When you think of cannabis, you probably don’t think of horses or the potential medicinal benefit to animals. However, the cannabinoids found in cannabis have been shown to provide similar benefits in animals that are noted with human patients. In this interview, Emma Davis, founder of Mikko’s Choice, delves into how some cannabinoids—such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)—have provided medicinal benefits to horses. Davis also discusses her mustang, Mikko, who inspired her to launch her own cannabis and hemp product brand.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and Mikko’s story?
Emma Davis: I grew up around animals at home, at my childhood barn, and working in a veterinary hospital—all before college. Then I received my undergraduate degree in Animal Science and Masters in Animals and Public Policy. I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian my whole life. Unfortunately, I broke my back riding a horse. I deferred from school to learn how to move again. That is when I discovered the healing properties of cannabis and would eventually shift career paths into where I am now.
I adopted Mikko as an untouched wild mustang from the Bureau of Land Management. At the time I was working for a ranch and was trying to train him for their operation. That was two months before my accident. After my accident, the ranch sold him, and I lost track of him. Two years later, he randomly appeared on Craigslist. He was in rough shape physically, but more so mentally. I don’t know what he went through, but it was bad. I was told to kill him because he was so dangerous. A few people tried to help me with him, but he broke their bones. So, I decided to just go for it on my own. Many years later he now helps me with similar problem horses. You would never know about his past, but he only lets me ride him—anyone else he bucks off.
What inspired you to create Mikko’s Choice?
Davis: Mikko! When I found him again, I was basically recovered from my accident and deep in the human cannabis industry running a delivery service with my brother. This was before states were recreational, I was operating under medical laws in California. I saw how the plant was helping humans and knew it could help animals too. At the same time, I used it to send my wolf dog's hepatocellular carcinoma into remission for four years, which was unheard of. Between that and Mikko’s explosive anxiety, I knew I needed to create a product for animals—there were none, especially for horses. I started there and used connections in the industry to create hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD) pellets. I gave it out to friends to try on their horses and within a few months brought it to market for the general public.
Can you explain the difference between a phytocannabinoid and a cannabinoid?
Davis: A phytocannabinoid can be defined as any natural plant derived product that can interact with a cannabinoid receptor in the body or that shares chemical similarities to cannabinoids. A cannabinoid is also a natural plant derived product that bonds to the same receptors. These specific compounds are found in the Cannabis Sativa plant and although there are hundreds of them, the popular ones are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
How have you seen CBD help horses? Are there other cannabinoids that they can benefit from?
Davis: I am not someone who believes CBD will help with “everything.” However, I have been pleasantly surprised by client testimonials. I’ve seen CBD help horses with trailer loading anxiety, pacing and weaving, general anxiety, laminitis, chronic and acute lameness, Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis (DSLD), and inflammation from injury and sore muscles. In the human space, cannabinol (CBN) is becoming popular to help with sleep. Some people think it may also help with pain. It is not ready for animals yet, but that is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Have you used CBD or other cannabinoids on other animals?
Davis: Yes. I’ve used both hemp and cannabis-derived CBD on animals and it works beautifully. I’ve also used cannabis derived THC and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is a non-psychoactive form of THC, on dogs. You can give THC to dogs, but it has to be no more than 2 mg–basically not enough to get them high, just enough to benefit them. I’ve used 30:1 CBD:THC ratio cannabis products for dogs with arthritis and anxiety. That ratio is also what I used to treat my dog's cancer, but sending it into remission was definitely a rare case and I was giving him A LOT. I have also used a 1:1 CBD:THCA ratio for the same reasons. I like this formulation because you can give more THC without getting the animal high. The trick is to keep the product in the fridge so it doesn’t heat up, then there will be a high. THC and THCA are great for pain relief and cancer.
Do you experience any stigma that surrounds cannabis/hemp?
Davis: I did in the early years (2015-2019). People thought it was for stoners, that it wouldn’t work, and that I was stashing cash under the mattress. As time has gone on people are becoming more accepting and understanding of these products.
Have your veterinarians been receptive to the use of CBD? Is there any specific education you think vets need on this area?
Davis: Vets need A LOT of education about these products. This is something I aim to focus on in the coming year. I want to be a source of information for them. In the beginning vets couldn't and wouldn't talk about using CBD, some are still very much that way. These days though, I have run into many more vets who are open to it. Although, they don’t typically advise their clients how to use the products or which ones to use.
What advice do you have for pet parents looking to use cannabinoids for their animals?
Davis: Find a brand who is transparent about their products—they share lab results, source from the USA, manufacture in the USA, and are happy to answer any questions you have. Do NOT go for cheap products. Find a product that has at least 20 mg in a single serving with 1000 + mg in the entire product. Many products have less than 500 mg in the entire product which can equate to 4 mg per serving, which is nothing! Products like that drive me insane. It's a money grab with no benefit to your animal. This is why Mikko’s Choice has very high concentrations of CBD.
Do you participate in any cannabis research to help benefit animals?
Davis: I would love to, but that would be a conflict of interest. I’m a believer in more research and am always happy when studies come out.
Would you like to see more research and cannabis or hemp options for animals?
What kind of charity work are you involved in?
Davis: I donate a portion of sales to various animal rescues. On a personal level, I also foster and rescue animals.
With animals, are you held to the same regulations and testing standards as the cannabis market intended for human consumption?
Davis: No, but we should be. I treat Mikko’s Choice as if we are. All products are tested by my manufacturers during the process and third party tested after. This ensures I know exactly how much CBD and THC is in the products, as well as heavy metals, molds, and pesticides. Spoiler: there are no THC, heavy metals, molds, and pesticides.
Is there anything you would like to see change in the cannabis industry in the next 5 years?
Davis: From a business side, I would love to be treated the same as any other business. This means access to banks without fear of accounts being shut down, advertisements on social media, and advertisements in traditional media. We can finagle advertisements, but they have to be very vague and lead to landing pages. This weirds out customers, understandably, and just perpetuates the sketchy stereotypes that can surround the industry.
Would you like to add anything else?
Davis: I hope customers choose to shop small with brands that focus on high quality products and consumer education. The price might be higher, but there is so much time, experience, knowledge, and love that goes into those products. Think about who and what you’re supporting.