Walk along the aisles of Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Earth Fare or health food and supplement specialty stores and you’ll see hemp seeds, hemp protein powder, hemp milk and hemp oil.
Hemp versus Marijuana
Both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant cannabis sativa, but the difference between the two basically lies in its level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which in higher concentrations produces a euphoria or high.
In Colorado, where marijuana and hemp are legal but regulated, it defines industrial hemp as having a THC concentration of no more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. Cannabis with a percentage of THC above 0.3 percent is considered marijuana. The state’s agriculture department registers growers of industrial hemp and samples crops to make sure the plants don’t exceed the concentration limit.
Meanwhile, hemp tends to produce more a noneuphoric compound, cannabidiol or CBD, that is showing promise in easing seizures and other conditions. In July, researchers from the University of Minnesota published the results of a study that confirmed the difference between hemp and marijuana by identifying a genetic basis for it.
Hemp Seeds and Fiber Markets
While the market for hemp seed and fiber in the United States surpassed $600 million in 2014, nearly all the hemp products such as food, personal care products, clothing and construction material are imported into the United States. Similar to its nutritional powerhouse seed food cousins, flax and chia, the health benefits of hemp seed are increasingly promoted by some health professionals.
Taking matters into her own hands, Janel Ralph started Palmetto Synergistic Research and worked with an organic grower in Kentucky to create Palmetto Harmony, a CBD oil product named for her daughter, Harmony, now age 6.
Kulze says hemp seeds provide a high quality “complete protein,” meaning it has all of the essential amino acids, which she adds is rare for a plant. Additionally, she says it has a “whopping dose” of fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamins B, D and E, and a “blast of antioxidant phytochemicals.”
Those health benefits of hemp are in addition to “industrial uses,” such as wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper and fuel and a growing number of cosmetic products. Environmentally, the plants are an ideal rotational crop, returning nutrients to the soil and not requiring chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
More controversially, the cannabidiol oil extracted from hemp is considered by some holistic health practitioners to have an benefits for an array of conditions and afflictions, most notably relieving epileptic seizures. Researchers on working on proving that now, but the verdict is still out, despite the anecdotal accounts of parents desperate to find help for their children. The long-held controversy stems from hemp’s physical similarities to marijuana, even though hemp doesn’t have the levels of the intoxicating, psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, of the latter.
Tony Bertauski, a horticulture instructor at Trident Techinal College and a Post and Courier gardening columnist, said the two plants have different genetics.
“My understanding of the differences is the content of THC, the psychoactive ingredient, and fiber content,” he said, “Hemp cannabis contains very little THC, not enough to produce a chemical high. Hemp cannabis also has stronger fibers similar to bamboo that, under intense cultivation, can be harvested for various textiles such as ropes, blankets, etc. Marijuana fibers tend to break easier and shred if applied to similar uses.”
Despite the array of products sold in the United States, hemp couldn’t be grown legally in the United States without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Agency until the last two years. Sources for hemp products in the U.S. came primarily from Canada, France and China. Mary Louise Swing, now 8, of Charleston has been taking Palmetto Harmony CBD oil and another hemp oil since last fall to control seizures. Her condition has improved so much that she started playing with toys. Beyond its health benefits as a food, the more questionable aspect of hemp includes the use of the plant-derived cannabidiol oil, otherwise known as CBD oil.
How CBD Oil is Helping Seizure Patients
Some claim the oil relieves the severity of seizures in children and adults, while researchers say it’s too early to claim that. Dr. Jonathan Halford, associate professor at MUSC’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, is working on a double-blind trial on children with epilepsy using a “super pure” CBD extract, manufactured by United Kingdom-based GW Pharmaceuticals. MUSC is one of nearly 30 sites in the world participating. Halford says, to date, the verdict on the effectiveness of CBD oil for easing severe epilepsy is not known. Open label studies, which don’t make use of a placebo, have shown evidence, but when the studies move on to double-blind, it fails.
“That happens all the time, constantly,” says Halford, adding that he anticipates the results of the study he’s working on to be reported at the American Epilepsy Society’s meeting in December 2016.
As for parents who can’t afford to be patient and report that CBD oil works to ease epilepsy in children, Halford says the flaw is who is reporting success. Parents may have a bias. That assertion burns up Janel Ralph, whose daughter Harmony has a genetic condition called lissencephaly that was causing her to have thousands of seizures a week. Expensive drugs failed to provide much relief and they still ended up with regular, expensive trips to the emergency room. Harmony’s condition degraded to the point where the Ralph family actually had started planning her funeral.
Ralph sought out CBD oil on the black market with mixed results, in part because many sources were not reliable. So the resourceful mother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, hit the ground running after the General Assembly approved the hemp amendment. She founded Palmetto Synergistic Research and worked with a grower in Kentucky to develop a “whole plant” CBD oil, which she called Palmetto Harmony.
“I had two choices,” recalls Ralph in deciding to get into the business of CBD oil. “I could get into the industry or sit back and continue to be taken advantage of.”
Ralph says Harmony, now 6, started taking the oil a year ago and her seizures have eased to the point where she’s been weaned off two drugs, is taking substantially lower doses of three others, ceased visits to the hospital and is actually starting to develop as a child.
“It’s shocking to me to see the improvements,” says Ralph.
Local advocate Jill Swing also saw a major turnaround in her daughter, Mary Louise, who started taking Palmetto Harmony last fall. The 8-year-old has gone from 800 seizures a day to about 100 to 150. Some days she has only 20. She’s been able to reduce her drug use, one by 90 percent and another by 50 percent.
“She’s starting to play with toys again,” adds Swing.
Both Ralph and Swing, who originally met via social media in “an underground network of parents,” add that they feel that whole plant CBD oil is important because of dozens of other compounds seem to work with CBD to provide relief. While edible products made with hemp seeds from Canada have been on store shelves for years, products with cannabidiol oil are now appearing in oils, lotions and salves.
History of Hemp in the USA
Hemp has a long history in the United States, dating back to the Colonies when planters grew the crop to make rope and canvas products for ships, cloth for fabric and pulp for paper. In the 1930s, hemp got lumped in with marijuana after “Reefer Madness” campaigns against cannabis, but was still embraced in the 1940s when the agriculture department sponsored a “Grow Hemp for Victory” campaign during World War II. But then came the 1960s. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis, including hemp, as Schedule 1 drug, making it basically illegal to grow in the United States.
Well after medical marijuana and recreational marijuana state initiatives passed, Congress revisited hemp in The Agricultural Act of 2014, which was the reauthorization of the farm bill, by allowing states to allow growing industrial hemp for purposes of research and development. Some states, ranging from marijuana-friendly Colorado and Oregon to Southern conservative strongholds Kentucky and Tennessee, quickly seized the opportunity. South Carolina tried, passing an amendment that was signed by Gov. Nikki Haley on June 2, 2014, allowing the cultivation of hemp by a licensed grower. But in doing so, the General Assembly failed to establish which agency would do the licensing.
Hemp Arrives in South Carolina
Advocates, such as Lucas Snyder of the S.C. Hempgrowers Association, have been working to get the amendment fixed.
“There is support for it throughout the state, from the mountains to the Lowcountry,” says Snyder, who graduated from The Citadel in May. “Our economy is still largely dependent on agriculture and it (industrial hemp) has the potential to re-create local economies.”
Snyder adds that hemp has shown not only to be more profitable than other common crops, such as soy and cotton, but requires little to no pesticides and herbicides.
Hold up, say police
Efforts to iron out the wrinkle in South Carolina’s law and the proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, supported by senators ranging from Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell to Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, are underway. But some law enforcement officials, including Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, are trying to put the brakes on the hemp train. They say the crop is too similar to marijuana and allowing its production would be risky.
In late March, during a General Assembly committee meeting on fixing the hemp amendment, Keel told the committee that “there is no economically or environmentally sound justification for the legalization or reintroduction of hemp cultivation in this state or in our country.”
Keel, who also opposed a medical marijuana bill in September, told the committee that he didn’t object to the original hemp amendment in 2014 because it “caught us off-guard.”
Keel described industrial hemp as a “novelty product” and that the profitability is “uncertain and unlikely.” Efforts to make it legal is “nothing more than a veiled attempt to normalize marijuana.”
“The plant that’s being promoted as industrial hemp is the same marijuana plant, cannabis sativa, that was used as an intoxicant for young people in the ’60s and ’70s. …Since industrial hemp and marijuana are the same plant, legalizing hemp production may mean the de facto legalization of marijuana cultivation.”
At the same meeting, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who not only sponsored the hemp amendment and the medical marijuana bill earlier this year, objected to many of the points Keel made during the meeting, including one that stated farmers are not interested in growing hemp.
“Dozens of farmers have contacted me over the past six months (saying) ‘how can we start doing it?’ ”
He added, “This is not an opportunity to re-plow what the General Assembly has declared as law … Our job now is to clear up the ambiguity in the law.”
Davis anticipates SLED will continue to take a hard line on the issue but feels that it is out of step with the “super majority” of South Carolinians, both Republicans and Democrats. He is hoping that SLED and others will work instead to make the state’s law better.
Hemp advocates such as Greg Bayne, a carpenter who lives on the Isle of Palms, say the crop provides an array of opportunities for South Carolina’s economy, noting that residents such as Ralph should be able to grow it here. One idea he sees is having local historic plantations grow it so that tourists and locals can see a crop that was widely grown in the 18th century.
While farmers still feel handcuffed from growing hemp, some businesses are already benefiting from the passage of the hemp amendment and the CBD oil law. Janice and Jennifer Emplit, the mother-daughter owners of Eucalyptus in Mount Pleasant, started selling Palmetto Harmony, along with other hemp and CBD oil products, in May.
“We have had a tremendous amount of interest in the product,” says Janice, in reference to Palmetto Harmony. “Besides parents of children with epilepsy, but also people that come in for anxiety, pain, depression and auto-immune disorders.”
They’ve even sold the oil for people with pets who have cancer.
While they keep their hemp products on shelves and counters, they keep the Palmetto Harmony behind the counter because of its price, which runs $220 for a 100 milliliter bottle and $90 for a 30-milliliter bottle. By comparison, hemp and CBD oil lotions and salves, sought after from people with arthritis, psoriasis and eczema, from Portland, Ore.-based Fay Farms run $46 and $35, respectively.
“The state is already benefitting from the hemp law,” says Janice, noting the sales taxes paid for the products.
Like Janel Ralph and other parents, the Emplits say not all hemp and CBD oils are the same.
“I tell people they need to know what they are dealing with. Know if it U.S. or imported, make sure you have third party certification and make sure its organic and pesticide-free. … I tell everybody to do their research. There are a lot of CBD oils and some made from stems, some from seeds, some are whole plant.”