For thousands of years people around the world have used substances in ritual and therapeutic settings. All too often our War On Drugs has, unfortunately, become a war on the folks who use drugs and on the science that might reveal their potential benefits. For decades studies have demonstrated the benefit of the compounds found in a number of illicit drugs.
The field of Psychodelic Psychotherapy uses MDMA (Escstasy), Psilocybin (Mushrooms) and LSD (Acid) to treat PTSD, anxiety and depression, and for palliative care. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t negative consequences of drug use – on the contrary, I work as a Health Promotion Education in a medical clinic that offers prescription alternatives to folks addicted to opioids, so I see the damage firsthand – but I am suggesting we not throw out the baby with the bath water.
My dog, Lola, is an energetic, active nine year old Standard Poodle, who also has arthritis. We gave her over-the-counter MSM and Glucosamine with no noticeable results. Our veterinarian then prescribed her Metacam (Meloxicam), which has made a big difference. Lots of folks opt to offer their pets cannabis products with positive results as well. I might have gone that route had this medication failed.
Metacam is the one prescription drug recommended for use of pain and inflammation in chickens. Not everyone has access to an avian vet or a vet that will prescribe for a patient they haven’t seen. I do notice that more folks are willing to take their birds for professional care, but that might not be possible for others. In that case, they might be interested at looking at the therapeutic uses of cannabis for their flock.
I posted on three different Facebook chicken groups asking if folks had used cannabis with their birds and if so, how and why. Most of those who responded seemed to have given their birds the trimmed leaves of plants they had grown themselves which amounts to a food additive, rather than for targeted medical use. Several people had used CBD oil to treat pain, neurological or digestive issues. None of them seem to have consulted a vet (which is not surprising given their lack of experience in this field), but gave the products by trial and error with some help from staff at medical marijuana dispensaries or online sites. Some were already using CBD products for their dogs and just gave their birds dosages prorated by weight. Others fed their birds hemp seeds which are a great source of protein and essential fatty acids.
Cannabis vs Marijuana
The terms ‘cannabis’ and ‘marijuana’ are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. Cannabis refers to all products derived from Cannabis sativa or indica plants while the word marijuana refers to parts of, or products derived from, cannabis that contain substantial amounts of the mind-altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabis plants contain about 540 chemicals and some have very little THC. Under U.S. law, those plants are considered ‘industrial hemp’ rather than marijuana.
A variety of Cannabis sativa, hemp has been used for wide variety of purposes for more than 10,000 years: fiber (stems), protein (seeds), and oils (leaves and flowers). Although the hemp plant doesn’t produce a significant amount of THC it produces medicinally rich compounds in high concentrations.
Therapeutic Use Of Cannabis
Medical marijuana uses cannabis to treat diseases or conditions. The plants contain more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids (CBD), which are the active compounds in medical marijuana, each having a different effect on the body. Cannabinoids are similar to chemicals the body naturally makes that are involved in appetite, memory, movement, and pain.
Cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. Due to marijuana’s historical status as an illegal drug, research on the use of cannabinoids has been neglected for a long time. THC and CBD are the main chemicals used for therapeutic use in people, and more recently, animals.
When people use substances (e.g. alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, pharmaceutical or recreational drugs) they travel to the brain and interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters. Some drugs, such as cannabis, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics natural neurotransmitters. This allows the drugs to attach onto and activate the neurons.
In order for a drug to work the organism must have the receptors that allow those compounds to attach to the brain. Chickens have been found to have two cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. The former are found in high numbers in the central nervous system (CNS), while the latter are primarily associated with the immune system.
“Hemp seed is celebrated as the most unsaturated oil derived from the plant kingdom and has been dubbed as nature’s most perfectly balanced oil” (IJAS)
Beneficial Use of Hemp Seeds & CBD In Chickens
- Hemp seeds are rich in healthy fats and essential fatty acids, protein, vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc.
- One study in which chicks were fed dried crushed cannabis sativa seeds demonstrated better feed conversion rates (i.e. greater weight gain for lower feed intake).
- Another study showed that incorporating CBD in feed increased beneficial gut bacterial enzyme activity.
- Increases antibody production against Newcastle Disease virus (NDV) and Infectious Bronchitis virus (IBV).
- Shown to reduce damage to organs by E. coli and Salmonella enteritidis
- Decreases cecal bacterial count; increases body weight in broilers; improves egg production and feed efficiency.
Use of CBD Oil
CBD is a non-intoxicating oil made by extracting CBD from cannabis, then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil.
Most states in the USA have legal medical marijuana and almost 2/3 have legalized or decriminalized its recreational use. I live in Canada where both medical and recreational use is legal. One of the fastest growing groups using CBD products are seniors interested in remedies for a number of health issues. As the demand for alternative pharmaceutical products increases for people so, too, does it for our pets.
Products for animals are available in some of the same forms as people, including edibles (chewable treats and capsules), oils that can be added to food or placed under the tongue, and topical creams or balms that are massaged directly on the skin. Like the CBD products meant for humans, each of these CBD pet care product types appears to have a different effect on the body.
Unfortunately, there are many unanswered questions about the effects of CBD in pets. Studies are underway to look at the potential benefits of CBD for controlling pain, anxiety and epilepsy in dogs.
Many veterinarians are recommending CBD oils and extract treats for dogs and cats with certain conditions. Choosing to administer CBD to your chickens will be more complicated as very few vets will have experience and there aren’t studies done on safe dosages, withdrawal periods or which products might be most effective for specific conditions.
Ask your vet if they have any experience or are willing to do some research about finding what might work for you. If not, you may have to do some experimenting on your own regarding dosage and observation of side effects in your birds.
Your best source of advice is a knowledgeable staff person in a medical cannabis shop that understands how the different strains of the plants work. You might even find someone curious about dispensing to a chicken patient.
Start with a low dosage and increase slowly. Beware of using with other medications in case there are drug interactions.
There are numerous online sites dedicated to the use of CBD products for dogs and cats, but I only found one that mentioned recommended dosages for chickens.
I spoke to an employee of an all-natural remedies company with extensive experience working with health issues in animals.
“We do know that chickens have an endocannabinoid system. Introducing a small amount of additional cannabinoids will help the system do its job, which is keeping the body in homeostasis. Conditions in chickens that might benefit from giving CBD oil include: reducing anxiety, pain and inflammation; aiding digestion, and may even help with cancer/tumours.
We haven’t helped a chicken, but we did treat a turkey who suffered from extreme anxiety and was pulling her feathers out. We started with a very small amount: 1 drop of CBD oil in coconut oil, given orally twice a day, and increased the dosage up to 5 drops twice a day. She calmed right down and flourished, with her feathers growing back.
We have helped a lot of farm animals and many rescue organizations. Your readers should know though, that currently feeding hemp seed (just plain old hemp) or cannabis products to livestock has not been approved in Canada yet.”
Credits: Cannabis Place; Italian Journal of Animal Science; National Institute of Health; Research Gate, Veterinary Research; Virginia Tech; WebMD. Featured Image: Earth Uncut