Both in Canada and the US, the most critical problem to be addressed for commercial exploitation of C. sativa is the possible unauthorized drug use of the plant. Indeed, the reason hemp cultivation was made illegal in North America was concern that the hemp crop was a drug menace. The drug potential is, for practical purposes, measured by the presence of THC. THC is the world’s most popular illicit chemical, and indeed the fourth most popular recreational drug, after caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. “Industrial hemp” is a phrase that has become common to designate hemp used for commercial non-intoxicant purposes. Small and Cronquist (1976) split C. sativa into two subspecies: C. sativa subsp. sativa, with less than 0.3% (dry weight) of THC in the upper (reproductive) part of the plant, and C. sativa subsp. indica (Lam.) E. Small & Cronq. with more than 0.3% THC. This classification has since been adopted in the European Community, Canada, and parts of Australia as a dividing line between cultivars that can be legally cultivated under license and forms that are considered to have too high a drug potential. For a period, 0.3% was also the allowable THC content limit for cultivation of hemp in the Soviet Union. In the US, Drug Enforcement Agency guidelines issued Dec. 7, 1999 expressly allowed products with a THC content of less than 0.3% to enter the US without a license; but subsequently permissible levels have been a source of continuing contention. Marijuana in the illicit market typically has a THC content of 5% to 10% (levels as high as 25% have been reported), and as a point of interest, a current Canadian government experimental medicinal marijuana production contract calls for the production of 6% marijuana. As noted above, a level of about 1% THC is considered the threshold for marijuana to have intoxicating potential, so the 0.3% level is conservative, and some countries (e.g. parts of Australia, Switzerland) have permitted the cultivation of cultivars with higher levels. It should be appreciated that there is considerable variation in THC content in different parts of the plant. THC content increases in the following order: achenes (excluding bracts), roots, large stems, smaller stems, older and larger leaves, younger and smaller leaves, flowers, perigonal bracts covering both the female flowers and fruits. It is well known in the illicit trade how to screen off the more potent fractions of the plant in order to increase THC levels in resultant drug products. Nevertheless, a level of 0.3% THC in the flowering parts of the plant is reflective of material that is too low in intoxicant potential to actually be used practically for illicit production of marijuana or other types of cannabis drugs. Below, the problem of permissible levels of THC in food products made from hempseed is discussed.
In modern times, the Rastafari movement has embraced Cannabis as a sacrament. Elders of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, a religious movement founded in the United States in 1975 with no ties to either Ethiopia or the Coptic Church, consider Cannabis to be the Eucharist, claiming it as an oral tradition from Ethiopia dating back to the time of Christ. Like the Rastafari, some modern Gnostic Christian sects have asserted that Cannabis is the Tree of Life. Other organized religions founded in the 20th century that treat Cannabis as a sacrament are the THC Ministry, Cantheism, the Cannabis Assembly and the Church of Cognizance. Rastafarians tend to be among the biggest consumers of modern Cannabis use.
In a randomized clinical trial, researchers compared the safety and effectiveness of orally administered Cannabis extract (2.5 mg THC and 1 mg CBD), THC (2.5 mg), or placebo for the treatment of cancer-related anorexia-cachexia in 243 patients with advanced cancer who received treatment twice daily for 6 weeks. Results demonstrated that although these agents were well tolerated by these patients, no differences were observed in patient appetite or quality of life among the three groups at this dose level and duration of intervention.
Despite advanced analytical techniques, much of the cannabis used recreationally is inaccurately classified. One laboratory at the University of British Columbia found that Jamaican Lamb’s Bread, claimed to be 100% sativa, was in fact almost 100% indica (the opposite strain). Legalization of cannabis in Canada (as of October 17, 2018) may help spur private-sector research, especially in terms of diversification of strains. It should also improve classification accuracy for cannabis used recreationally. Legalization coupled with Canadian government (Health Canada) oversight of production and labelling will likely result in more -- and more accurate -- testing to determine exact strains and content. Furthermore, the rise of craft cannabis growers in Canada should ensure quality, experimentation/research, and diversification of strains among private-sector producers.
Industrial hemp may be grown in Montana only by the Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA) through the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program or by institutions of higher education in Montana for agricultural or academic research. Only seed purchased from the Pilot Program seed repository or ordered from a DEA-approved source can legally be planted in Montana. Industrial hemp is currently regulated as a Schedule I Controlled Substance by the federal government. Persons who violate state or federal laws regarding hemp may be subject to federal prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Refer to the DEA website for more information.
Most pro-hemp initiatives in the United States are now focused on defining and distinguishing between industrial hemp and marijuana. Some pro-hemp supporters would like to move the control of U.S. hemp production from the DEA to the USDA. Proponents of legalizing hemp also argue that new technology to distinguish THC levels both in the field and from the air will allow for adequate production enforcement.
A USDA analysis of hemp, “Industrial hemp in the United States: Status and market potential,” was issued in 2000, and is available at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ages001e/index.htm. This is anonymously-authored, therefore presumably represents a corporate or “official” evaluation. The conclusion was that “US markets for hemp fiber (specialty textiles, paper, and composites) and seed (in food or crushed for oil) are, and will likely remain, small, thin markets. Uncertainty about longrun demand for hemp products and the potential for oversupply discounts the prospects for hemp as an economically viable alternative crop for American farmers.” Noting the oversupply of hempseeds associated with Canada’s 12,000 ha in 1999, the report concluded that the long term demand for hemp products is uncertain, and predicts that the hemp market in the US will likely remain small and limited. With respect to textiles, the report noted the lack of a thriving textile flax (linen) US industry (despite lack of legal barriers), so that it would seem unlikely that hemp could achieve a better market status. With respect to hemp oil, the report noted that hemp oil in food markets is limited by its short shelf life, the fact that it can not be used for frying, and the lack of US Food and Drug Administration approval as GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”). Moreover, summarizing four state analyses of hemp production (McNulty 1995, Ehrensing 1998, Kraenzel et al. 1998, Thompson et al. 1998), profitability seemed doubtful.