In our Ask Your Veterinarian series, we bring your questions to the practitioners of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., and they provide answers. Got a question you want to see in this series? Email info at paulickreport.com.
QUESTION: There are lots of new products on the pet/equine markets touting the benefits of CBD oil. What can CBD oil do for my horse?
DR. BILL GILSENAN: Over the last several years the conversation over the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana has become a mainstream one. It seems that awareness of CBD oil has heightened at the same time. This has led to confusion among veterinarians and horse owners alike.
Marijuana and hemp are both plants that are distinct strains of the Cannabis sativa species. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that creates the “high” that users experience when they consume the plant. The distinction needs to be made, though, that cannabis plants contain many other compounds, including more than 100 cannabinoids. One of the most abundant cannabinoids is cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is not psychoactive. Hemp contains minimal concentrations of THC but contains high concentrations of CBD. CBD oil can be extracted from hemp and marijuana plants in a way such that THC is either absent from the product or is so scarce that it would be nearly impossible to appreciate any of its psychoactive effects.
Individual studies have been published over the past ten years that have investigated the benefits of CBD oil, primarily in people and in laboratory animals. A study in children with post-traumatic stress disorder indicated that CBD oil might be helpful in addressing insomnia and anxiety. Another publication demonstrated the benefit of CBD oil in mitigating the anxiety and discomfort associated with public speaking.
Studies in non-human models have suggested that CBD oil may slow the neurodegeneration that occurs in people with Alzheimer’s disease. There is published evidence that CBD oil might also be of use in the treatment of pain, acne, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and hypertension.
Needless to say, CBD oil appears to be helpful for a wide variety of ailments, but the exact mechanisms by which it confers benefits are not completely elucidated. Importantly, Epidiolex ® is a CBD oil product that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2018 for the treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. Medications undergo extensive scrutiny prior to FDA approval, so while there is much to learn about this compound, the evidence associated with the potential benefits of CBD oil should not be readily dismissed.
As happens with many new medications, interest in potential uses for CBD oil in veterinary medicine have rapidly developed. A recent study from Colorado State University demonstrated that epileptic dogs treated with CBD oil had a decreased frequency of seizures. A quick search of the Internet is all that is needed to learn of the purported effects of CBD oil on horses with respect to anxiety, pain, coat health, appetite, nausea, headshaking, epilepsy, and cancer. The breadth of benefits of CBD oil for people probably does suggest that this compound is versatile. Yet CBD oil is still surrounded by a lot of information that we have yet to discover. Any evidence of benefit from CBD oil in horses at this stage is anecdotal, even though anecdotal accounts generally seem to be neutral to positive. The use of it might seem safe, but little is truly known about this or its long-term effects.
Notably, different compounds can react very differently in different species. We know very little about how to appropriately dose horses with CBD oil. Moreover, with a wide variety of available products at this point in time, it is difficult to make an informed decision on which CBD product to use on a horse. Without an FDA-approved product in horses, there is no regulatory oversight on the content or safety of CBD products available.
CBD oil has come on to the scene recently and might be an interesting addition to the armament of compounds we can use to help horses. While seemingly benign, the horse owner needs to use any of these products with caution, if at all. CBD oil products can be and have been readily marketed across the Internet and social media. The benefits of this compound likely exist, but there is a lot we have yet to learn. For this reason, cannabinoid products, including CBD oil, are prohibited by the USEF and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. With time, our understanding of CBD oil and its use in horses will certainly evolve. However, it is difficult to recommend the widespread use of it in horses just yet.
Bill Gilsenan received his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. Following an internship at Colorado State University, he completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the New Bolton Center—University of Pennsylvania. He held a faculty position at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine until joining the staff at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital as an internal medicine specialist in 2015.
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