Hemp grows on North America
By Becky Somerville
Two Western researchers who recently harvested one of the first commercial hemp crops may also be cultivating a way for the widespread industrial use of cannabis.
Department of plant sciences professors Sheila Macfie and Don Hayden are examining ways to optimize conditions of growth and determine the best time to harvest a plant which has been banned for 60 years, Macfie explained.
"It's now being recognized that there is a tremendous commercial potential for [hemp]," Hayden said. "From an environmental standpoint, I don't think you can beat it."
Due to the fact nobody in North America has been allowed to grow hemp for years, the only ideal seeds for these conditions are produced in Europe, he said. "What we've been doing is looking at one seed type and optimizing the conditions for growth in this area."
Although hemp requires fertilizer for growth, no other chemicals are involved and everything the plant yields can be used from seeds to fibres, nothing is wasted, Hayden said.
He added the crop is a good commercial enterprise since it can grow virtually anywhere. It can be harvested every year, compared to a tree, which takes roughly 25 years until it can be used, he said.
"It's coming back. It's just unfortunate it was lumped in with a banned substance," Macfie said. "There is a lot to learn."
Neil Hansen-Trip, manager of industrial hemp research programs in the bureau of drug surveillance for Health Canada, said hemp was banned in 1938 because of its association with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Pressure from lobby groups ultimately led to the controlled drugs and substances act in 1997, which allows those with a licence to cultivate industrial hemp containing no more than 0.3 per cent THC, he said.
Macfie said testing instruments could not detect THC in the strain of hemp being researched.
Peter Young, owner of the Organic Traveller, a London store which sells hemp products and provides educational material on its use, said Western's research will help to educate the public and dispel myths about hemp.
"It's the strongest fibre known to man," he said. "We wouldn't have the environmental problems that we do today if we'd have listened to people in the '30s."
Young added there are over 25,000 different uses for industrial hemp including clothing, textiles, food and body care.
Western's VP-research Bill Bridger said he had visited the hemp farm and added the research represents new and exciting opportunities. "It's obviously quite a valuable material."
The study is being commissioned by Hempline, a hemp processing facility, with support from the National Research Council, Macfie said.