What you need to know about CBD for horses

Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Allison Price

With big CBD displays at every grocery store, pharmacy, and feed shop, the CBD craze has taken over. What does all this mean for you, your horse and yourself? It doesn’t matter if you are an advocate or skeptic. Learn more about this potential useful herb.

There is a lot of money being invested in cannabis, but there are many unscrupulous sellers out there selling substandard products. Many CBD companies also offer products for horses and other animals without any veterinary guidance or knowledge. Let’s not forget the baby with the bathwater. If CBD, the principal non-psychoactive component in cannabis plants, didn’t have the potential to provide far-reaching health benefits for both our horses and ourselves, this mania wouldn’t exist.

It was illegal to use or study cannabis for medicinal purposes since it was first listed as a Schedule One controlled substance back in 1970. The Farm Bill of 2018, which made industrial hemp legal in the US, (cannabis with less that 0.3% THC) has opened the doors to a variety of research and medical/veterinary uses. There are still many gray areas regarding CBD use. Hemp extracts are widely available, but the FDA could yet decide to regulate isolated CBD as drugs (see sidebar). The cannabis industry is also pursuing new revenue streams, such as the tobacco and alcohol industries. They are looking to regulate recreational marijuana use in their own ways.

Is CBD legally legal?

The laws regarding hemp and CBD are constantly changing. They adapt to the current climate of the hemp industry’s rapid growth over the past 18 months. Wait ten minutes if you don’t agree with the laws in your state. The legal gray area can often stop vets sharing their knowledge on cannabinoids with others, or even preventing them from learning more.

Can my horse get high off CBD?

The cannabis plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It contains two principal compounds and more than 200 minor constituents. The most abundant compounds are THC (trans-D9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and cannabidiol. THC, which is the most commonly used part of cannabis plants for recreational purposes, is often associated with stoner culture. THC can also be used to treat chronic pain, psychiatric disorders and many other types of cancer. Almost all 50 states have legalized medical marijuana. THC can be psychoactive in humans, and dogs especially, because they have high levels of CB1 receptors. However, little is known about its effects on other species. CBD, on the other hand, has no psychoactive effects and can be used at very low doses to soothe the nervous system. It does not affect cognition or balance.

What is the mechanism of phytocannabinoids?

The nervous and immune systems are able to self-regulate their communication and communication through the endocannabinoid (ECS). The ECS acts primarily at the nerve synapses and is believed to play a role in pain relief, fighting cancer, metabolic balance, and smooth operation of the gastrointestinal system. Sounds like a miracle drug! This could be because phytocannabinoids, the cannabinoids found naturally in cannabis plants, can act early to stop inflammatory cascades.

CBD For Horses

Due to decades-long US research blockade, CBD is not available for clinical research in animals. Recent studies have shown that CBD can help with common issues in horses and dogs such as anxiety and arthritis pain. Before introducing high-dose cannabis to animals with more serious conditions like epilepsy, cancer, and diabetes, it is important that they consult a qualified veterinarian.

CBD in pets has only caused mildly elevated liver enzymes. Research studies that used CBD in high doses for pets showed this side effect. These levels were eight to sixteen times higher than what knowledgeable vets would recommend for dogs. CBD can be prescribed in the right dosages to provide pain relief for many animals. How does this translate for horses?

 Why size matters

There are many sizes of animals, from elephants to Chihuahuas. Doses of medicines and supplements don’t scale with animal size. Because larger animals have slower metabolisms, this is why they don’t scale at the same rate as smaller ones. A healthy cat can beat 150 to 200 beats/minute; an adult human rests at 70 to 80 beats/minute; while an equine’s heart beat is typically between 30 and 35 beats/minute. Horses can work more efficiently due to their slower metabolism and require less energy. Horses can take much less medicine than humans, cats, or dogs. This is because the “by weight” dose of many medications can be lower for horses than it is for humans, cats, and dogs. While CBD is used to ease anxiety in dogs at a rate of 0.1 mg per kilogram, it has been shown that horses can benefit from a 25mg dose of full-spectrum CBD oil. This works out at 0.05 mg/kg. This shows that CBD oil can be very affordable for horses suffering from nervous system problems.

Can I use CBD to compete?

No. The USEF announced recently that cannabinoids will no longer be allowed in competition and will be included in random drug testing programs. This ban is an indication of how effective CBD can be in treating pain and behavioral issues in horses. If you plan to compete in shows that require drug testing, you’ll need to stop giving your horse CBD seven business days prior. Similar rules apply to the FEI. CBD can still make a difference to your retiree, or high-strung OTTB. 

In February 2019, the Kentucky-based Racing Medication and Testing Consortium issued a bulletin declaring that cannabidiol is a Class 3b substance. It also provided unclear withdrawal times. They warned of the potential dangers associated with untested products containing unknown contaminants and concentrations.

How do you choose a CBD product to treat your horse?

Do not consider any product that has not been manufactured using good manufacturing practices (cGMP) or does not have third-party lab certificates of analysis for each batch of oil. Consider how user-friendly the CBD product and company are when choosing from “vetted” CBD products. Are they able to demonstrate a track record and have they worked with animals? Multiple studies testing commercially-available CBD products find that many don’t offer the dosage they claim, and a surprisingly high percentage were merely hemp cooking oil. Beware!

Higher quality companies will offer money-back warranties on their products and answer any questions you may have about their extraction process and the source of their biomass. Ethanol or CO 2 extraction can make good products. However, it is important to be cautious about poor quality and incomplete extraction. Full-spectrum CBD oil should be light in flavor and aroma, not chemical residues.

Horses should be given a product with a high level of potency, such as between 20mg/mL to 60mg/mL. Due to the high price, many hemp products come in 1oz containers. If your horse is responsive to low doses, a 1oz CBD 20mg/mL CBD bottle will give you 30 horses-sized portions. Higher potencies allow for more experimentation to find the right dose for your horse (see sidebar).

A study by Dr. Rob Silver, a leading US veterinary cannabis expert, found that 50 mg was more reliable for severe lameness, moderate to severe acute laminitis, and equine metabolic disorder. Surprisingly though most CBD products should be taken twice daily, there were some horses who responded well to CBD products even though they could only take them once per day.

Are you not impressed by CBD results?

Have a closer look at the amount and dosing method you use.

1. Is this the correct way to administer?

Cannabinoids, which are oily plant resins, get absorbed by the normal liver detoxification mechanisms as they pass through their GI tract. CBD products are oily, so they should be applied to your horse’s gums and not added to his grains. Although some companies may advertise water-soluble and micronized forms for oral dosing of CBD, studies have not yet been done to show that they can deliver a therapeutic dose to horses without affecting their liver metabolism. Avoid products that claim to be used on top of food. To be effective, products should contain between five and eight times the CBD dosage that has been proven to be effective via direct oral membrane administration.

2. Is the dosage correct?

CBD of high quality should be able to take effect within five to fifteen minutes. It shouldn’t take weeks or even months for CBD to work. Clinical trials have shown that CBD can be used to treat anxiety and behavior problems in horses. For pain, it can be administered at 50mg or 60mg. There are some variations — some horses respond well to once-daily doses, while others do better with twice-daily. The horse’s size did not seem to be a factor.

Full spectrum, or isolated?

Both can be used in your pharmacopeia. Full spectrum advocates recognize the “entourage effect”, which is when multiple cannabinoids or terpenes are present. Early evidence suggests that full spectrum products might be more effective in high doses. There is little information available about the benefits of cannabinoids that are lower in doses.

For better palatability and precise dosing, CBD isolate products can be combined with oils such as MCT coconut oil, olive oil, or MCT coconut oil. People want the same products that their pets use, but some people need to avoid full-spectrum because of drug testing at work. This could lead to trace amounts of THC.

CBD-rich hemp products will likely be around for a long time. You should buy only the best quality products and be careful when dosing.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!