues), often use it on their animals; the natural next step was veterinary use, to help relieve various ailments in pets. Dr. Robin Downing, hospital director at the Windsor Veterinary Clinic, Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo., said that for several decades, pet owners have been trying to help their animals by giving them products containing CBD.
“People reach for CBD to give their pets, for the same reasons they might use it for their own issues. Pain, epilepsy/seizures, and anxiety are three examples. But it is also important to know that there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of dogs needing emergency care as a result of marijuana intoxication — in states with legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana — when pet owners try to give them products used in humans that contain THC,” Downing said. Animals should never be given marijuana or any product containing more than 0.3% THC.
The healing, helpful benefits come from CBD. Many of the horse owners/trainers who give cannabis products to horses are using the CBD for its calming effect, according to Dr. Lori A Bidwell, a partner in East West Equine Sports Medicine in Lexington, Ky. She specializes in anesthesia and pain management, and is certified in acupuncture. “The effects of CBD in horses are similar to those of acepromazine, a mild tranquilizer. CBD is also used for mild pain associated with arthritis,” Bidwell said.
“There are no restrictions for quality of product for CBD, however. Therefore reliability and purity should always be under suspicion. In addition, there is limited research regarding the use of these medications in horses. There are some projects in the works but nothing published yet. Therefore, duration of affect and potential side effects are not completely understood,” she said. More research needs to be done.
Connie Wedemeyer, a horsewoman in Bakersfield, Calif., is on the board of directors for the MARE Therapeutic Riding Center in Bakersfield. “Medical marijuana and marijuana have been around for a long time, and so has hemp. Many people think they are the same, but they are not. Before I was introduced to hemp products, I thought hemp was just the fiber part — utilized for things like ropes and the original baling twine — but they are actually two different plants,” she said.
“Hemp has a small amount of THC (the psychoactive ingredient) but it must be less than 0.3% to be considered industrial hemp. At this low level it has no psychoactive effects,” Wedemeyer said. She has developed some products for horses and pets that contain no THC.
“When dealing with animals — horses, pets — we don’t know how the THC might affect them, even at very low levels, since there haven’t been enough studies. To be safe, it’s best to not have any. I recently started working with a company in Colorado that has a Safe Sale certificate from Colorado stating that it has zero (non-detectable) TCH. I think this is very important, for a product that will be given to animals,” she said.
This hemp extraction company is the only facility that currently has a Safe Sale certification. “This means the State of Colorado certifies that the products THC free and legal in all 50 states,” she said
Until the 2018 farm bill, universities and other research institutions were unable to use private funding for studies on hemp or they would lose their federal money. “Now I think we’ll see things open up for a lot more research,” she said.
Today a growing number of horse owners are using CBD products for pain relief and as a calming agent. Wedemeyer said there are many benefits for horses, when given appropriately. “CBD works differently than an anti-inflammatory drug like bute. The NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like bute and Banamine stop the inflammation process, whereas CBD normalizes the inflammatory response. It doesn’t mask pain like the pharmaceutical drugs, but helps the body respond and have a better healing process,” she said.
“CBD is a great alternative to pharmaceuticals because it doesn’t have harmful side effects that some people or animals experience when taking NSAIDs like aspirin, bute, ibuprofen, Banamine, etc. Many people think CBD products are a narcotic, or have the same effects as a pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory, but CBD acts in a different way. It helps the body rest so that it can repair itself. The science behind it is fascinating.”
“Horses receiving CBD have fewer ulcer symptoms and are calmer, but the CBD is not ‘doping’ them. Some owners/trainers are using these products for their calming effect, and also to treat ulcers,” Wedemeyer said.
Studies about the effects of CBD are ongoing.
“CBD is now being used in humans to help them get off narcotics like opiates. That’s not an issue in horses, but we are finding many uses,” she said.
“I am currently in the process of doing my own testing. I’ve had horses on CBD for 90 days, receiving it every day. After 120 days we’re going to stop giving it and start drawing blood daily to see how long it stays in their system after you take them off it,” Wedemeyer said.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
There are many products on the market today for horses and pets, with varying levels of CBD and inconsistency in quality and ingredients. Some contain harmful contaminants. It is important to make sure you are getting safe, reliable products. Her company, Innate Remedies, is diligent in screening what they use.
Wedemeyer is relatively new to the CBD industry. She and her husband run a human chiropractic practice (for nearly 30 years) and were introduced to CBD three years ago when a sales rep came to their office. “At that time there were still questions about whether it was legal and whether we should sell it. We checked into it and found it was approved by the chiropractic board in the state we practice in, so we started carrying it. My husband started using it on his patients and we saw good results with the topical products,” she said
“The feedback we were getting on this particular product was great, so I started researching other products, tried several and ended up getting some that were not so good. I discovered that there’s a lot of false advertising. At this point it is definitely buyer beware.”
During the process of checking out various products, she found an extraction company in Colorado. “I visited the manufacturing plant and their farms, went to Kentucky and visited their plant and farms there. If we are providing something to our patients, we want to know it’s safe, and exactly what we say it is,” Wedemeyer said.
“When looking for CBD products, you want to be sure that they have certificate of analysis (COA) to see if it has any THC and how much CBD it actually has, and what the other ingredients are.”
Some products contain harmful contaminants. Hemp absorbs whatever is in the environment — which could be pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, etc. “Chinese farmers use hemp to ‘clean’ the soil, drawing harmful substances out of the environment. You should not use any CBD products that come from China, but a lot of the inexpensive CBD products are from China,” she said.
Prior to the 2018 farm bill, no one in the U.S. could get a hemp farm certified organic. “Now that the 2018 farm bill has included hemp as an agricultural crop, I think hemp farms will be able to get USDA organic certification, but right now, before you purchase a CBD product, you want to see a COA from the company that makes it, to make sure there are no pesticides, toxins or heavy metals in it,” she said.
“While trying to find places to buy safe CBD products I came across the company in Colorado that uses the biomass from hemp plants after they pull the oil out, and makes hemp pellets for horses. Even after they pull out the CBD for human products, there is enough CBD left that they started producing pellets for horses,” Wedemeyer said.
“All of our horses at the MARE facility get a daily dose of CBD pellets. Most of the horses in the program are retired and have arthritic symptoms, and we’ve seen noticeable improvement since they’ve been on a CBD regimen.”
Some horse owners may prefer to give their horses CBD in an edible pellet form rather than administering an oil into the mouth. Wedemeyer also markets a topical CBD product that utilizes DMSO as the carrier. DMSO also has anti-inflammatory properties, and the combination is quite effective. Her company also has a pet formula. “I have an older dog who was failing, and I think the CBD gave her another year of being able to get around and have pain-free quality of life,” Wedemeyer said.
This is a new topic for horsemen and there is currently a lot of discussion. “It’s also a controversial issue for human use. When companies like Coca Cola add CBD to soda I start to worry because we don’t know where that CBD came from. If it’s cheap, it is buyer beware because you don’t know the source. People might think it’s all the same, and it’s not.”
There are potentially enormous safety issues when giving products to pets, due to potential for the presence of THC, heavy metal or herbicide/pesticide contaminants. Robinson said we won’t know if these products are safe or effective until more research becomes available. “THC poses problems for animals who are sensitive to its effects. In addition, there’s possibility for contamination, misleading or incomplete information on the label, variation in strength and constitution across batches, and drug-herb interactions,” she said.
Marijuana should never be given to pets. “Changes after marijuana exposure in dogs can happen within minutes to hours depending on route of exposure (inhalation versus ingestion). Signs of cannabis toxicosis vary, ranging from hyperactivity and vocalization to severe lethargy, incoordination, changes in heart rate and respiration, low blood pressure, dilated pupils and seizures. Dogs exposed to marijuana often exhibit excessive salivation, vomiting, and urinary incontinence. They become extremely sensitive to stimulation and very fearful,” Robinson said. One example is a depressed or ataxic dog that is dribbling urine.
“Cannabis toxicosis in dogs occurs most often from exposure to edible products. In these cases, there may be additional toxic ingredients involved — such as chocolate, raisins or xylitol — which result in a poorer prognosis for recovery,” Robinson said. ❖
— Smith Thomas is a cattle rancher, horseman, freelance writer and book author, ranching with her husband near Salmon, Idaho. She can be reached at email@example.com.