Author: Joyce Harman, DVM
Hemp is all the buzz these days, and for good reason. It’s a plant with literally thousands of uses. It can be used for everything from clothing to fuel to paper—and many things in between. It is a weed and capable of growing in many different conditions with little additional fertilizer or other inputs. Hemp is also nutritious and has medicinal properties.
First, here are a few definitions to clear up the confusion between the different uses and types:
- Hemp is known by the Latin plant names cannabis sativa or cannabis indica. There is not a clear botanical differentiation between the two species, despite some claims otherwise. And in modern times, crossbreeding has blurred the lines even more. Hemp is a cannabis plant that contains no detectable level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the ingredient that can make the user “high.”
- Marijuana is the same basic plant but does contain THC and can make the user “high.”
- Cannabinoids are the medicinal compounds that have been shown to be medically useful for many conditions. These are found only in the leaf and the buds of the plant. The acronym “CBD” is commonly used for medicinal preparations, but in reality, there are over 100 different cannabinoids in a hemp plant. There are active compounds called terpenes that work synergistically with the CBD. Herbs in general contain many hundreds of compounds that make up the action of the single plant.
- Endocannabinoid System is the receptor system for cannabinoids found in all mammals and in most body systems. This means the plant or herb has the potential to help many parts of the body.
- Omega-3 and omega-6 Fatty Acids are found only in the seeds of the plant. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that cannot be made in the body, so it needs to be eaten.
- Industrial Hemp is generally grown for its fiber (stems) and seeds. The plants are grown close to each other to promote tall stemmy fibrous plants with lots of seeds. It contains very little, if any, CBDs.
- Medicinal Hemp is grown to enhance the leaf and bud growth, with high levels of CBD and no omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids.
Hemp is a plant that can grow just about anywhere; but, it is also called a “bio-accumulator,” which means that contaminants or toxins in the soil will end up in the plant. So, when feeding hemp in any form, it’s important to use organically grown varieties.
Hemp seeds are the most nutritious part of the plant used as food. They contain about 20 percent protein, 6 percent carbohydrates, and about 73 percent healthy fats. They also have significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A and E. Most diets contain an excess of omega 6 (an inflammatory compound). Hemp contains a healthy balance of omega-6 linolenic acid (25 percent) to omega-3 linoleic acid (55 percent), which is an anti-inflammatory compound and considered a perfectly balanced ratio.
Hemp also contains the omega-6 fatty acid gama linolenic acid (GLA), a compound not frequently found in food. Even though it is type of omega-6, it has excellent anti-inflammatory properties, as well as cancer fighting immune support and help for insulin resistance.
Hemp protein is highly bioavailable, though is not a complete protein to replace other sources. One ounce of seed contains 9.2 grams of protein. Hemp is just beginning to be grown in the United States, so sourcing enough hemp seeds to feed your horse may be difficult and expensive. This is changing as hemp is becoming legal to grow in more states. Hemp seeds will not replace your concentrate feed but can be a supplement to the diet.
Hemp oil is commonly found in grocery stores and makes an excellent addition to your horses’ diet for its omega-3 and omega-6. It must be refrigerated in the hot weather, so it may not be convenient to feed depending on your barn. It may be easier to feed the seeds, though even those should be kept cool. You could keep a few days’ worth at the barn and the rest at home in the air-conditioning in the warm weather.
The hemp leaf has been less analyzed for its nutritional value, and more for its medicinal value. However, the leaves are an excellent source of fiber, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. They also contain polyphenols that are antioxidants to help protect the cells from free radical damage. CBD’s are also antioxidants, along with their other medicinal properties. The leaf also contains many more beneficial chemical compounds, such as flavonoids, which have excellent nutritional benefits.
Separating the nutritional properties of hemp from its medicinal ones can be complex, since many nutritional compounds are good for the horses because they enhance health.
Hippocrates, many years ago stated: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” And in the case of hemp, it’s very true. Just be sure to understand which part of the plant you need for your goals.
Dr. Joyce Harman graduated from Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and becae a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She is certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic. She has completed advanced training in homeopathy and herbal medicine and in Chinese medicine. Dr. Harman has served as president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, chairman of the Alternative Medicine (Therapeutic Options) Committee for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and has been a member of the task force on alteratiive medicine for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Since 1990, Dr. Harman owns Harmany Equine Clinic, Ltd., a holistic veterinary practice in Washington, VA. Dr. Harman is working to bring medicinal hemp to the horse world and to educate people about the benefits of this herb.