CBD and the Equestrian

Rebecca Lewis

By Rebecca Lewis

As an equestrian, you are likely no stranger to pain and stress from time spent in the saddle, working around the barn, or traveling to competitions. Equestrians, like other athletes, often self-medicate with NSAIDs, alcohol, or pharmaceuticals, and incorporate modalities such as chiropractic, massage, reiki, or other therapies into wellness routines for their bodies and minds.

Lately, more equestrian athletes are considering CBD and asking intelligent questions. What is it? What are its benefits? How is it used? Does quality vary, and does that matter? This article delivers the answers.

Is CBD the same as marijuana?

No – let’s clear up that misunderstanding right away. Derived from the hemp plant, CBD is non-psychotropic due to its very low levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, at 0.3% or less. Marijuana’s psychotropic “high” comes from vastly higher levels of THC at more than 20%. While both CBD and marijuana are species of cannabis sativa, that’s where their resemblance diverges.

What is CBD?  

CBD stands for “cannabidiol,” one of 140+ cannabinoids found in the hemp plant. A primary component of the hemp plant, it offers health benefits to humans and animals. Hemp also has plant compounds called terpenes and flavonoids.  These are full of phytonutrients, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and antivirals.  CBD has been proven to be non-addictive, safe, non-intoxicating, and is typically well-tolerated, as reported by the World Health Organization in 2018. There is no high, euphoria, nor physical dependence or abuse potential. And, with the passing of the Farm Bill in 2018, hemp CBD is legal in all 50 states.

How does CBD work? 

All mammals have an Endocannabinoid System (ECS). This system was discovered in the early 1990s, and the science is exploding with the variety of ways it interacts in both health and disease states. The ECS processes our bodies’ own naturally-made endocannabinoids, and has been found to be responsible for regulating many functions such as pain control, sleep, learning and memory, temperature control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating and digestion.  You can read more about it at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-endocannabinoid-system-essential-and-mysterious-202108112569

When you experience stress, whether physical or psychological, your body uses more of its naturally-occurring ECS cannabinoids to maintain balance. But the ECS can only produce so much on its own. In our industrialized world, with exposure to pollution, plastics, pesticides, and the daily physiological stresses of modern living such as social media, news, and traffic, our ECS can become depleted. This can present as compromised immunity, aches and pains, anxious thoughts, low mood, indigestion, and other symptoms. Use of CBD can support your ECS with plant-based molecules similar to those your body naturally produces, to provide a sufficient amount of cannabinoids for it to function optimally.

How is CBD used?  

Several delivery options make using CBD easy and effective. It is available in tincture or jellie form, as a cream or roll-on, and in skin care and bath products. Maximum efficacy is achieved when using an internal product, such as a jellie or tincture, to replete and balance the body’s naturally occurring ECS. 

Two terms are important to know when choosing a CBD:

  • “Broad spectrum” hemp flower extract contains no THC. It offers the diverse flower profile of CBD and over 140 other cannabinoids, without any trace of THC, which has been removed.
  • “Full spectrum” hemp flower extract contains less than 0.3% THC by volume. It contains the complete and full flower botanical profile, CBD and all the other cannabinoids. Its trace amount of THC of less than 0.3% does not produce a high, euphoria, or intoxication.

What are some benefits of using CBD?

Relief for pain and inflammation. Equestrians are no strangers to pain, whether sporadic or daily. It can be difficult to find effective, safe, long-term remedies for aches, tension, and inflammation. We have witnessed the tragedy of wide-spread opioid prescriptions and the significant risks of over-using over-the-counter solutions like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Recent studies have found that CBD is emerging as a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits, and addresses pain quite well. More about this at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7023045/

Improved mental health. “Mental health” includes anxiety, fear, performance stress, or negative self-talk, among other markers. Caring for one’s mental health is an essential part of overall wellness. The stressful experience of the global health pandemic has brought to the forefront an awareness of our moods, emotions, and the physical manifestations of stress, tension, and overwhelm. While much has been written on pharmaceutical options, therapy solutions, and emotional self-regulation tools, very little has focused on understanding the ECS and CBD as a vital component for improved calm, ease, and mental wellness.

Better sleep health. Many people struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get high quality rest on a nightly basis. While there is talk of the circadian rhythm and sleep habits, rarely discussed is the ECS, which influences sleep in multiple locations in the brain. Yet environmental, emotional, and physical stressors deplete this system of our naturally circulating endocannabinoids. Sleep is important for the body’s regeneration and muscle healing. Research into the ECS and plant-based cannabinoids is finding evidence for what many have found personally via experience: CBD can fill in the gaps in our physiology that daily life can deplete, and when the ECS is replenished, elusive high-quality sleep is discovered. 

Is CBD legal and safe?

The Farm Bill of 2018 allows for CBD from the hemp plant to be legal in all 50 states, provided it has less than 0.3% THC.  But note that the FDA has not yet set standards for CBD products specifically. Understanding the tips below will assist you in selecting CBD products:

  • It is crucial that products are USDA certified organic, so you can feel confident that the soil, water, growing, and manufacturing processes are clean.
  • The healing properties and cannabinoids of the hemp plant are concentrated in the flower itself. If the product label says it has “aerial parts” or “whole flower,” you are getting filler. Stems and stalks don’t carry any benefits.
  • Is the producer a “vertically integrated” company, meaning they control the product from seed to bottle? Or do they get their hemp from multiple sources? If the label doesn’t say so, the company’s website should.
  • Is the oil in the product organic MCT, known to be the most effective and bioavailable carrier oil to deliver CBD to your system?
  • Look for third-party validation to ensure the company is producing what they claim.
  • Are the cannabinoids being extracted via a CO-2 extraction method, or is the company using butane or other solvents that are bad for you and the environment?
  • Does the product have a QR code on the bottom leading you to a Certificate of Analysis? The COA third-party testing tool will tell you what’s in your bottle (cannabinoids) and what’s not in your bottle (heavy metals, toxins), and will guarantee the amount of CBD and THC, if any.

Important for competitors:

Competitors in a United States Equestrian Federation rated show must follow the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA) guidelines (updated November 29, 2021), which allows the use of cannabidiol (CBD). The USADA notes that CBD is permitted according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) so long as it is THC-free. For both national and international competitions, this author strongly recommends that you check USADA, WADA, and FEI websites for the most up-to-date information.

~This information is intended for educational purposes only. It is not considered medical advice. This information is not for diagnosis of any health condition, nor do we claim CBD as able to treat any medical conditions. Always consult your medical clinician prior to utilizing CBD. 

~About the author: Rebecca has been a wellness advocate with Green Compass Global since 2020. She has been a member of the United States Equestrian Federation since the late 1980s. She lives in Santa Rosa, California, on four wooded acres, with her husband, Warren, and their pets.  

~This article was reviewed by Lea Durante, NP, of Napa, CA.


  1. I can’t help but smile, thinking about how we riders sometimes self-medicate. But the questions about CBD are of real interest. To find out that this is not a “high” marijuana, but something that can support our body and mind is impressive. In general, it was interesting!

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