Could CBD give a racehorse an unfair advantage?

Could CBD give a racehorse an unfair advantage?

The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) recently filed a medication complaint against a Hall of Fame trainer after one of his horses tested positive for cannabidiol (CBD). While the penalty has not yet been confirmed, it will likely involve disqualifying the animal and returning the first place purse from the animal’s most recent competition.

The horse, Roses and Candy, won a race at Del Mar on Nov. 22, 2020. A sample taken from the horse around the time of the race tested positive for 7-Carboxy-Cannabidiol. Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the CHRB, reportedly told the Los Angeles Times that it was the first CBD violation that he can remember.

The horse’s owner and trainer, Ron McAnally, has reportedly not received a medical violation for one of his animals since 1994. His assistant, Dan Landers, reportedly told Thoroughbred Daily News that the 2020 test result could have be positive because of cross contamination.

Apparently, the horse’s jockey used a CBD product on himself. Landers reportedly suggested that this somehow triggered a positive reaction in the horse’s drug test. Media reports did not list the type of product that the jockey used, so it is not clear how it could have affected the horse’s test.

Why would a trainer be penalized if CBD is legal now?

More and more people seem to be using CBD for themselves and for their dogs and cats. It may seem reasonable to think that CBD could be a natural way to promote wellness in horses as well. Although CBD is legal for humans in California and across the Unites States, it is apparently not allowed for racehorses.

It seems that the main reason racing organizations do not support its use in racehorses is because of its potential ability to affect the performance of racehorses. More specifically, it seems that the compound's ability to reduce anxiety could give a racehorse an unfair advantage.

“CBD, both natural and synthetic forms, are likely to affect the performance of a horse due to its reported anxiolytic effects,” the federation reportedly wrote over a year ago. “This substance is no different than legitimate therapeutics that affect mentation and behavior in horses.”

Last December, the CHRB reportedly notified California trainers of the potential consequences of using CBD in their racehorses.

“My recommendation to the horseman is do not use this product on a racehorse that is going to be subject to testing, which is basically all of them,” Arthur reportedly said at the time. “The risk is so out of proportion to the reward that it would be foolish to use this product on a racehorse.”

Still, CBD is not specifically included on the CHRB’s classification list of drugs. This seems to be adding some confusion to the recent situation.

Media reports indicate that CBD defaults to a class 1, category A drug violation because it is not included in the CHRB’s list. This reportedly could result in the horse being disqualified and the $35,000 purse being forfeited. It could also result in a minimum one-year suspension or a maximum three-year suspension. Additionally, the penalty could include a maximum fine of $25,000 or 25% of the purse, according to Thoroughbred Daily News.

However, CHRB has reportedly been considering adding CBD to its list, and if added, the cannabinoid would be considered a class 3, category B penalty. This would result in a disqualification of the horse and redistribution of the purse. It would also reportedly include a fine up to $10,000 and a minimum 30-day suspension for the first offense.

Is CBD bad for horses?

It is difficult to know with certainty how CBD affects horses because there has been little to no formal research on the subject. However, some horse owners and trainers have reported beneficial outcomes.

CBD has been treated as a prohibited substance in the racing world, but it has been gaining traction among some trainers who work with show horses. Debbie Foley is one such trainer. In a 2019 media interview, Foley described the success she had when providing CBD to one of her horses called Skinny Dipping.

“I would compare her to a child with ADD,” Foley reportedly said. “She has a hard time staying focused on what she’s doing.”

Foley told reporters that CBD oil seemed to improve her horse’s focus, without altering her performance or making her look sleepy or tranquilized. She added that since she started using CBD on the animal, Skinny Dipping has shown and won.

Some reports indicate that CBD could also help horses with inflammation, anxiety and digestive problems. CBD is reportedly available in a variety of products for horses, such as tinctures, pellets, liniment spray and poultices.