Horses & (Medical) Marijuana

Did you know that cannabis was once used to treat equine ailments? HN's resident Colorado girl Shara Rutberg investigates.

From Shara:

On my way to the barn, I pass The Farm, one of the many pot shops, er, medical dispensaries here in Boulder, Colorado, where we voted to legalize recreational pot and where an advocacy group literally handed out joints on a popular pedestrian mall a few weeks back. Down in Denver, there are more pot shops than Starbucks. And many have names like The Farm, and The Dandelion, that sound alluring to equines.

Might this just be the ideal thing to take the edge off my brave steed, who has done airs above the ground in response to jump decorations 200 yards away across the cross country course? Would a handful of Mary Jane in the alfalfa make the pony peaceful with pumpkins (dear god!) on the jumps? Would it garner points for relaxation at the canter? Could I clip the beast without a vet if he nibbles a few kind cookies before I warm up the Wahls?

People have been using cannabis to help horses for ages. The ancient Greeks used it for colic and wound care. The U.S. government supplied cannabis as part of the standard first aid kit to cavalry troopers who also did vet duty in the field. A cavalry manual recommends it for “spasmodic colic and other intestinal troubles.”

But in the time since the military traded horses for Humvees the herb has fallen out of favor.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recently invited members to join a conversation about veterinary medical marijuana in their newsletter. The story includes the case of Phoenix, a 20-year-old Paso Fino with degenerative ligament disease. Becky Flowers, her owner, had tired Phenylbutazone, glucosamine, Cavallo boots, cold and warm wraps to no avail. When Phoenix lay on her side and stopped eating and drinking, she fed the horse marijuana she'd been prescribed herself for pain.

Within an hour of ingesting a small amount of marijuana, Phoenix was walking, eating, and drinking. Phoenix boils the marijuana plant, then makes the abstract into a butter that she feeds the horse daily.

“With cannabis, I don’t worry about potential liver damage as with bute. I also don’t worry about her overdosing, as I only give her a small amount. She never appears panicky or disoriented. She’s just her normal, happy Phoenix,” she said.

California vet Douglas Kramer's at the forefront of an effort to bring veterinary medicine into the national debate about medical marijuana. He's reviewed the medical research and believes there’s ample evidence to support using marijuana in veterinary patients as an alternative or adjunctive treatment for post-op or chronic pain and also for palliative care.

“I don’t want to come across as being overly in favor of giving marijuana to pets,” Kramer says in the story. “My position is the same as the AMA’s. We need to investigate marijuana further to determine whether the case reports I’m hearing are true or whether there’s a placebo effect at work. We also need to know what the risks are.”

Though even under the influence, my horse would probably still stop at the flower boxes decorating jumps, though not out of fear. With the pot-induced munchies, my roly-poly pony would stop to eat the flowers.

The outside wall of The Farm in Boulder (not the one where my horse lives).

Go Riding.


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