With a focus on food, education and the environment, Dr Madalina Neacsu at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, is researching the benefits of hemp with funding from the Scottish Government.
Hemp was formerly a traditional part of Scotland’s agricultural tradition.
“The pollen records from two sites in Fife, eastern Scotland, reveal that hemp cultivation was, during medieval and later historical times, an important component in the local farming economy,” write Kevin Edwards and Graeme Whittington.
After disappearing as an agricultural crop due to cheaper imports and eventual prohibition until 1993, the University of Aberdeen’s hemp initiative, in fellowship with the Scottish Hemp Association and Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, has now encouraged ten farmers to begin cultivating again.
With aims to be carbon neutral by 2045, the Scottish Government has been funding five-year research programmes to help meet its targets. One of the projects is Dr Neacsu’s hemp research at the Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen.
The project falls under the SEFARI – Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes scheme, which aims to deliver publicly-funded research to find solutions that meet the Scottish Government National Outcomes and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
As hemp is becoming increasingly well known for its environmental and health benefits, the research is aiming to find market opportunities for Scottish grown hemp grain and fibre.
Hemp for food
Specialising in the development of functional foods, Dr Neacsu trained as a biochemical engineer and went on to do PhD in natural products chemistry. She wants to understand how plants could help people with their health, in particular, how plant-based food could help prevent or treat certain disorders.
Dr Neacsu commented: “After you develop a food or look at the plant, you give it to people to eat to understand the potential when it comes nutrition and health. Specifically, with hemp, a big part of the research I’m doing is looking at sustainable sources of macronutrients, mainly protein, in our diet.
“In Scotland, we do have very good quality meat, but the problem is too highly processed meats that we are eating. We were thinking of partially replacing some of the protein in our diet, especially the highly processed and not so healthy protein sources in our diet. But this has to be something sustainable, so, we looked at crops with the potential to grow in Scotland, and that’s how we came across hemp.
“Since then, we have been measuring to fully characterise hemp, looking at the macronutrients. We’ve seen that hemp is a rich source of protein – up to 40 per cent protein, and a rich source of dietary fibre – 20 to 30 per cent.
“It’s also a rich source of phytochemicals which are a part of the composition of the plant. This doesn’t really bring anything nutritionally, however, people know them as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Many of these phytochemicals have already proven to be beneficial for human health.”
For the project, Neacsu and her team produced a flour with hemp which was made into a bread and eaten by volunteers. The team then looked to see what happened to the human body after consuming the bread, measuring things such as blood plasma levels and how hungry people were after eating the bread.
“We gave people the same amount of protein from different sources. There were five plant-based sources and one animal-based source. What we have seen is that hemp was really beneficial when it comes to controlling hunger and that it beneficially modulates hormones, which are very important when it comes to regulation of sugar metabolism,” said Dr Neacsu.
Hemp for health and environment
Neacsu engaged with Scottish farmers to begin cultivating the crop for food – but also to understand if the plant can help mitigate climate change. The aim is to help farmers diversify their activities with actions that reduce the carbon footprint of their business and promote biodiversity.
“We give farmers knowledge on how hemp could be used to produce food products and to show the Scottish Government that using hemp is a way to tackle climate change,” said Dr Neacsu. “But, as we mainly produce it for food, we have to understand how efficient it is.”
For this, Dr Neacsu and her team are about to embark on a consumer study where they will be trying to understand how much hemp can impact climate change, as well as bring food products to Scotland to initiate new businesses. To inform this, the study will explore hemp as a food, looking at aspects such as its impact on the gut microbiome.
Dr Neacsu commented: “So, with farmers who are cultivating, we to look at what variety is best, which geographical region in Scotland, how this will affect the nutritional composition of the hemp, to understand how hemp as a food – whether we can develop a food which addresses hunger or address type two diabetes, for example, which will create more demand for the crop.
“We have to understand how fibre and protein is metabolised and can be utilised by the body as a good source of micronutrients.”
The team have begun a project with hemp food products business Good Hemp – which already has products such as hemp milk and cooking oil stocked in major retailers including Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s.
“Good Hemp is the major UK processor when it comes to hemp food,” said Dr Neacsu. “We are trying to look at how they could make their process more sustainable. We looked at all the by-products from hemp food production, how they can be reduced and we will try to design a zero-waste production.
“We want to see how we can use it maximise and reintroduce it as a nutrient towards circular nutrition, and deliver a zero-waste production line.”
Hemp for the Future
The research is also undertaking a ‘Hemp for the Future’ project, which is aiming to educate young people from aged 13 on the multiple utilities and benefits of the hemp plant.
With young people today being much more attuned to the devastation of climate change, Dr Neacsu says they are in a good position to learn about how hemp can fit into the picture.
“We believe hemp could be part of the solution when comes climate change,” said Dr Neacsu. “Hemp is also part of a solution to promote biodiversity in Scotland, and food and climate diversity.
“We believe that school children are the ones that should know more about what we do. I think there is an age that they need this education so that we can break the stigma of hemp because every time you speak about it – people think about illegal drugs – which is very bad.
“We have launched educational material and educational activities in Scotland. We will go in secondary schools to speak about hemp and tell people that it’s so much more than a drug. We summarise uses of hemp not just as a food, but how you can use hemp as paper, how you can reduce the deforestation, how you use this as a building material, how important is as a fuel or just a construction material.”
To engage young people in their education, the project is taking hemp flour into schools and cooking pancakes to emphasise how hemp is a healthy food, show the versatility of the crop and how it tastes.
“We hope – depending on how the activity goes – that we might be able to take this project nationwide. This generation are so much more aware than I was about climate change when I was in secondary school – I think they know so much more and they need the right information,” concluded Dr Neacsu.
Collaboration to conduct research to support the cannabis industry
Open Book Extracts and Biopharmaceutical Research Company will research the full range of cannabinoids.
Open Book Extracts will be leveraging Biopharmaceutical Research Company’s research platforms in order to develop research-backed formulations and products.
The new collaboration is aiming to build up the body of evidence surrounding the benefits of cannabinoids in order to support the cannabis industry.
Open Book Extracts and Biopharmaceutical Research Company will work closely together on preclinical and first-in-human (FIH) dosage forms, to optimisation of formulations for late-stage development and market following clinical evaluation.
They will be developing the most appropriate formulation based on the physicochemical and biopharmaceutics properties of the cannabinoids of interest, the intended route of administration and the phase of development.
Open Book Extracts CEO, Dave Neundorfer, commented: “Current political and economic situations have created non-science-based products that are not serving today’s consumers, and are not designed to fill the research gaps we desperately need to fill to legitimise the emerging anecdotal evidence.
“Companies that base their brands on the research-backed formulations guided by science and develop corresponding products will rule global market share, and recreate how we choose to find therapeutic relief along with relaxation and stimulation.”
The partnership with BRC also supports the study of Delta-9 THC products and formulations, allowing OBX to identify the phase appropriate, optimal products for formulations including Delta-9 THC.
“We are excited to expand our research capabilities through our collaboration with BRC, in particular being able to add Delta-9 THC as a cannabinoid of interest for our formulation research,” said Neundorfer.
Open Book Extracts (OBX) has a 76,000 sqft research and production facility near Durham, North Carolina, and has developed proven methods to efficiently manufacture a broad range of cannabinoids from hemp and natural sources, including CBD, CBN, CBC, CBG, CBGa, CBT, CBDa, CBDv, and THCv.
Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC) CEO, George Hodgin, commented: “BRC is pleased to partner with OBX, joining forces to further build the body of evidence to support the cannabis industry.
“It is time we investigate the real science, and develop products for brands that take our culture to the next step. It will take a concerted effort. Developing appealing and effective cannabis-based products requires a multidisciplinary approach in food and pharma chemistry.
“BRC is a one-stop-shop for developing, modifying and improving these new products, and we’re excited to work with OBX to help bring novel, well-studied, effective products to consumers everywhere.”
Trichome Pharma receives approval to cultivate cannabis for research
The Spanish pharmaceutical company has said the approval marks a significant milestone for the advancement of its pipeline of projects.
Trichome Pharma has received approval from the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices (AEMPS) to cultivate medicinal cannabis for research purposes.
Trichome Pharma has been building its research and development platform over the last 18 months. The company’s aim in building the facility is to increase access to medicinal cannabis and set a new benchmark in quality and innovation for medicinal-grade starter materials and finished products.
With the approval of a cultivation licence, the company will now begin the development of novel micropropagation and conservation techniques for large-scale plant production.
It will also study a selection of various cannabis cultivars from its bank of genetics, as well as the development of innovative cultivation strategies and protocols to optimise plant quality, performance and potency.
CEO of Trichome Pharma and Managing Director of Trichome Capital, Nicholas Balk, commented: “Receiving AEMPS approval is a significant milestone for the company that marks the culmination of many months of hard work. It’s a really exciting time to be in this industry. I’ve always believed that Spain is the perfect place to build and grow a cannabis business.
“Not only does it possess a world class agricultural sector and optimal climatic conditions for cannabis cultivation, but it also has a rich ecosystem of knowledgeable industry experts and a deeply-rooted culture in cannabis.
“Of course, we’d love to see domestic regulation evolve in the same way other European markets have and trust this will happen in the not too distant future.”
The company, which is a member of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), has also launched its new website.
Over a third of US THC products too strong for legal sale
Despite complying with the Farm Bill, a new study has shown that many US THC products are too strong to legally sell in a cannabis dispensary.
CBD Oracle has carried out a lab study of 53 THC products showing that over a third would be too strong to legally sell in a cannabis dispensary.
The new CBD Oracle report reveals that THC gummies can be over three times as strong as dispensary edibles. The US Farm Bill, introduced in 2018, makes any “hemp” product legal provided it contains less than 0.3 per cent delta-9 THC by dry weight. All but two of the products contained THC within this legal limit.
The report shows that hemp delta-9 products use the specific language of the 2018 Farm Bill to sell high-THC products with far fewer restrictions than edibles in legal states. CBD Oracle states that this has flooded the market with edibles, tinctures and cartridges that wouldn’t clear the higher bar usually used for high-THC products.
It also found that, largely, companies do no age verification, do not test products for safety and do not give customers the dose that they claim to.
Chief research officer at CBD Oracle, Mark Mellone, commented: “Our investigation reveals an industry profiting from a legal loophole, offering gummies much stronger than dispensary edibles with barely a fraction of the oversight.
“We bought products online without ever proving our age and all but one was just dropped at the mailbox. We’re all strongly pro-cannabis, but hemp, cannabis and CBD’s growth (and further legality across the US) depends upon how well we can maintain standards in both products and industry conduct. We need to do better than this.”
For the report, CBD Oracle commissioned InfiniteCAL Labs to analyse 53 of the most popular hemp delta-9 THC products on the market, covering 40 per cent of all brands. All of the samples were analysed for potency, and 10 were randomly chosen for additional safety testing. Oracle also looked into the products from the lab reports to determine whether companies use child-protective packaging or asked for a signature on delivery.
The analysis found that 51 per cent of products are mislabeled, dosages are often very high, 75 per cent of products are not tested for safety, some companies get certificates of analysis (COAs) from non-ISO-accredited labs and that 85 per cent didn’t use online age verification to prevent minors accessing high-THC products.
The analysis also found that hemp delta-9 products contain up to 36.7 mg of THC per serving. For states that have passed adult-use cannabis laws, the most common maximum allowed serving is 10 mg, but some states set the limit at 5 mg. The analysis showed that 34 per cent of products exceed this 10 mg per serving limit, and so wouldn’t be legal as part of state cannabis programmes.
It was further revealed that 51 per cent of products were more than 15 per cent above or below the dosage they claimed. In most cases, they were below, with 45 per cent of all products having less THC than the customer paid for.
In three cases the actual dosage was much higher than advertised, such as gummies supposedly containing 10 mg of THC each actually containing 16 mg.
Despite these concerning findings, CBD Oracle also highlighted that 96 per cent of the products tested fell within the 0.3 per cent THC Farm Bill limit and that all of the products sent for safety testing came back completely clean.
Whilst clean products are a good sign for the industry, CBD Oracle remains concerned that young people are gaining access to products illegally due to the lack of age testing and delivery signatures by companies – stating there is a huge need for further regulatory oversight.
Gillian Schauer, PhD, MPH from the Cannabis Regulators Association commented: “In addition to the consumer safety and youth access issues, from a market perspective, having high THC hemp-derived products creates a parallel marketplace to existing medical and adult-use cannabis markets.
“The barriers to entry for licensees on current state medical and adult-use markets are much higher, in part because of required consumer safety regulations related to packaging, labeling, and testing.
“A parallel marketplace with lower costs of doing business because of fewer safety regulations could certainly undercut existing medical and adult-use licensees in state markets.”
To read the full report please click here.