Yea or neigh, is feeding horses cannabis a good idea?

By Enzo DiMatteo

2019-07-21

 

By KIERAN DELAMONT

For about a day, it was the butt of jokes in the weed world.

CannaHorse, a Toronto-based start-up looking to develop and market cannabis medications for horses, launched a thousand puns: WeedSteed, HorseWeed and so on. Horsefeathers right?

Turns out company president Warren Byrne is a long-time veteran of both the horse racing breeding industries. He was the youngest member ever elected to the governing body of Canadian thoroughbred racing, the Jockey Club of Canada.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Byrne is currently employed by Toronto-based Rancho Park Management, “a full service bloodstock investment and marketing company.” Before that, he managed one of the largest portfolios of thoroughbred stallion investments in the world out of California.

He also runs the Horse Agency, his own consulting firm, on the side.

The venture is being branded as “equine medicine elevated.” According to Byrne, as a mammal with a similar Endocannabinoid system, horses can receive many of the same benefits from cannabinoids as humans. There was a time when horses reportedly had a high time on weed as a treatment for colic as well as indigestion and constipation.

It’s hard not to miss the irony, however, in a company that exists to benefit an industry whose treatment of animal is increasingly seen by activists and the general public as deeply cruel and inhumane.

But Byrne says racetrack owners, “who would like to see horses running more often and not using medication as much” – in other words, those who have the largest financial incentive to overwork horses – are not investors in the company.

“At the moment, we’re a group of horse people,” he says, “…owners, trainers primarily involved in the ownership of performance horses, I guess would be the best way to put it.”

Byrne says CannaHorse is serious about starting clinical trials to develop cannabis-derived medications as soon as possible, and hoping to get veterinarians on board as well. Although, it’s unclear who will pay for those trials.

There are 15 million horses in the United States, and one million in Canada. So there is the potential for a major market for cannabis products designed for horses.

The launch of CannaHorse coincidentally comes at a moment when the ethics of horse racing – and the practice of medicating horses on race day to get them running when they perhaps shouldn’t be – is under investigation.

Animal rights lawyer Camille Labchuk questions the motivation behind CannaHorse’s research.

“It rings hollow if the entire purpose is just to make horses run faster,” says Labchuk.

Performance horses are profit machines for the people that own them and Labchuk says that many decisions, like ‘euthanizing’ injured horses that are dressed up as compassion, are actually driven by profit.

Yes, getting horses off pharmaceuticals is, broadly speaking, a good thing. But not for a sport that Labchuk describes as “inherently cruel.”

“People have to question whether the athletes — in this case, the horses — have any choice in the matter.”

It’s too early to say how cannabis could factor into the way horse racing is regulated.

Byrne says regulators in Ontario are interested in research CannaHorse is currently conducting to ensure that testing they hope to perform on live horses will be safe. Byrne says the company hopes to have products available within a year.

“We do see ourselves as a medical company, as opposed to putting out a trendy new supplement,” Byrne says.

 

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