by Dr. Clair Thunes PhD, Nutritionist for EnviroEquine & PET ~

With a growing number of states in the United States allowing farmers to grow hemp, there is increasing interest in this versatile plant and its potential in the equine marketplace. Historically, hemp was grown as a source of fiber and feed. In the 1700’s it was used to make rope and sail cloth, and a draft of the Declaration of Independence was drawn up on hemp paper. Hemp actually makes four times more paper per acre than trees! Growth of hemp slowed from 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act was signed into law and, while it underwent somewhat of a revival thanks to the Victory Initiative created by the USDA in 1942, production was all but wiped out in 1970 thanks to the Controlled Substances Act. This act classified hemp as an illegal Schedule I drug. Since then, little, if any, hemp has been grown in the United States. That was until 2015 when the Industrial Hemp Farm Act was introduced and a few select farmers started to once again grow hemp commercially.

So why all the fuss about hemp? Why essentially ban its production when it had been such a fabulous source of fiber and one of the major production crops in the United States? To understand this we have to understand a little about biological classification and how scientists classify living organisms. Organisms are classified by how similar they are. This system, taxonomy, is used to classify all living things and has a hierarchical structure. Hemp is in the family Cannabaneae and the genus cannabis.  Several species fall within this genus – for example, Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis. Many strains and cultivars of these species exist. Some contain the psychoactive compound THC and are commonly referred to as Marijuana, and others do not contain THC and are referred to as hemp. Hemp was previously classified as illegal because the bills that were passed banned the growing of plants in the genus cannabis whether they contained THC or not.

In 2018, the Agricultural Act legitimized a legal definition for hemp, stating that “hemp is a term used to classify varieties of cannabis that contain 0.3 percent or less THC.” By this definition, despite being Cannabis, you can not “get high” on hemp because it does not contain adequate THC. The fact that both hemp and marijuana are cannabis has resulted in a lot of confusion. Hemp and marijuana plants are essentially the same plants; however, through selection certain species are more likely to contain THC and be marijuana versus others that have been selected to not contain THC and are, therefore, considered hemp.

To further add to the confusion, there is the issue of CBD, a compound whose popularity has skyrocketed in the past several months. CBD stands for cannabidiol. This is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants, so it is found in both hemp and marijuana. Confusion exists because often people get THC and CBD mixed up, but CBD is not psychoactive. Research is showing that CBD has strong anti-inflammatory effects and is linked to reduction of chronic pain. While there is more THC in marijuana, hemp provides a greater concentration of CBD and which is part of why hemp’s popularity has grown exponentially. 

Not only is there growing interest in CBD for human use, but equine applications are also becoming more common. Herein lies the problem. Use of cannabinoids is banned in equestrian sports governed by US Equestrian. However, hemp provides so much more than just CBD. The seeds are a great source of complete protein and oil, and the hulls are a source of digestible fiber. Now for the good news: the seeds and hulls do not contain CBD.

Hemp for Horses Explained

While hemp provides a greater concentration of CBD than marijuana, the CBD is not evenly distributed throughout the plant. Hemp seeds contain no CBD while the stems can be high in CBD. Oil pressed from the seeds will have no CBD while oil generated from crushing the plant stems will contains CBD. CBD oil comes from hemp and has high CBD levels, but hemp oil may, in fact, have no CBD. As a consumer you have to understand these potential differences and carefully read labels and product descriptions to fully understand what you are buying.

There are so many benefits to utilizing hemp as an equine supplement, and here at Enviro Equine & PET we are excited to launch a range of hemp products that will support your horse in unique ways that other conventional products may not. As horse people, we also understand the concerns and confusion surrounding hemp, which is why we diligently screen our hemp products.

We believe in rigorous product testing. Not only are the seeds used to make our supplements tested by the farmers who grow the hemp before production, we also independently test the cannabinoid content of our products ourselves by sending samples to a third party lab.

We are excited to bring you a range of hemp-based equine supplements as well as bedding and can’t wait for you to experience the benefits hemp can have on your horse’s life. We understand that right now the hemp landscape is confusing and we are happy to answer any questions you may have.