Cows, Hemp and THC — Facts not Hype


Cows, Hemp and THC -- Facts not Hype

Headlines in November raced with news that cows exhibited intoxicated behavior after being fed high-THC “hemp silage” by German food risk-assessment researchers.

PanXchange Blog

Headlines in November raced with news that cows exhibited intoxicated behavior after being fed high-THC “hemp silage” by German food risk-assessment researchers. Cows showed “pronounced tongue play, increased yawning, salivation” as well as bloodshot eyes and “careful, occasionally unsteady gait, unusually long standing and abnormal posture,” the study said. 

Researchers wanted to see how co-products (silage) from the hemp industry, when fed to lactating cows, might result in milk with high delta-9 THC and other intoxicating cannabinoids. 

Reactions to the study published November 4 in Nature magazine dismayed US hemp animal feed advocates. 

For decades  now, hemp feed supporters have patiently asked the FDA to approve hemp grain for animal feed – grain that has been considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for human consumption since the 1990s. 

The study stirred up fears of intoxicating THC hidden in dairy products.

But buried by the comic optics evoked by stoned Holstein Friesian dairy cows was the study’s good news: Cows fed up to around half-pound of whole plant hemp “silage A” with very low cannabinoid concentration had “no effect on physiological parameters and health.” 

In comparison, researchers concocted a high-THC hemp blend (silage E) with seeds, flower and leaves in levels with “up to 86 times more ∆9-THC” than the amount per kilogram by body weight needed to observe intoxicated behavior in humans!  No surprise that these poor bovines showed the health effects they exhibited, researchers concluded. 

The study also showed that cows stopped eating the silage E feed after two days–which has been observed in other palatability feed trials. Livestock just don’t like the pungency of terpenes in high-THC hemp.

So how does this study relate to actual proposals to approve hemp for animal feed?

First of all, this research was not part of a feed trial, but a risk-analysis study. Furthermore, these German researchers used cannabis material with THC levels so high it would not be considered legal hemp in the United States.  

Secondly, in the real world, no one wants to feed THC or CBD to cows. Groups such as the Hemp Feed Coalition are pursuing approvals for hemp grain and its derivatives – which show little to no traces of cannabinoids if properly cleaned. 

Silage is of interest in the feed campaign, but PanXchange agrees that until we know acceptable tolerance and withdrawal parameters or develop a 0% cannabinoid variety, the FDA will be skeptical of approving plant material ingredients.

Even if silage were approved, would cows eat it? 

Feed studies for silage and plant material we’ve seen show that cows fed fiber hemp stalks seemed to actually like it or be indifferent against the control. But cows rejected plant feed from so-called “spent material” or CBD stalks, which have a high hurd percentage and rougher fiber bark. 

“I have seen very few articles cause quite a ruckus like this one,” long time hemp animal feed advocate Hunter Buffington of element6 Dynamics wrote in a social media post. 

“In my opinion, the goal of this research was to investigate intoxication; reinforced by the fact that the research was conducted by risk-assessment [researchers] and not animal scientists,” Buffington added. 

Hemp feed advocates are promoting the parts of the hemp plant – seeds and stalks – that don’t produce intoxicating cannabinoids. Furthermore, even if high-terpene animal feed were being promoted, livestock taste avoidance would make the feed fail. 

This study reinforces what we already knew – that non-intoxicating hemp products, especially grain, are not harmful to cows – nor the milk they produce.