Among all the discussions about recreational vs. medical marijuana there’s a third option that’s intriguing growers and even consumers: hemp.
Marijuana’s parent plant is naturally low in THC, one of the active compounds that causes the ‘high’ and other physical and mental reactions associated with ingesting pot in various forms.
Hemp also has a large amount of industrial uses and can be legally grown in several states and countries, even those with tighter controls on marijuana cultivation and sales.
Industrial hemp in the U.S. must contain 0.3 percent or less of THC. The plant thrives outdoors and grows tall and spindly like bamboo.
One product in hemp that has plenty of commercial potential is CBD, a related compound found in both marijuana and in hemp plants. While THC can increase feelings of relaxation, many users say CBD provides natural pain relief.
According to The Hemp Business Journal, the CBD market is the fastest growing sector of cannabis market in the U.S. Of the $2.1 billion in cannabis sales projected by 2021, $450 million is expected to come from hemp sources.
But before we get too far into the potential for CBD, it’s important to learn more about hemp’s history.
Hemp and marijuana are actually biologically similar: both plants are in the cannabis genus, and are varieties of the same sativa species. Hemp was one of the earliest plants to be used in fiber for textiles, rope, building material, mulch, animal bedding and more.
Over time, hemp was selectively bred and cultivated into varieties with higher THC levels, which led to the varieties of marijuana flowers and flavors available today.
Despite the fact that hemp and marijuana are not genetically identical, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still considers general cultivation and possession of both equally illegal.
However, 18 states have legalized hemp CBD oil for supplemental consumption, and 38 states plus Puerto Rico are considering hemp and CBD oil legislation as of press time.
In 2014, the FDA approved limited growing exemptions for Cannabis sativa L., better known as industrial hemp, for research purposes. This rule was amended in 2016 to allow states to oversee agricultural pilot programs for industrial hemp cultivation.
Washington has approved its program and issued the first growing licenses to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
Though the legal hemp industry in the U.S. is currently small, other countries are much more active in producing the plant and products from it, especially China, France, Chile, South Korea, and the Netherlands.
Imported hemp products include clothing and textiles, plus foods like nuts and oils, plus cosmetics like pastes and creams.
Hemp-based clothing and other textiles are readily accessible through companies like Patagonia and REI, as well as smaller suppliers.
In Idaho, hemp isn’t grown commercially but hemp-based nutritional supplements containing CBD are available, including at Pilgrim’s Market in Coeur d’Alene.
Owner Joe Hamilton recently added a few CBD products to the store’s vitamin section.
“In my 25 years working in the nutrition industry, I have rarely come across a supplement that works for so many people for so many different reasons,” he said. “These products have no psychoactive effects and contain basically no THC, so I have felt comfortable selling them in the absence of any clear mandate to the contrary.”
Hamilton feels that hemp products can provide health benefits and be a good alternative to people who can’t or won’t seek THC products.
All forms of marijuana are currently illegal in Idaho, with the exception of about 50 children who are part of a nationwide study for examining the effectiveness of CBD oil to treat a certain form of epilepsy.
Stuart Tomc, vice president of human nutrition at CV Sciences, one of the country’s largest hemp-derived CBD oil and product companies, said it’s partly about perception.
“The genetics are different, but the cannabinoids are exactly the same. And that can be confusing,” said Tomc, whose San Diego-based company has been focusing on discovering the properties and benefits of hemp-based CBD.
Cannabinoids are the hundred or so molecular compounds in hemp and marijuana. Some are more potent, like CBD and THC, while others do less.
“People have this perception that the CBD in marijuana is going to be somehow more efficacious. There is truly an appropriate medical place for THC, and there is an appropriate medical place for CBD. It wasn’t until we were able to separate the two, that we were able to see the difference.”
Tomc said that in 1992, scientists found that mammals, including humans, have cannabinoid receptors throughout our bodies. These receptors can perform vital tasks to maintain a stable internal environment, regardless of our external environment.
So he and his company began developing minerals, nutrients and vitamins to address deficiencies in our diet which can stimulate this system.
Hemp-based CBD has been shown to be therapeutic and helpful for the nervous system health, metabolic health, stress resilience, immune health support, and proven CEDC symptoms.
Possible dietary deficiencies can also contribute to fibromyalgia, migraines, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, seizures, and microglia diseases that can cover certain neurological diseases, like depression or Alzheimer’s.
Tomc said he hopes his products also appeal to customers who want the benefits but not the risk or stigma of marijuana.
“There are people who are afraid or scared or very sick or old or religious, or who are interested in the pain relief alternative to fentanyl but not the psychedelic effects of marijuana,” he said.