Researchers at Chiang Mai University’s Department of Animal and Aquatic Sciences in northern Thailand have introduced marijuana as an antibiotic alternative into the diets of free-range chickens.

I’ve covered a lot of potential antibiotic replacements in my time at WATTPoultry, but I’ll admit this is the most unusual alternative I’ve seen.

Antibiotic use in poultry and other livestock is under scrutiny due to growing antibiotic resistance and consumer concerns. Resistance, when bacteria develops the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them, can devastate poultry flocks and affect the livelihood of farmers. 

In addition, a growing number of poultry producers are pledging to raise birds antibiotic-free or with no antibiotics ever in response to these concerns and the entire industry is on the hunt for drug-free alternatives that boost bird health.

Developing GanjaChicken

The experiment, although still in its early days, is yielding promising results, Chompunut Lumsangkul, an assistant professor leading the study, told Business Insider.

Fewer than 10% of the 1,000 chickens in the experiment have died since the beginning of the research in January 2021. This mortality rate is approximately the same as it was prior to the experiment. In addition, the cannabis-supplemented chickens experienced fewer cases of avian bronchitis, at least anecdotally.

The birds were given ground up cannabis in their food or water – sometimes at double the THC level legal for people. THC is the substance in cannabis can cause a high. 

Although Lumsangkul admits that she doesn’t know if the birds became high as a result of the special feed, she did note that the chickens exhibited natural behaviors at all times. 

Consumers in Thailand are willing to pay more for the final antibiotic-free organic chicken product – nicknamed “GanjaChicken” – according to Lumsangkul.

"Consumers in Thailand have been paying attention to this because demand is increasing for chickens and many farmers have to use antibiotics. So some customers want to find a safer product," she said.

Can cannabis replace antibiotics?

Why the experimental flock of chickens fed cannabis remain healthy is still a mystery and the compound still hasn’t been tested against birds challenged with avian influenza or other diseases, Lumsangkul admits.

However, the bioactive compounds in marijuana known as cannabinoids could play a role, promoting metabolic activity and boosting the bird’s immune system.