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Hemp herb takes the spotlight

Ellen Campbell

Sunday, December 16, 2018

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Cannabis sativa, a variety of ganja, has a cousin. Her name is hemp. She is less delicate, and not as beautiful as her cousin. Hemp is hardier and more functional than the rest of the cannabis family and is well known for the industrial purposes for which her by-products are used. She is a changeling with the ability to gradually convert ganja plants to versions of herself. In Jamaica, ganja cultivators fear the introduction of hemp because of its power to cross-pollinate. As well they might.

For years, hemp has stood in the shadows of the “glamorous ganja”, overlooked in the recent rush for green gold as investors flock to the promise of wealth that ganja offers. However, today hemp turned the tables and stole the spotlight.

Hemp is legalised and reclassified.

Quietly, and without fanfare, the US Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. The president of the USA is expected to sign the Bill without delay. The new Bill legalised hemp; it is now deemed an agricultural product for the first time after 50 years of being regulated in the same way as ganja. Mitch McConnell, leader of the US Senate, said, “My Hemp Farming Act, as included in the Farm Bill, will not only legalise domestic hemp, but it will also allow state departments of agriculture to be responsible for its oversight.”

This change in the hemp classification removes its regulatory control from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The Farm Bill provides benefits for farmers to grow hemp with access to crop insurance. The US cultivation of hemp is expected to double or triple in one year.

What is hemp?

Hemp possesses very little of the psychoactive ingredient delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The USA places a limit of 0.3 per cent of THC in the plant to preserve the entourage effect for which some amount of THC is needed. Jamaican law allows one per cent THC or less. The cultivation practices for hemp are different when compared to ganja.

Essentially, ganja is a horticultural crop grown for its THC and CBD content, while hemp has been an agricultural crop grown for seeds and fibre. Many consumer-based products such as fibre, paper, textiles, rope, and biofuel are derived from hemp. Its seeds and oil are used in the wellness and cosmetic industry, respectively. Importantly, hemp also produces CBD that can be used in the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industry. However, the levels of CBD found in the buds and leaves of the ganja plant exceed the amounts found in leaves and stalk of hemp by about 20 per cent.

Who will benefit from hemp legalisation?

The legalisation of hemp has created new opportunities for US-based universities. At the recently concluded 76th Annual Conference of Professional Agricultural Workers at Tuskegee University, Alabama, most of leaders of the historical black land grant colleges were keen to discuss new opportunities available to them. There was concern expressed about the extent to which traditional, small black farmers and people formerly incarcerated for using cannabis would be able to enter the hemp industry and benefit from the impending boon. Academics and farmers were concerned about equity, social justice and reparations. As an invitee to the conference, I heard a common refrain from Jamaica: How and when will the small farmer benefit from the nascent cannabis business?

Implications for patient use

Hemp-based CBD products are already in pharmacies in Jamaica. There is an ongoing healthy debate about which CBD is better. There are testimonials in favour of both varieties. We have the capacity to research both strains to determine if there are any substantial differences between structure and substance, including variations, in the presence of important terpene constituents. Until this happens, we are engaging in speculation.

As a pharmacist, I know that we are comparing the same molecule. Therefore, my concern is largely related to the cultivation practices used and the quality of the soil in which the plants are grown. Cannabis will absorb most things from the soil, including chemical pesticides and residue from nuclear radiation. Further, as I understand it, Jamaica is not ready to cultivate hemp plants for any purpose. Nevertheless, it is important to consider that the legalisation of hemp in the USA could challenge the position of Jamaican CBD isolated from ganja. Therefore, more research is urgently needed to concretise the differences between hemp and ganja accompanied by consultation to generate pragmatic, progressive and intelligent national policies related to the hemp herb.

Ellen Campbell Grizzle, PhD, RPh, is a registered pharmacist with over 40 years experience and the Focal Point, Herbal Medicines and Cannabis Enterprise, University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or ellen.grizzle@utech.edu.jm.


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