CBD Farming and What Research Tells Us
There is a lot to be discovered about CBD and humans. There is just as much we don’t know when it comes to CBD farming and animals. While there is increasing research on the potential of CBD on dogs and cats, there is scant research on other animals such as cows and horses.
As hemp becomes more widespread and more fields are dedicated to growing industrial hemp, there is increasing interest in how animals might benefit from hemp. There is also expanding attention on how CBD and hemp might help animals.
Cows, horses, goats, and sheep love to graze on grass, so perhaps they could graze on fields of hemp. We know that all vertebrates have an endocannabinoid system, so their bodies can interact with CBD and make use of it. We just don’t know how exactly this happens and what the impact may be.
So, there are many questions that farmers and researchers would like answered, such as:
- Once CBD and other cannabinoids have been extracted from hemp, there is plenty of plant biomass left behind. Could this be safely fed to animals?
- Could we feed cattle hemp on purpose to produce CBD-rich milk?
- How do animals respond to CBD?
All mammals metabolize CBD
Industrial hemp and marijuana belong to the same cannabis family. Industrial hemp, however, has been selectively grown to contain significant amounts of CBD but very little THC, which is the hallucinogenic and addictive cannabinoid component. It also features long stalks, which are traditionally used for sails, ropes, and textiles.
The flowers and leaves of hemp contain very little THC but are brimming with CBD and other cannabinoids, hence the adoption of CBD as an anti-inflammatory and stress reliever by humans.
All mammals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS), which works with human cannabinoids. The purpose of the endocannabinoid system is to keep the body in balance. Our ECS has a wide variety of tasks including the regulation of appetite, memory, reproduction, temperature and mobility perception, mood, inflammation, and pain perception.
We know that CBD affects the ECS and may help it become more productive and efficient. The end purpose is to keep the body balanced and happy.
Cows, horses, and all mammals have an ECS as well. Much research about CBD has been geared around humans but there is also a lot of attention paid to how CBD and hemp in general may benefit cattle and other animals.
Plant material after CBD extraction
The international CBD market has been valued at over $4 billion at the end of 2021 and is expected to increase to more than $40 billion by the end of the current decade.
An increasing number of countries and farmers are dedicating fields to industrial hemp. The United States, the European Union, Canada, Chile, South Korea, and China have already become major hemp producers and more farmers are expected to join them in hemp cultivation.
CBD is extracted from the leaves, flowers, and stalks of industrial hemp. Once CBD and all the other cannabinoids have been extracted, there is a lot of leftover plant material that contains fats, proteins, and other healthy compounds.
As industrial hemp farming keeps expanding, the amount of biomass left behind after the extraction process is growing as well. It costs CBD manufacturers money to either discard the plant material or store it. What if cattle and grazing animals could use it, though?
The biggest question that most health authorities are struggling with is whether the biomass contains cannabinoids, particularly THC. Once CBD and, especially, THC enter the animal’s body, they will be metabolized by the liver and may eventually find their way into their milk or other by-products. Would that result in THC-rich milk?
The same question arises regarding chicken farms: do CBD and THC show up in the eggs? How much hemp plant material can animals eat before cannabinoids can be detected in the meat, milk, and eggs animals produce?
The Oregon CBD Farming Study
A small-scale study in Oregon  offers a glimpse into how hemp may become a helpful livestock feed. Sheep were given varying quantities of hemp—ranging between 10% and 20% of their normal feed—to examine how they performed. In the same experiment, cows were fed 15% of their normal diet in hemp.
The study found that:
- Sheep that were given hemp ate more. Even so, they only gained a little body weight.
- Cows fed with a hemp-enriched diet produced more milk. Their milk contained less fat.
Research is expanding into chickens to see how hemp may affect chickens’ behaviour, body weight, and egg production.
The German Institute for Risk Assessment Study
The most crucial question is how much we can feed livestock hemp before CBD and other cannabinoids start showing up in milk, meat, and eggs.
A very recent research published in November 2022 from the German Institute for Risk Assessment explored just this. Ten lactating cows were fed various amounts of hemp as part of their daily diet. The study showed that cows that were fed hemp produced THC-laden milk.
Interestingly enough, the effects on cows were not uniform:
- Cows that were fed whole hemp plants displayed no signs of THC effects.
- Cows that were fed hemp leaves and flowers displayed obvious signs of THC intoxication such as slower breathing, slower heart rate, reduced overall activity, and unsteady movements. Crucially, THC was clearly present in their milk.
The research demonstrated that THC is metabolized into the milk that cows produce. This is to be expected because many substances show up in mammals’ milk: think of breastfeeding women who are advised not to drink alcohol because it will appear in the breast milk their baby drinks.
When a cow’s feed contains cannabinoids and THC, its endocannabinoid system metabolizes it. So, why did cows fed whole hemp plants have very little THC in their system?
This may not be as surprising as it sounds. CBD manufacturers use flowers, leaves, and stalks to produce CBD because that’s where cannabinoids reside. The plant material that is left behind contains very few—if any—cannabinoids. So, perhaps cattle can be fed hemp by-products rather than hemp flowers and leaves, thus avoiding having any cannabinoids show up in their mild.
What if we wish to deliberately create CBD-rich milk, though? What kinds of benefits might this confer on manufacturers and consumers?
Going a step further: naturally enriched CBD products
Milk that is naturally CBD-rich would solve several problems. First of all, CBD is lipophilic. It dissolves into fat but can’t dissolve properly in water. This is the reason why most CBD-rich recipes combine CBD oil with healthy fats such as butters and oils, avocados, and full-fat milk and yoghurt.
Some CBD manufacturers have found a solution to CBD’s aversion to water by creating CBD emulsions.
Emulsions are a combination of two liquids—in this case, water and oil. The inner cell is made of CBD and oil, which is the perfect environment for CBD to dissolve. This core is then enveloped by an outer cell of water.
The human body is basically made of water and will immediately recognize a water-based component. The body recognizes the outer shell of the emulsion and immediately absorbs it. The inner cell of the CBD-enriched oil is then slowly metabolized.
CBD manufacturers have been using emulsions to work around CBD’s natural dislike for water.
What if we could have a naturally infused CBD product through CBD farming, though? By producing cow milk that is naturally blended with CBD, we would bypass the problem of CBD’s inability to mix with water and could create many novel CBD-rich milk-based products such as cheese, yoghurt, and even ice cream. If we had CBD-rich eggs as well, the possibilities would be endless.
There are a lot of caveats to this prospect. We still don’t know how to ensure that the industrial hemp we feed cattle is THC-free. How can we completely extract THC from hemp plant material before feeding it to cows? Also, how can we calculate how much CBD is contained in the milk cows produce? And how can we gauge how much hemp cows should eat?
This is a new field that preliminary research is offering us a tantalizing glimpse into. There are many possibilities—but we still don’t know the specifics.
Hemp to calm animals
A last, quite unexpected benefit of hemp emerged from a clinical trial that involved cattle . Sixteen male cattle were enrolled in a blind trial: half of the cows were administered a hemp-enriched diet while the other half were given their usual diet.
Cattle that were fed the hemp-enriched diet displayed decreased biomarkers of stress and inflammation. They would lie down a lot, for example, and be much calmer.
This could be very useful to farmers. Horses, cattle, and other animals that need to be transported may benefit from hemp as it would decrease their stress when they change environments. In addition, animals often go through stressful events as, for instance, when a cow loses her calf. Such animals might gain from a hemp-enriched diet that would decrease their stress levels.
CBD and animals: glimpses of the future
We don’t know a lot of things about CBD. We are not even sure how CBD interacts with the ECS: we just notice the effects and know that it is metabolized by the body.
Clinical trials on cows, cattle, and sheep show us some of the many ways that CBD interacts with the ECS. There is great potential for synergy between industrial hemp farmers and cattle farmers. We need, however, more solid research to assess the true impact of CBD and other cannabinoids on animals.
There are also promising possibilities for CBD to be used to calm and help animals deal with stressful events. To maximize the benefits, we need to understand how CBD might help horses, cattle, sheep, chickens, and other production animals. We also need to find ways to safely introduce hemp into their feed. Finally, we need to explore the possibility of creating novel products that are naturally rich in CBD.
Hopefully, enterprising farmers are already exploring ways to take advantage of the many avenues opened by research!