Close up of hemp seeds

Growing Hemp for CBD

With legalization of cannabis, we can expect to see hemp agriculture incorporate strains that are more suited to the production of CBD. Until now, the industry has focused on food seed. In this article we examine the state of hemp agriculture in Canada and the United States, and look at how cultivating hemp for CBD production might require new techniques.

Genetics

Since the US Farm Bill and the Canadian Cannabis Act, both in 2018, the Hemp industry has experienced unprecedented interest and momentum. However, since hemp became legal about 20 years ago in Canada, the industry has been driven by the demand for food seed which has been the most viable market.  Grain production easily dominates the crop use for industrial cannabis in Canada. Because of this primary focus, almost all the pre-approved cultivars from Health Canada are strains that produce higher grain or fibre yields with little to no genetic focus on the cannabidiol production. Prior to the Cannabis Act, Canadian farmers were not even  allowed to harvest the leaves or flowers of their crop. 

 In many aspects, the legislation has over restricted the Hemp industry in Canada compared to the US markets. In the US genetic diversity and breeding of high CBD strains is more prolific. Moving forward we will see more high CBD strains being approved in Canada. The 2020 cultivar list is expected to be released in February 2020. 

Having a genetic pool of high CBD producing plants could mean the difference between yields of a 15-25% return versus our current strains which can get up to 7-10% in perfect conditions and with extensive crop management.  This is a huge difference in profit margin for growers and will take a few years to work itself out.

 Some of the notable medical CBD hemp strains are: Cherry Wine, Charlotte’s Webb, Electra and Lifter, none of which have been allowed in Canada yet. In the US, farmers can grow hemp, extract the CBD and make products to sell directly to consumers. This makes the micro-grow opportunities a lot more viable in those states allowing extraction on hemp stands of less than 10 acres. In Canada, farmers must sell their flower crop to a licensed producer or acquire a few expensive licenses making this vertical integration prohibitive and selling directly to consumers almost impossible.

Cultivation Techniques 

Growing quality flower poses many challenges on the industrial scale and is quite a different process than growing grain or fibre. To grow a high yielding flower crop, the female plants which produce the CBD must not come into proximity to pollinating male plants. In this aspect, growing a flower crop of hemp is very similar to growing THC containing strains of cannabis. If the flowering females are pollinated, they will spend energy making seeds and cannabinoid production is greatly reduced. 

Cannabis growing in a greenhouse

On farms across Canada, the hemp industry has been using conventional farming techniques which don’t work as well for flower production. Many producers in the US are moving to cloning female mother plants or buying expensive feminized seeds. This reduces the chance of wasting time and energy growing a male plant which will need to be removed during the vegetative cycle.  By planting clones or feminized seeds the farmer can ensure a drastic reduction in male plants. Standard seeds on grain and fibre operations can contain as much as 50% males. The removal of male plants is labour intensive and can take a lot of attention and time on large scale farms.

In the US three states are leading the charge in CBD production; Colorado, Kentucky and Oregon all have strong hemp farming programs and state-wide legislation allowing the extraction from flower. In Colorado, which is arguably the center of the country as well as its legal cannabis epicenter, almost 400 registered growers are focusing on hemp flower with more than 2 million square feet of indoor production as well as 12,000 acres of outdoor. 

Many quality flower operations in the States have moved away from the conventional cash crop format that we have in Canada and are growing smaller well-maintained plots or indoor gardens. This allows producers control over the environment,  preventing the pollen contamination that is common in areas with nearby hemp crops or wild varieties of cannabis.

 Irrigation plays a big part on these farms. Some plants are grown in the ground, but many are planted in bagged rows or in pots. In more northern latitudes, starting the plants in a greenhouse is a great way to increase yield and extend the growing season. Most hemp is planted in early June and begins to flower some time in August when the daytime photoperiod gets to 12hrs or less.

Hanging Cannabis plants to dry

Harvesting

On most hemp farms in Canada, the harvest is done with combines that shake the grain out of their crop.  On grain production farms only the seed is harvested and the rest of the plant is ploughed back into the field. When flower is harvested, a  grower can hand cut their plants down but larger operations use a swather or stripper. Although some equipment can strip just the flowers, it is most common for the full plant to remain intact and left hanging indoors for a few weeks to allow for drying. Plants are hung upside down and spaced to encourage even circulation. Adding fans to the drying area is critical to prevent any mold from developing. Mold can spread quickly and would diminish the quality and value of the crop. Some farms have drying equipment to speed up the process and prevent spoilage. These specialized drying units have been designed from or repurposed from the tobacco industry. Once the flowers are dry, they can be stored or sent to the extraction facility where the CBD can be separated from the biomass.

This is an exciting time in hemp agriculture. Hemp is a versatile plant and the industry is set to explode with all the interest in new the hemp products that are becoming available to consumers.

The Effects of CBD Oil on the Endocannabinoid System

The Effects of CBD Oil on the Endocannabinoid System

Our clinical understanding of all the possible therapeutic applications of hemp sourced cannabidiol is limited because of its close relationship to cannabis and its prohibition for close to a hundred years. The government’s persecution of all those who were involved in the illegal production and trade has been a limiting factor on the amount of research that is currently available.

Medical societies and governments world-wide have come to accept the fact that the Schedule 1, highly dangerous rating of cannabis during prohibition was wrong and there are, in fact, hundreds of medicinal benefits to cannabis use.

The Cannabis Act in Canada and the Farm Bill in the US have greatly increased the availability of funding to further study cannabinoids. In actual fact, we have known about the medical benefits for almost 5,000 years and modern science is only now catching up. For instance, science has recently discovered that cannabis promotes well being and homeostasis through its effect on something called the endocannabinoid system in the human body.

What is The Endocannabinoid System?

The Endocannabinoid System was first identified by researchers at the University of Jerusalem in 1992. All animals including vertebrates and invertebrates have an Endocannabinoid System, also known by the abbreviation ECS. The ECS is responsible for communication signals between the body’s cells, organs, central nervous system and even the brain. Its main function, according to recent research, is to help preserve homeostasis between the different systems of the body.

The body produces endocannabinoids, which are similar in structure to cannabinoids. The body produces them as needed to maintain balance in the face of destabilizing forces, whether from the exterior or interior.

The endocannabinoid molecules bind to endocannabinoid receptors in the body to activate the processes of creating balance in the body. There are two types of receptors, one which is mostly located in the central nervous system and the other mostly in immune cells. Once the endocannabinoids are finished their function, enzymes break them down for elimination.

The Endocannabinoid System Has Far-Reaching Effects

The ECS is complex and much more research needs to be done. So far, researchers have discovered that the effects of the ECS are far-reaching, playing a role in:

  • chronic pain
  • metabolism
  • inflammation
  • immune system
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • cardiovascular health
  • building muscle
  • bone health
  • liver function
  • reproduction
  • stress
  • skin and nerve health

How Cannabis Interacts with the Endocannabinoid System

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD interact with the ECS differently. THC can bind directly with either of the two types of receptors, while CBD appears to inhibit the break-down of naturally produced endocannabinoids. More research needs to be done however; it is also possible that there are, as yet, undiscovered receptors that CBD binds to.

Bright Future for Research

This is an exciting time for research into the health effects of cannabis. With many of the taboos and restrictions regarding cannabis being lifted, and more funding available, we can expect to see more and more discoveries rolling out over the next few years.

The Prohibition Period for Cannabis

The Prohibition Period for Cannabis

Cannabis has had a  long and respectable history of use world-wide. So what gave rise to the international sweep of cannabis prohibition in the early 20th century? The answer starts with opium and a war on the international problem of addiction. Cannabis was lumped into the response because of politics, deep-seated myths and prejudice.

Opium Addiction in the 19th Century

Poppy flower

Addiction to opiates was a serious concern in the 19th century, particularly in Asia where European colonial powers held opium trade monopolies and encouraged opiate addiction for their own profit. The problem, however, was not limited to Asia; in North America, for example, laudanum and morphine were seen as miracle drugs and were heavily used by doctors for all sorts of ailments from pain relief to the (perceived) hysteria of women. The opium dens that opened in North America with Chinese immigration only exacerbated the problem, but in popular opinion, drug use became linked with immigration.

The first international drug control treaty, enacted in 1912, was limited to opium, but was revised in 1925 to include cannabis.  Why exactly cannabis was included is unclear, but seems to be multi-faceted and related to myths that cannabis caused violence and insanity, prejudice against the lower classes who used cannabis more often, as well as prejudice against immigrants and their use of various drugs. 

Cannabis Prohibition In Canada

As part of the League of Nations, prohibition in Canada followed the lead of the international community, starting with the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act of 1920. Cannabis, except for medical and scientific use, was included in the Act to Prohibit the Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs in 1923, even though recreational cannabis use was not common in the Canadian population.

Cannabis Prohibition In the United States

While cannabis had been used as a medicine in the United States for many years, attitudes began to change in the early 1900s in response to the Mexican revolution (1910) and the subsequent influx of Mexican immigrants to the US bringing with them their tradition of smoking cannabis.  Prejudice and negative attitudes towards Mexican immigration became associated with cannabis, fueled by the American media that ran stories of disruptive behavior of Mexican immigrants. The news stories blamed the bad behavior on marijuana. 

The adoption of the Mexican word “marijuana”, instead of cannabis, in the U.S. was part of a campaign to denounce cannabis by the  Federal Bureau of narcotics (FBN), by piggybacking on the popular dislike of Mexican immigration. The FBN was newly created in 1930, and its policies at the time were heavily influenced by the personal, highly puritanical views of it’s director, Harry J. Anslinger. The efforts culminated in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which set heavy taxes on cannabis products as well as other penalties on cannabis handlers.

The 1960s 

Cannabis use increased exponentially in the 60s in North America. That fact, along with the perceived need to control the student population in the 60s, instigated a political reaction in the form of more aggressive laws against cannabis. Nixon’s 1970 Controlled Substances Act categorized cannabis of any sort as a highly dangerous substance and its use or possession carried high penalties. This act is still in place federally today in the States. However, most states now allow its medical use, with several legalizing recreational use.

Promising Future

Global decriminalization or legalization movements have been gaining ground and there are now at least 22 countries where medicinal cannabis is legal. These countries include: Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, Australia, Greece, Norway, Chile, Switzerland, Argentina, Israel, Poland, Croatia, Peru, Jamaica, Columbia, Thailand, Germany, North Macedonia, Cyprus, Italy, Lithuania and Luxembourg. Other countries that are likely to legalize in some capacity include: Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Spain, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

Canada legalized the cultivation, acquisition, distribution and use of cannabis, for any use in 2018, being only the second country to do so after Uruguay (2014).

Although cannabis is federally illegal in the United States about 33 individual States allow its medical use and 11 States allow its recreational use. A majority of the American population believe in full legalization and it is a matter of time more than anything.

With all of these countries opening their doors to legalization and new research opportunities, the future looks very bright for phytocannabinoid treatments and applications.

Next up we look at some recent research, focusing on the Endocannabinoid System.