If there is one thing that I can’t seem to get off my soapbox about, its industrial hemp and the impact it is going to have on a great many aspects of our everyday life. We’ve talked about the relative ease of its cultivation and how it could be grown on a truly gigantic scale (potentially hundreds of thousands of acres) in Colorado and several other states, and we’ve discussed its use as biofuel, as bio-char, as building material, as a way to make plastics, as a way to reduce our reliance on lumber and clear cutting, for use in the manufacture of clothing, for use in the manufacture of high tensile rope… both online and in person, people familiar with The Rodman Law Group know that given the slightest opening I will take any opportunity to tout industrial hemp as a wonder crop.
Today though, I want to talk about a specific use for Hemp but we’re going to come at it from the direction of medical marijuana. I want to make sure I don’t cause any confusion here: industrial hemp IS NOT the same thing as marijuana. While they are both cannabis cultivars, hemp contains less than .3% THC by dry volume, and it would be physically impossible to get high from smoking it. This is because THC is the primary psychoactive component in Marijuana, but it is far from the only cannabinoid in cannabis.
Earlier today, the website Refinery29 published an article titled “Why THC Isn’t the Only Thing in Weed that Matters.” It’s a well-written piece that you can, and should, read here. The article discusses the benefits and potential effects of Cannabidiol (CBD), the second best known cannabinoid contained in cannabis plants. There are several cannabinoids that can be found in cannabis, CBN, CBC, CBG, THCA, CBDA, CBGA to name a few, but most scientific research has focused on THC and CBD. Even then, most of the research that has been conducted on the more “famous” cannabinoids has focused on THC, and for many years most of the (medically) negative and positive effects of marijuana were attributed to THC.
THC causes the psychotropic effects marijuana is famous for (euphoria, altered mental states, short term memory loss) by activating something called the cannabinoid receptor type one (CB1). This receptor is found almost exclusively in the nervous system (mostly in the brain) and is associated with everything from movement, to memory formation, to anxiolytic and anxiogenic modulation. These discoveries, coupled with the fact that CBD was actively being bred out of many marijuana strains, led to research on CBD being deemed not be as important as research on THC.
Luckily, this trend has been changing. The compound CBD, which exerts its effects primarily through the cannabinoid receptor type two (CB2), was first identified in the 1940s, but was largely ignored until the 1970s and 1980s, when scientists first started to notice it could calm seizures in rodents. From there, its popularity faded again until around 2006, when researchers discovered CB2 receptors in the brain. Up until that discovery, it was thought that CB2 receptors were mostly found in various immune system tissues throughout the human body. Around the same time it, was discovered the CBD could also exert influence on CB1 receptors but as an antagonist rather than an agonist, in other words CBD could have the opposite effect of THC on the CB1 receptor. This means that on its own, CBD tends to produce anti-inflammatory and pain reducing effects while not causing the high that THC does.
With the renewed interest in CBD, researchers began to discover many new and exciting properties of the compound. CBD has anti-psychotic effects and some studies show it to be an alternative treatment for schizophrenia that is safe and well-tolerated (as in it has fewer side effects than traditional and second generation anti-psychotics. CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety in social anxiety disorder and it has also demonstrated antidepressant-like effects in animal models of depression. Perhaps most famously, preliminary studies, and countless anecdotal accounts, have shown that CBD can help in the treatment of Dravet syndrome, a rare form of catastrophic epilepsy that begins in infancy that is difficult to treat.
At the beginning of this piece I said that this post was going to be about one of the uses of industrial hemp, and clearly I am talking about its medicinal properties, but so far I have barely mentioned it. The reason this post is an industrial hemp post is that while hemp must have a THC content of .3% or lower, there is no limit on its CBD content. CBD obtained from marijuana plants is subject to stringent regulations as marijuana is still listed as a schedule 1 drug (don’t get me started on that one). This is where industrial hemp comes in. While CBD is technically a scheduled drug, the fact that it has no psychotropic effects means that regulations are not as strictly enforced. Moreover, researchers can often secure hemp oil from hemp grown outside the United States and extract CBD for their research from the oil. This is an expensive process and a readily available domestic supply would likely cut research costs and reduce logistical issues significantly. With the legalization of hemp in Colorado, growers in this state can grow as much Hemp as there is arable land (i.e. they are not restricted to indoor grow operations like medical and recreational marijuana) and can extract as much CBD as they want. Colorado grown CBD is still technically only legal for sale in the state of Colorado, but it is extremely likely that the ban on CBD will be struck down far sooner than the ban on THC. Even the Governor of Utah, our notoriously conservative neighbor to the West, has issued a decree that the citizens of Utah may cross into Colorado for the purpose of purchasing CBD and legally bring it back to Utah with them (crossing state borders with an illegal substance is obviously still a federal crime, but with law enforcement on both sides of the border having been instructed to allow such activities, the chances of actually running afoul of federal law are virtually zero).
The point is that in addition to all the uses detailed at the beginning of this post, industrial hemp would appear to be a nearly unlimited source for a medicine, CBD, whose medical properties have only very recently begun to be explored seriously and whose potential for treating patients seems to increase every month or so. The wonder crop looks like it may become a wonder drug in the very near future, and the people who get in on the hemp boom now, before the inevitable rush, will not only be pioneers in their fields, they will also likely reap huge financial rewards as their product makes its way into standard medical treatments. There can be little doubt, hemp is going to have a HUGE impact on Big Agriculture and Big Pharma.