USEF and the CBD Ban for Competing Horses
Recently the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) announced that, as of September 1, 2019, “USEF prohibits CBD and all related cannabinoids.”
For context, note that CBD, or cannabidiol, is only one of 113 cannabinoid molecules that scientists have identified. Some researchers estimate there could be a hundred more cannabinoids not yet discovered.
USEF goes on to say that, “Horses competing under USEF rules who test positive for natural cannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids and other cannabimimetics will be considered in violation of GR4, [the ‘Drugs and Medications’ chapter of the USEF Rule Book].”
After the press release was issued, my phone blew up almost immediately with emails and texts from owners and riders concerned about hemp products.
What concerns me are some of USEF’s blanket statements, using very general terms like “cannabinoids” and “other cannabimimetics”. Reading this press release, I’m not sure USEF really understands the body’s natural endocannabinoid system.
We’ll get into that later in this article; first, let’s start with what hemp really is.
“Hemp seed oil” versus “hemp oil”: What’s the difference?
• Hemp seeds do not contain cannabidiol (CBD). Naturally, therefore, oils pressed from hemp seeds (like BioStar’s Empower EQ) do not contain CBD.
• Hemp oil, on the other hand, can be pressed from seeds, stems, leaves, and flowers from the whole plant, which means that small, even trace, amounts of CBD could be present.
For now, if you are going to be competing in USEF competitions, make sure the oil you give your horse is hemp seed oil, and not hemp oil.
“Hemp protein” versus “hemp CBD protein”
What about “hemp fines”?
These are the cracked shells and nuts of the hemp seed after oil extraction. This material is high in fiber and protein, but contains no CBD.
What is “hemp biomass”?
This is the remainder of the hemp plant after CBD extraction. Depending on the extraction process, the hemp biomass contains 10-12% CBD as well as protein, fiber, and a small amount of fat including the essential fatty acids. Hemp biomass contains CBD.
Understanding the biological endocannabinoid system
It is estimated that the endocannabinoid system (“endo-” meaning “within” the body) developed in vertebrates 600 million years ago. Its function is to regulate homeostasis in the body. All mammals including humans and horses have an endocannabinoid system. Mammalian bodies make cannabinoids, known as endogenous cannabinoids that fit into specific receptors (CB1 and CB2) located in the brain, in the GI tract, in macrophages and other immune cells, and in the liver.
Research has identified that there is a signaling that takes places between plant-produced cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) and our animal receptor sites. What this means, is that mammalian bodies have evolved to use not just our own endogenous cannabinoids, but those from the outside as well, such as the cannabinoids found in plants.
How CBD works
CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system, promoting homeostasis. Our endocannabinoid system regulates body temperature, for instance, when we get too hot or too cold. It also regulates metabolism. The endocannabinoid system is a crucial molecular system for health and well-being.
Unlike psychoactive THC, which can fit into the endocannabinoid receptors of the brain, CBD inhibits metabolic enzymes such as fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) that break down the endogenous cannabinoids — thereby keeping endogenous cannabinoid levels elevated in the body, helping to regulate homeostasis.
By the way, ibuprofen is also a FAAH inhibitor, unlike other NSAIDs. However, like other NSAIDs, ibuprofen has a tendency to produce serious gastrointestinal and renal damage. Pharmaceutical companies are working on future drugs that will simultaneously block FAAH and the COX enzyme (cyclooxygenase) for synergistic analgesic responses and reduction in NSAID-induced GI damage. In this light, and with these goals in mind, it would appear that pharmaceutical CBD is just around the corner.
Cannabinoids and “cannabimimetics”
As mentioned above, the recent USEF press release includes this statement: “Horses competing under USEF rules who test positive for natural cannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids and other cannabimimetics will be considered in violation of GR4 beginning September 1, 2019.”
The concerning part is that “cannabinoids”, including CBD, are actually a very diverse group of chemical compounds that can be found all around us. One example of a non-CBD cannabinoid is BCP, or beta-caryophyllene. BCP is a natural component of black pepper, carrots, hops, rosemary, basil, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and of course hemp. BCP has already been approved as a food additive by the FDA. However, because it activates the body’s endocannabinoid system by binding to the CB2 receptor, it was technically classified in 2008 as a “dietary cannabinoid”.
So what about “cannabimimetics”? These are defined as “phytochemicals and secondary metabolites able to interact with the endocannabinoid system,” by mimicking the biological activity of true cannabinoids. These compounds have recently been described in a broad range of plants and fruits. 
Research into cannabimimetics is ongoing, but current examples include:
- Echinacea contains specific compounds known as N-alkyl amides (NAAs) that interact with the CB2 receptor in the body.
- Maca (Peruvian ginseng) is found to contain compounds that affect various protein targets in the endocannabinoid system.
- Cacao helps to deactivate the FAAH enzyme that breaks down the endogenous cannabinoids.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can be converted by the body into endocannabinoids, which may be one of the pathways that omega-3 helps target inflammation.
That’s right… when our horses consume grass, flax, chia, canola, etc., those omega-3 fatty acids can be converted into endocannabinoids, which makes these common horse foods cannabimimetics — substances that could easily violate the new USEF rules!
- Flax: Beyond its omega-3 content, a study published in 2012 outlined the discovery of a new terpenoid compound in flax, showing that “…flax products can be a source of biologically active cannabinoid-like compounds that are able to influence the cell immunological response.” 
What we don’t know
How many foods and plants contain cannabinoids? Hard to say, especially when we don’t even know how many cannabinoid compounds even exist in the plant world. Remember CBD is only one of 113 that have been discovered so far, and researchers have estimated there could be a hundred more.
Not to mention, how many cannabimimetic foods and plants are there out there? These are the compounds that simply mimic actual cannabinoids by also interacting with the endocannabinoid system. Studies are ongoing, but the answer is anyone’s guess.
What we do know
It is now well understood that the mammalian endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in regulating homeostasis, which is essential to the health and wellbeing of any mammal. Not only does this system make its own endogenous cannabinoids, but can convert and use cannabinoids from plants and other foods.
We also know that the USEF is not trying to ban flax and carrots as part of their ban on “natural cannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids and other cannabimimetics.” I am fairly certain that USEF just isn’t yet aware of the absurd broadness of their cannabinoid and cannabimimetics ban, at least as it is worded in their recent press release.
Of course, the USEF has every right and plenty of leverage to ban the specific cannabinoid CBD, if that move is found to be necessary. But is it necessary? At least one major global authority on athletics and performance-enhancing drugs says it’s not:
In January, 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD as a banned substance. Organizations that operate under WADA policy include the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, all International Federations, and over 200 other national-level anti-doping organizations. WADA has determined that CBD does not have the potential to enhance sport performance, does not represent a health risk to the athletes, and does not violate the spirit of sport.
CBD clearance from the body
There is no certainty on how long it takes for CBD to be fully metabolized and cleared from the system in horses. An ongoing study on CBD for arthritis and laminitis in horses (Chelsea Luedke, DVM, and Trish Wilhelm, CVT, VCC) has found that the half life of CBD in horses is about 8 hours. Three pending studies (including one titled, “The Detection of Cannabidiol Administration to Horses”) currently await funding. For now, it appears that a seven-day clearing time is optimal.
BioStar, hemp, and the CBD path
BioStar introduced hemp seed oil to the equine industry in 2007. By 2008, we had introduced hemp protein and hemp fines to several of our newer formulas. Just last year, in 2018, BioStar launched Receptor EQ, with CBD-containing organic hemp biomass.
Prior to making Receptor EQ available to customers, I studied CBD carefully for two years, looking for the most reliable formulations. This meant, for example, avoiding all the CBD oils and isolates, because concentrations and dosages varied widely from product to product — too unpredictable.
We embraced the science of the entourage effect, which describes the synergistic effects of a plant’s components when taken all together: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Unlike all the extracted oils and isolates on the market, hemp biomass provides this entourage effect, which we believe fits perfectly with BioStar’s whole food ambitions.
We fully accept the science behind the endocannabinoid system and its role in enhancing survival and life quality via homeostasis in mammals. BioStar didn’t bring a CBD product to market because it was popular, or a fad. We brought it to market because supporting homeostasis is crucial for health and wellbeing.
1 Kumar, Amit & Premoli, Marika & Aria, Francesca & Bonini, Sara & Maccarinelli, Giuseppina & Gianoncelli, Alessandra & Memo, Maurizio & Mastinu, Andrea. (2019). Cannabimimetic plants: are they new cannabinoidergic modulators? Planta, 249(6), 1681-94
2 McDougle, Daniel & Watson, Josephine & Abdeen, Amr & Reheman, Adili & Caputo, Megan & Krapf, John & W. Johnson, Rodney & Kilian, Kristopher & Holinstat, Michael & Das, Aditi. (2017). Anti-inflammatory ω-3 endocannabinoid epoxides. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(10).
3 Styrczewska, Monika & Kulma, Anna & Ratajczak, Katarzyna & Amarowicz, Ryszard & Szopa, Jan. (2012). Cannabinoid-like anti-inflammatory compounds from flax fiber. Cellular & Molecular Biology Letters, 17(3), 479-99.
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