CBD is an increasingly popular option for managing comfort, composure, and general wellness in animals, including horses. Dr. Gray says it’s important to understand that CBD is a non-psychoactive compound derived from hemp plants.
Hemp and marijuana belong to the same plant species. Marijuana is cultivated to have high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant) and low levels of CBD, while hemp is selectively bred to contain high levels of CBD and less than 0.3 percent THC.
“THC is the component that causes users to feel ‘high.’ On the other hand, CBD doesn’t affect mental or emotional states,” Gray added.
All humans and animals have a complex network of neurotransmitters, receptors, and enzymes. These are collectively known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), Appleton explained.
“This system is hard-wired into the body and plays a critical role in regulating wake and sleep cycles, digestion, appetite, mood, anxiety, inflammatory response, and immune function,” she said. “CBD directly interacts with the endocannabinoid system to help promote balance within these systems and to mitigate the impacts of stress, work, and aging.”
The benefits of CBD have been talked about for thousands of years but research in companion animals such as horses, dogs, and cats is limited. Animal owners are increasingly considering CBD but some may be hesitant without additional studies.
“We know quality is a major concern. It was extremely important to us to make sure our product was well-tolerated in horses and we felt a study was needed,” Dr. Gray said.
SmartPak partnered with Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine on some of the first CBD research in horses. Led by Frank Andrews, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Director of Equine Health Studies at LSU, the study was designed to determine if SmartPak’s CBD (cannabidiol) ingredient altered the mental or physical state (health) of horses when administered at a serving size of 150 milligrams.
“The study showed there were no effects of treatment on bloodwork— including liver and kidney values—as well as no significant changes in alertness or coordination after two months. Backed by this safe-use study, we felt confident launching our first CBD supplement Smart & Simple CBD Pellets.”
All of the raw material SmartPak receives, and every batch of finished product is verified by a third-party lab. This documents purity and potency of CBD as well as the level of THC, explained Dr. Gray.
CBD on its own has benefits but when paired with ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, MSM, and resveratrol it can provide comprehensive joint support. CBD is also known to support a calm, relaxed disposition in horses and may help reduce the impact of chronic or excess stress, Appleton said.
“We’re launching a study on our SmartHolistic CBD + Calm Support to document safe use of CBD combined with these other ingredients,” Appleton said. “We’ll collect blood to document CBD serum levels after oral supplementation, assess kidney and liver function, and measure cortisol levels.”
Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone that plays a key role in the body’s stress response, Appleton explained. Horses experiencing long-term pain or constant stress from being stall-bound and isolated from other horses for long periods of time can have higher levels of cortisol which may manifest in unwanted behaviors and negatively affect other body systems.
“We try to take the best care of our horses by putting them in a nice, roomy stall with knee-deep shavings to prevent them from getting hurt, but as prey animals, horses are programmed to be part of a herd,” Appleton said. “Not all owners have the option to change how they manage their horses but finding ways to improve their health and well-being by reducing the negative impact of chronic stress may ultimately improve their quality of life.”
For competitive riders, it’s important to know the rules for their discipline. Its use is prohibited by some associations so be sure to review the rules before feeding a CBD product.
Keep following along in the SmartPak Ask a Pro series as we cover a wide range of equine health care and supplement topics here!