19 June 2015

Myth and Reality: Cannabis and Hemp

Cannabis Hemp Engraving
F P Nodder, May 1788
One of the most common misunderstandings about cannabis and hemp is that cannabis is the female and hemp is the male of the plant; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. A simple botany lesson shows the botanical name of a plant consists of 'Botanical Latin' words, denoting a generic name (the genus) and the specific epithet (the species, usually two words, but can be three).

Cannabis sativa L., is a member of the Cannabaceae family. Cannabis is the plant genus, sativa (Latin for 'cultivated') is the species (and is included in many plant species names, e.g., rice is Oryza sativa L.), and the 'L.' (not always used) denotes the authority who first named the species, Carolus (Carl) Linnaeus, the Swiss botanist considered the 'Father of Taxonomy'.

Cannabis sativa L., is;
  • an annual,
  • herbaceous - denoting or relating to herbs (in the botanical sense),
  • usually dioecious - either exclusively male or exclusively female,
  • or monoecious - having the stamen (male, pollen-containing anther and filament) and the pistil (female, ovule-bearing) in the same plant (hermaphrodite).
Thus, as the Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party of Australia so rightly point out, cannabis is a herb.

A high-resin crop, cannabis is generally planted about 1.2-1.5m (four to five feet) apart and mostly used for its medicinal/therapeutic leaves and buds. Hemp is a low-resin crop, generally planted about 10 cm (four inches) apart, mostly used for its versatile stalk and seed. Different types of cannabis are classified as strains and different kinds of hemp are classified as varieties and cultivars.

Hemp was, for medieval Europeans, a generic term used to describe any fibre. With European expansion, fibre plants encountered during exploration were commonly called 'hemp'. Thus there is a bewildering variety of plants carrying the name hemp, including; Manila hemp (abac√°, Musa textilis), Sisal hemp (Agave sisalana), New Zealand hemp/flax (Phormium tenax), Brown/Madras/Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), Indian hemp (jute, Corchorus capsularis or C. clitorus) and Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum).

Cannabis Sativa Botanical Illustration
John Sowerby 1883
The botanical confusion was compounded by the introduction of one word, 'marihuana' (now commonly 'marijuana'). The word was first coined in the 1894 Scribner's Magazine feature "The American Congo" by John G. Bourke. Bourke was describing the native flora that flourished on the banks of the Rio Grande River that forms the border between the US state of Texas and Mexico. The term was adopted by the United States Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930's to describe all forms of Cannabis sativa L., and to this day, North Americans, in particular, continue to call the plant 'marijuana' without regard to botanical distinctions. 

The international definition of hemp was developed by a Canadian researcher, Ernest Small, in 1971. His arbitrary 0.3% THC limit became standard around the world as the official limit for 'legal' hemp, after he published a little-known, but very influential book, The Species Problem in Cannabis. In his book, Small discussed how “there is not any natural point at which the cannabinoid content can be used to distinguish strains of hemp and marijuana,” despite this he continued to “draw an arbitrary line on the continuum of cannabis types and decided that 0.3% THC in a sifted batch of cannabis flowers was the difference between hemp and marijuana” and this continues to add to the controversy and confusion as to what truly constitutes the difference between cannabis and hemp.

Hemp is an agricultural commodity that is cultivated for use in the production of a wide range of products including; foods and beverages, cosmetics, personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics and textiles, yarns and spun fibres, paper, construction and insulation materials, and other manufactured goods. Hemp can be grown as a fibre, seed, or other dual-purpose crop. In 2015, some estimate that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products.

Popular Mechanics dubbed hemp “the new billion dollar crop” in 1938, claiming that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to cellophane.” And when World War II demanded the full industrial might of the US, hemp restrictions were temporarily lifted and production reached its peak in 1943 when American farmers grew 150 million pounds of hemp. It was manufactured into shoes, ropes, fire hoses and even parachute webbing for soldiers fighting the war. After 1943, production plummeted and the anti-narcotic regime kicked back into effect.

Hemp seed oil is valued primarily for its nutritional properties as well as for the health benefits associated with it. Although its fatty acid composition is most often noted, with oil content ranging from 25-35%, whole hemp seed is additionally comprised of approximately 20-25% protein, 20-30% carbohydrates, and 10-15% fibre, along with trace minerals. A complete source of all essential amino and fatty acids, hemp seed oil is a complete nutritional source. In addition, constituents exist within the oil that have been shown to exhibit pharmacological activity.

In Australia, due to the current outdated and draconian laws (and ignorance on behalf of law enforcement in particular), it is illegal to consume hemp products unless you are an animal. Australians can, however, use hemp products topically. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) state on their website;

Hemp or industrial hemp is a Cannabis plant species (Cannabis sativa). Historically, hemp has been used as a source of fibre and oil. Cannabis extracts have also been used in medicine for a variety of ailments. Hemp is different to other varieties of Cannabis sativa, commonly referred to as marijuana. Hemp contains no, or very low levels of THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana. Hemp is cultivated worldwide, including in Australia and New Zealand (under strict licensing arrangements) and is currently used in Australia as a source of clothing and building products. Hemp seeds contain protein, vitamins and minerals and polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp seed food products may provide an alternative dietary source of these nutrients. At present, hemp cannot be used in food in Australia and New Zealand as it is prohibited in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. However, hemp oil has been permitted in NZ since 2002 under the New Zealand Food (Safety) Regulations. 
Hemp is used in other countries, including in Europe, Canada and the United States, in a range of foods including health bars, salad oils, non-soy tofu, non-dairy cheeses and as an additive to baked goods. It can also be used as the whole seed, raw or roasted.

But this was the answer to the question of re-legalising hemp for human consumption (January 2015);
Review of Low THC Hemp as a Food. Application 1039 – low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) hemp as a food. The Forum in December 2012 requested FSANZ review its decision. FSANZ has reviewed its decision and re-affirmed its support of variation to the Code. The Forum noted FSANZ found foods derived from seeds of low THC hemp do not present any safety concerns as food and concerns regarding the impact on police THC drug testing fall beyond the remit of FSANZ. The Forum resolved to reject the proposed variation to Standard 1.4.4 (Prohibited and Restricted Plants and Fungi) resulting from Application A1039. Several concerns were raised by Forum Members, including law enforcement issues, particularly from a policing perspective in relation to roadside drug testing, cannabidiol levels as well as the marketing of hemp in food may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of cannabis. The Forum agreed further work would be undertaken promptly to consider law enforcement, roadside drug testing and marketing concerns in consultation with relevant Ministers.
Law enforcement is the main reason hemp is not available legally as a food source in both Australia and New Zealand and we are the only two countries in the entire world where this idiocy is so.

Cannabis Sativa Botanical Illustration
The strict laws surrounding both cannabis and hemp have made research very difficult. Of the thousands of academic and research bodies in the US and Canada alone, whom would be equipped to perform agricultural or medical research on this unique species, only around 40 had actual research licenses to study the plant in a limited context. Despite these barriers, researchers have made progress in understanding the way cannabis works medicinally and therapeutically to assist in managing an ever-expanding list of disorders. What’s more, developments in hemp technology continue to reveal new and intriguing ways that this plant can contribute to society in the future. In 2014, researchers at the University of Alberta created a supercapacitor using raw hemp material, making the manufacturing of cheap, fast-charging batteries from hemp a real possibility. Hemp fibre is also being used to develop new forms of renewable plastic, which has made it a common material in the car parts industry. 

But as re-legalisation spreads across the globe, the opportunities to explore the potential of cannabis grows too. The possibilities are endless, and that is one thing cannabis and hemp have in common.

Resources include:

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review.
    Concise and factual.