When Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized industrial hemp and retail CBD products, they created a very clear line of delineation between hemp and marijuana. That line defines how much THC a plant can contain and still be considered hemp. It is a good thing Congress established such a clear definition because now it appears that some hemp growers are running into a big problem with THC.
A recent study out of the University of Georgia indicates that a large number of high CBD hemp strains also contain high levels of THC. In addition, many of the tested plants still did not have as much CBD as was expected. Thus, growers face a double-edged sword. They may be growing high CBD hemp that is both illegal under federal law and does not contain enough CBD to make the effort worthwhile.
CBD, THC, and Cannabis
Federal law recognizes the biological differences between marijuana and hemp. But it goes one step further to define hemp as a type of cannabis sativa with a THC content of 0.3% or less. Any hemp plant with a higher THC concentration is in violation of the law. It should be noted that numerous states with medical cannabis programs adhere to the federal government’s definition.
So what is the problem for growers? Different strains of hemp are grown for different purposes. The greatest strain variation is found in the medical cannabis industry, as growers and processors alike work to develop a variety of cannabinoid and terpene profiles in order to expand the number of medical products they can get to market.
It doesn’t matter whether a business enterprise is growing, dealing with cannabis or marijuana processing, or selling medical cannabis products at retail. If anything in the supply chain contains more than 0.3% THC, it is not a legal hemp or CBD product.
High Levels of THC
Getting back to the University of Georgia study briefly, researchers looked at 137 flower samples for the purposes of testing their cannabinoid content. Their biggest concern was finding eighty-nine plants with THC levels that exceeded the federal threshold. Some of the samples contained more than 11%. The highest detected levels were 16.7%.
Another concern was the smaller number of plants with no detectable CBD despite being cultivated under the assumption that they were a high CBD variety. CedarStoneIndustry, a Houston company that manufactures hemp and marijuana processing equipment, says that plants with no CBD production are worthless to the medical market. Imagine being a grower and finding out your entire crop has to be destroyed.
Seeds vs. Clones
Right now, the big issue seems to be whether growers start with seeds or clones. Cloned plants are more expensive, but growers know exactly what they are getting when they put them in the ground. Growers can test them ahead of time to fully understand their CBD and THC content. Seeds, not so much.
The researchers behind the University of Georgia study suggest coming up with some sort of seed certification program that would benefit growers. Such a program would require that seeds be profiled and certified so that growers know what to expect from mature plants. Those growing for the medical market would ostensibly have an easier time avoiding high CBD plants that also contain higher levels of THC.
In the meantime, the hemp industry is experiencing significant growing pains. Those growing pains sometimes result in an entire crop having to be destroyed because it contains too much THC to comply with federal law. It is a big problem that has to be worked out.