Hemp is an emerging crop for Canada where supporters see endless possibilities for a plant that yields food, fibre and pharmaceuticals.
There is considerable interest in cannabidiol (CBD) but it remains a controlled substance around the world because governments want to ensure it is safe with no long-term negative effects.
CBD is not addictive but there is limited research data on health claims, long-term safety, quality and characterization, said Valentina Vaguenguiem of Cannabis Compliance Inc. Deloitte.
In the next decade, there will be new pharmaceuticals available and CBD-infused beverages and edibles will be mainstream, she said at the recent Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance annual meeting held in Calgary.
“Historically, regulations work behind innovation and this industry is no different,” she said.
“It is the greatest challenge for the industry but it is also the greatest opportunity to work with the regulators and provide your input and shape your market,” she said.
The industry needs to produce a good-quality product and work with regulators for safe markets and commercial opportunities.
CBD is an active ingredient in medical marijuana, but it is usually derived from hemp. It is not addictive and may have medicinal properties.
CBD-based edibles, vapes, drinks and other products are filling the marketplace, said Jim Brandle. He is vice-president of agriculture science and plant research and development with Ontario-based Canopy Growth, which owns a number of subsidiary companies growing and marketing cannabis and hemp.
“The interesting thing about the CBD consumers is they are different from the THC consumers,” he said.
CBD consumers are on average, aged 40, have a higher education, employed and are evenly split among genders, he said.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.
Hemp also produces a strong fibre that can be processed into textiles, rope, paper and construction materials.
There are pilot plants in Alberta and Manitoba and the markets for the final products are still in development.
“Get a market before you ever grow the crop,” said Byron James of Innotech, a plant at Vegreville, Alta.
Until recently, there has been limited information on uses for fibre, and hemp straw ended up as a waste product or was given away.
A major part of the processing involves decortication, which results in taking the straw apart and producing two types of fibre called the hurd and bast. These are used for further processing.
As the industry expands, decortication must be part of a plant operations.
Producing the best fibre starts in the field.
Processors need clean straw with no weeds, barley or wheat straw in the mix.