Time for Health Canada to Modernize its Industrial Hemp Regulations to Allow for the Medical Utility of Hemp


Opinion: Marijuana.Ca Staff on July 6, 2016

Currently in Canada, the use of the flowering parts and leaves of the hemp plant, which contain Cannabidiol or CBD are restricted under the CDSA.

On June 30, 2016, Brian Wagner, CEO of NHP Consulting Inc., wrote on his blog about the Liberal Announcement of the Marijuana Task Force to Legalize and Regulate Recreational Marijuana

What was interesting about this blog posting, was his prediction on the potential promising developments for the industrial hemp industry.

The following paragraph contains the juicy tidbit:

"...there is one other significant change coming soon – that pharmacies will be given the right to sell medical marijuana at their retail locations. We are expecting the confirmation next week, through indirect contacts in the industry. It is also a very likely scenario that isolated CBD will be descheduled, placing this substance outside the restricted list."

If Brian Wagner is right, these potential changes to regulations could have considerable impact on the Canadian industrial hemp industry.

Canada has been growing industrial hemp since 1998.  Utilizing the seed and fibers of the hemp plant, Canadian farmers recognized the potential to produce environmentally friendly products such as building materials, textiles, paper and healthy nutrient rich foods, to name but some.  Canada is currently the largest exporter of industrial hemp worldwide.  The industrial hemp industry in Canada is relatively young, but going strong.  The economic potential of this industry looks promising, as the demand for hemp products continue to grow globally.  

However, the hemp plant also has therapeutic health potential which is not currently being utilized in Canada.

As outlined by Health Canada:

Industrial Hemp Regulations, industrial hemp includes Cannabis plants and plant parts, of any variety, that contains 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or less in the leaves and flowering heads.

Industrial hemp also includes the derivatives of industrial hemp plants and plant parts. These do not include the flowering parts or the leaves.

It is worth noting again, that Health Canada regulations do not permit the industrial utility of the flowering parts or the leaves of the hemp plant.  Essentially these parts of the plants go to waste.  And what a tremendous waste it is, of resources, and of economic and medicinal potential this incredible plant has to offer.

This seems quite ludicrous, especially in a landscape where there is growing anecdotal and evidence based clinical research demonstrating the therapeutic potential of Cannabidiol or CBD to treat various health conditions. 

In a press release issued June 7, 2016, Kim Shukla, Executive Director of Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA) said, "Hemp could serve as a Canadian medicinal health product because it contains cannabidiol (CBD) but almost no THC, the psychoactive component.  Ironically, today Canadians who need the beneficial cannabinoids to treat medical conditions only have recourse to marijuana, while these components of our hemp crops are being left to waste in Canadian fields."

"Hemp farmers want the option to harvest their entire crop and explore the opportunity for the whole plant, including cannabinoids such as Cannabidiol (CBD)," adds Shukla. "New research continues to build the mounting body of evidence that CBD can have positive health effects, such as alleviating schizophrenia-related symptoms."

This situation is particularly poignant in the case of childhood epilepsy, for which high CBD is proving to be an effective treatment. There is a growing body of clinical research demonstrating its potential therapeutic uses. There are high levels of CBD in hemp and hemp does not have the psycho-activity that is prevalent in medical marijuana. The psycho-active THC is a concern for parents of children with epilepsy wanting access to CBD.

Dr. Steven Laviolette, University of Western Ontario says, "Increasing research is showing that CBD not only serves as an effective treatment option for several serious brain disorders including epilepsy and schizophrenia, we now know that CBD actually counteracts many of the negative effects associated with THC."

Right now, the cost to patients of high CBD cannabis is equivalent to high THC marijuana as it is being grown in the same high security facilities. Allowing hemp farmers to harvest CBD from their crops would radically reduce the cost to patients.

"In Canada today, hemp can only be harvested for grain and fibre," adds Shukla. "So farmers have to incorporate the CBD-rich hemp chaff, the leaves and flower parts, into the soil and waste it. In countries where it can be harvested, it is processed into products like CBD oil."

Now, internationally, Canadian hemp farmers stand to lose ground in their market position to competitors who are currently working to de-regulate and gain market share. According to Shukla, "Some European countries and American states have already made changes to their regulations to permit whole-plant use, but Canada's Industrial Hemp Regulations have not changed since they were adopted in 1998."

In early May, CHTA provided a position paper to Health Canada, including a legal basis for Canada to allow whole-plant hemp use without contravening any international conventions.

"We are cautiously optimistic that the new Federal Government stance on marijuana legislation will have a timely, positive effect on Health Canada's Industrial Hemp Regulations," says Shukla. "We would be pleased to work with Health Canada on solutions that meet their requirements for oversight and regulation and allow us to offer our superior product options to Canadian and International consumers."

It is definitely time for change, and we support the CHTA's mandate to utilize the entire hemp plant for its' multitude of uses. We urge Health Canada to make the necessary and sensible changes to regulations, as soon as possible.