Cannabis for chickens: The latest revolution on the farm?
List of contents
- What came first, the chicken or the weed?
- The beneficial effects of cannabis on chickens
- Was this use of cannabis already known?
- Can cannabis replace antibiotics on farms?
- Cannabis for animals, the rebirth of a new era
A medical cannabis farm in northern Thailand has been feeding its free-range chickens cannabis instead of antibiotics, an experiment that has yielded some very promising results and one that aims to provide a solution for consumers who don't want to eat chicken meat full of hormones and antibiotics.
In this case, the recent availability of cannabis in Thailand was the driving force behind the project. It all started about a year ago when the owner of a farm growing cannabis for therapeutic use wondered if he could use the leftover cannabis leaves to feed his chickens. Researchers from the Department of Animal and Aquatic Sciences at Chiang Mai University wanted to answer that question and investigate what benefits the plant could bring to the health of these birds, in addition to being a food supplement.
To this end, in January last year, the project was launched on an organic farm in Lampang, where they have been studying the effects of cannabis on a thousand chickens. Although the study is still in the process of scientific peer review and is yet to be published, its results are already making headlines around the world.
What came first, the chicken or the weed?
First of all, it is worth noting that the birds fed with cannabis did not receive antibiotics during the study, nor did they receive any other type of medication. On this basis, the aim of the researchers at Chiang Mai University was to observe different factors in the hens' health that could be improved by cannabis consumption:
- The impact of cannabis on their growth.
- Their susceptibility to diseases.
- The quality of their meat and eggs.
- The cannabinoid content of the meat and eggs produced.
Throughout the study, the hens were fed cannabis in different ways, amounts, and intensities. Some of them were fed a mixture of feed and chopped cannabis leaves, while others were given water boiled with the plant's leaves in their drinkers.
Do chickens feel the psychoactive effects of cannabis?
One of the points to be studied was whether the birds could feel the psychoactive effects of cannabis consumption. In this regard, the hens in the study received doses of up to 0.4% THC. However, the researcher leading the study, Chompunut Lumsangkul, assures that the behaviour of the birds was normal throughout the study and that they showed no signs of being intoxicated at all.
Does cannabis affect those who consume these chickens?
According to the researchers, the THC is completely metabolised before the chickens are slaughtered, so the meat is unable to generate psychoactive effects in consumers. Moreover, considering that the maximum levels fed to poultry are 0.4% THC, it is worth noting that our digestive system has enzymes capable of metabolising cannabinoids, so this should not pose any problem for our health.
The beneficial effects of cannabis on chickens
Although no increase in the size of the chickens supplemented with cannabis was observed, other changes were noted:
- Hens that received cannabis experienced fewer cases of avian bronchitis than those that did not receive the supplement.
- The meat quality improved in terms of protein and fat composition.
- The meat was more tender.
In addition, the researchers noted that out of the 1,000 hens in the study, less than 10% died. This figure in no way exceeds the mortality rate that occurs regularly in other seasons when there is no serious outbreak of any disease that kills the birds.
The cause of these health benefits for the hens is not yet known. However, research suggests that bioactive compounds in cannabis, such as the cannabinoids THC and CBD, may stimulate the gut health of these birds. In this way, it could be activating their immune system and thus improving their overall performance.
Was this use of cannabis already known?
Despite the newness of this study, we can find precedents that support the beneficial properties of feeding hens with cannabis-based supplements.
In 2019, a study measured the effects of feeding hemp seeds to a group of broiler chickens, which also received a dill supplement in their feed. The results were excellent and showed a significant improvement in their gut health.
A year later, a study in Poland succeeded in improving the gut health of a group of chickens with a supplement containing CBD (among other components), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis.
Although these results already indicated that cannabis could have some therapeutic effects on chickens, the Thai study went a step further. Replacing the usual antibiotics given to chickens on large commercial farms could be a turning point in poultry farming practices.
Can cannabis replace antibiotics on farms?
At the moment, more research is needed to find out whether it is possible to replace antibiotics with cannabis leaves on farms. However, Chompunut is planning a second study that will use cannabis extracts containing a higher concentration of cannabinoids to study their effects on diseases in chickens. This study has only been a "screening test" so far and the researchers have yet to test whether cannabis feed helps protect chickens against bird flu or other serious diseases.
In addition, the researchers also want to observe the long-term effects of cannabis on these birds. What is clear is that there is a general market trend toward more organic and antibiotic-free products: the proof of this demand is the consumers' positive reception of poultry meat from these birds.
Thanks to this market trend, and given the improvement in the quality of the chicken meat reported in this study, the organic farm in the cannabis project has seen an increase in the value of its produce on the Thai market. Birds fed the cannabis supplement without antibiotics have sold for twice their usual market value of around 60 baht per kilo (1.64 euros), mainly because buyers want organic chickens that have not been given antibiotics.
This could be because they are not pumping these chickens with hormones to grow faster, allowing them to develop their muscles or cardiovascular systems naturally compared to broilers. Broilers are supposed to reach "slaughter weight" at six to seven weeks of age, but the number of deaths is very high. The abnormally fast growth of their bodies causes crippling and painful skeletal deformities, and the overloading of the birds' underdeveloped cardiopulmonary systems often causes heart failure before six weeks of age.
Cannabis for animals, the rebirth of a new era
Since Thailand legalised cannabis for medicinal use at the end of 2018, cannabis cultivation has been slowly growing in the country, opening up new avenues for its agricultural industry and the market in general. As if that were not enough, in June of this year the legal measures for cannabis use were relaxed, so the cannabis sector in the land of smiles finds itself in a moment of flourishing expansion.
With all this, and following the excellent results of this study in the process of being published, there is great potential for cannabis feed supplementation in the poultry sector, which could benefit from this paradigm shift and promote a more organic and antibiotic-free diet. With a more conscious food movement around the world, people are no longer happy with the way the industry has been raising and preparing their food. This is because most corporations are focused on maximising profits and care very little about the health and well-being of their consumers.
The mere fact that factory farming is allowed is a testament to how little these companies care about us and how much emphasis they place on profit. However, consumers are becoming aware of these practices and, as a result, are opting for more organic options. With the cannabis industry in full swing, this could be a good opportunity for other farmers to make the switch to feeding cannabis to their animals, something that around the world, and until cannabis prohibition, was a common practice that helped produce healthy and strong livestock. At the end of the day, it seems that cannabis will not only revolutionise our health and wellbeing but will also help to revolutionise our diets.
- Effect of dietary supplementation of hemp (Cannabis sativa) and dill seed (Anethum graveolens) on performance, serum biochemicals and gut health of broiler chickens. Mayur M Vispute, Divya Sharma, Asit B Mandal.
- Cannabis-derived cannabidiol and nanoselenium improve gut barrier function and affect bacterial enzyme activity in chickens subjected to C. perfringens challenge. Paweł Konieczka, Dominika Szkopek, Misza Kinsner.