The effects of cannabidiol on immune function and health parameters in senior horses

Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2023 Mar;257:110549. doi: 10.1016/j.vetimm.2023.110549. Epub 2023 Jan 19.


Cannabidiol (CBD) has potential to reduce pain and inflammation in humans leading to the interest of use in equine. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of CBD on immune function by measuring inflammatory cytokines and antibody responses to vaccination, as well as other health parameters in senior horses. Horses were orally-dosed with CBD (2 mg/kg: 13 horses) or control (soy oil: 14 horses) daily for 90 days, from July 2021 to November 2021. Peripheral blood samples were collected on days 0, 30, 60, and 90 before administering treatments. On day 90 all horses were kept on treatment and vaccinated with an equine influenza vaccine and blood samples were collected post-vaccination on days 14 and 21. For all time points, plasma samples were analyzed for determination of CBD and metabolites, 7-OH CBD and 7-COOH CBD, using tandem mass spectrometry. For time points 0, 30, 60 and 90, blood samples were analyzed for CBC and chemistry. Additionally, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were isolated, stimulated with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) and ionomycin, stained intracellularly for interferon gamma (IFN-γ) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) then analyzed via flow cytometry. Real-time PCR (RT-PCR) analyzed both stimulated PBMCs and whole blood for cytokine gene expression. Inflammatory proteins C-reactive protein, interleukin 1 receptor agonist, and prostaglandin E2 were measured with equine-specific enzyme linked immunosorbent assays. Thyrotropin-releasing hormone stimulation test and oral sugar test were performed on all horses before and after the study to analyze metabolic function. Hemagglutination inhibition (HI) titers were measured for immune responses pre- and post-vaccination. All data were analyzed using either a paired t-test or a two-way repeated measures analysis of variance (significance P < 0.05). Plasma concentrations of CBD and metabolites were determined with 7-COOH CBD, the most significant metabolite, in CBD treated horses compared to control treated horses. A significant decrease was determined for whole blood inflammatory cytokine expression of IFN-γ at day 60, and for IL6 at day 60 and 90 for CBD-treated horses when compared to control horses. CBD did not significantly affect any other immune factors, HI titers, or health parameters. This study demonstrated that treatment with CBD reduced some inflammatory cytokine production with no negative side effects as measured by CBC or chemistry profiles. This study reveals the initial understanding of CBD in the horse, however more in-depth research is needed to fully understand its efficacy on the health of the horse.

Keywords: Cannabidiol; Cytokines; Equine; Immune function; Inflammation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabidiol*
  • Cytokines
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Immunity
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear* / metabolism


  • Cannabidiol
  • Cytokines
  • Interferon-gamma