Cows Produce Milk With THC

Cows Produce Milk With THC

A new study from researchers in Germany has found that dairy cows fed industrial hemp produced milk with detectable levels of delta-9 THC, the primary marijuana compound associated with the high. In addition, the cows showed behavioral changes, implying that they might have been experiencing the effects of cannabinoids present in hemp feed.

“As we had no data to know how much cannabinoids entered the milk of dairy cows, this research is important,” said Michael Kleinhenz, an assistant professor in beef production medicine at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine who was not involved in the study.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment conducted a study in which they fed 10 lactating dairy cows hemp feed containing varying concentrations of cannabinoids. The team observed the cows' behavior over the course of several weeks and took blood, milk, and fecal samples periodically for lab analysis.

The researchers discovered that the fermentation process had a significant impact on dairy cows. Whole hemp plants that were fermented produced little to no differences when compared to dairy cows whose diet consisted of corn feed.

The cows that were given feed made from cannabinoid-rich hemp leaves, flowers, and seeds exhibited noticeable behavioral changes. Additionally, the milk from the cows showed detectable levels of several cannabinoids including delta-9 THC. Researchers found that these cows consumed up to 86 times the amount of THC required to get humans high.

The observed effects from the research study showed slower heart rate and respiration, "emphasized tongue play, increased yawning, salivation and nasal discharge production," and reddening around a portion of the eyes. Some animals "showed deliberate, occasionally unsteady movement lingered abnormal posture."

Robert Pieper, head of the department of food chain safety for the German institute and co-author of the new study, found that cows given hemp feed ate less and produced less milk.

According to a report from The Washington Post, "That is a strong effect on animal health," said Pieper. "Not a positive effect."

Dr. Kleinhenz's research on steers showed that those who were fed hemp at Kansas State University became more docile, on average.

"We're not sure if they have that 'buzz' or whatever you want to call it," Kleinhenz said. But the cattle's stress hormone levels are lower than average. He believes that the cannabinoids in their feed reduce stress, but we still need to figure out how it exactly works on animals."

Although hemp was legalized in the United States with the 2018 Farm Bill, cannabinoids such as CBD have not been allowed into the U.S food supply by the Food and Drug Administration. In addition, federal regulators have also not yet approved animal feed made from hemp. More research is needed in this area before any progress can be made.

Jeffrey Steiner, director of Oregon State University’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, has experimented with using hemp as a feed supplement for dairy cows, sheep, and poultry. But he warned that the research only began in 2019 and several more years of study are needed before hemp animal feeds can be approved by regulators.

Steiner, who did not have a part in the German study, said that milk enhanced with CBD will not be appearing on shelves anytime soon.

Serkan Ates, an agronomist at Oregon State University, Corvallis says that because cannabinoids can be passed on in milk, “it may not be possible to feed this to high-yielding dairy cows.”

“We could explore using hemp to feed non-food producing animals such as heifers or young lambs,” Ates said.

The executive director of the National Hemp Association, Erica Stark, stated that if regulators eventually approve it, excellent animal feed could be made from hemp. "It's going to be such an immensely large market," Stark said.

Currently, in the U.S., there are shortages of animal feed because of several reasons including crop failures due to droughts and trade tensions with Ukraine.

The study, “Transfer of cannabinoids into the milk of dairy cows fed with industrial hemp could lead to Δ9-THC exposure that exceeds acute reference dose,” was published online by the peer-reviewed journal Nature Food.

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