Hemp seed scare

Cannabis Culture magazine has received exclusive information from a researcher familiar with Health Canada’s food, therapeutic products and cosmetics testing units. The researcher, a female contract worker who spoke on condition of total anonymity, said that Health Canada may release a report within the next three months outlining concerns about potential problems caused by cannabinoids in hemp food and cosmetics products.
“I am not supposed to even be talking about this,” said the researcher. “If this report comes out the way I think it will, a lot of people associated with Health Canada will be looking over their shoulder and under their cars, wondering whether a bomb will go off. This might dismay the hemp industry. It’s going to be a political test.”

The researcher explained that senior Health Canada officials last year ordered preliminary studies into the cumulative toxicity or accumulation of THC and other cannabinoids which could occur in people using hemp products.

“THC is a very lipophilic molecule. It is absorbed very readily into fat, where it bioaccumulates. They’ve been surprised at the alacrity with which the hemp industry has created products and marketing. They’re looking at thousands of research papers, and finding that THC can easily be transmitted through hemp products such as cosmetics and food, and stored in the body. They’ve asked people to look through the entire literature on this subject. Right now, they have a report of at least 160 pages that is loaded with technical information and thousands of references. This preliminary report does not look good for the hemp industry,” she said.

According to the source, Health Canada is concerned about reports indicating that THC bioaccumulation can cause developmental effects in fetuses and adolescents.

“These effects may negatively influence brain development and reproductive or-gans,” the source said. “THC build-up could also affect adults. If somebody has a heart problem, is on medication, or has other problems that THC interacts with, it could cause negative health effects. THC raises heart rate, for example.

“I think that the thing to focus on is that people don’t know they’re getting any of these things. They think that hemp products are completely harmless, but they might not be. Is that fair?” she asked.

THC safety

Fair or not, such allegations about THC have surfaced before, and been shot down by credible researchers. The book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, for example, contains a chapter that debunks the idea that marijuana affects reproductive organs. The recently released Institute of Medicine report, not written by people beholden to the cannabis or hemp industries, fails to find significant health effects of the type referred to by the anonymous researcher who spoke to Cannabis Culture. And these studies reviewed the use of whole marijuana, not the incidental accumulation of residual THC through ingestion of hemp products. ?

“Hemp industry officials might think that the proposed report is unfair or politically biased,” the researcher acknowledges.

“I think that the government is going to be in a real quandary over what to do about this report. Allan Rock [Canadian Minister of Health], has gone out on a limb to support the hemp products industry. He overruled some of the people last year who wanted to ban The Body Shop products in Canada. It’s pretty obvious that he would like to be Prime Minister, and he has tried to accommodate the progressive elements who favour hemp and even favour medical marijuana. But if this report comes out, it may look like he acted too quickly and without adequate scientific basis, and there may be a backlash from all sides ? the hemp industry, health experts, and consumers,” she said.

Health Canada has already attempted to regulate THC content in hemp products by conducting random tests and confiscating products that exceeded the maximum THC dosage, which is set at ten micrograms of THC per gram.

“Some products have exceeded this,” the researcher said, “and it may be that that ratio is too high. The government might have to lower the amount or require that there be no THC present in these products.”

Report credibility

Hugh Davis, head of?Cosmetics Microbiology for Health Canada, told Cannabis Culture that the government has indeed been conducting a study of THC content in hemp food and cosmetics products.

“Our job is to protect the public,” he said. “We have been looking at lots of research from the areas of epidemiology, medicine and biology. We are conducting a professional risk assessment.”

Davis said that earlier reports disseminated by the hemp industry may have downplayed the dangers of THC bioaccumulation.

“We are aware that no matter what we do about this there will be unhappy people,” he said. “We are making every effort to be professional and scientific about this. Before we allow something in as valid research, we examine study design, dosing regimen, where the research money is coming from, the species of hemp used, and the credibility of the researchers. We are going to consider only the most valid studies, no matter what they say.”

Davis emphasized repeatedly that ominous warnings about what the report might or might not say are premature.

“This report is going to go through extensive internal and external review until we can have the highest level of confidence in it. It is not ready to be released. It is not in a form from which somebody could make binding conclusions. It is unfortunate that somebody has been discussing its finding with the media before it is finalized,” he said.

Davis also emphasized that the hemp industry can reduce THC content by using more efficient processing and purification regimens, and by using dehulled hemp seeds. “A significant portion of THC contamination comes from hemp seed hulls,” he said.

Indeed, the hemp industry appears to be moving toward dehulled hemp seeds and specialized purification techniques. Richard Rose’s pioneering hemp food products company, which produces tasty hemp products such as Hemp Rella cheeses, has recently offered a new product ? dehulled hemp seeds.

Hemp perspectives

Jay Blair, spokesperson for an Ontario hemp farming and product marketing cooperative called Joint Hempstock, says that hemp is one of the most healthful foods known to humans.

“We just opened a restaurant in Belleville, Ontario,” he said. Our customers are going to be getting all the great health benefits of hemp oil, which has the best combination of essential fatty acids and other nutrients of any natural oil. Hemp has been used as a food and medicine for centuries. I am interested in seeing the report, of course, and if there are things that the hemp industry needs to remedy, I am sure we will do it. But my understanding is that hemp promotes health.”

Nevertheless, some alarm bells have rung. “Senator Lorna Milne [partly responsible for convincing the government to legalize commercial hemp]called me up in the middle of the Simpsons to ask me about this problem,” Davis admitted. “I assured her we are not in any way attempting to destroy an industry. We are not part of a drug war. The hemp industry has been very forthcoming in helping us look into this problem, very cooperative. We would like to make this work for our farmers and entrepreneurs.”

Davis refused to comment or speculate on any negative health effects that might be caused by hemp products. The female researcher said that the THC-hemp report may be too hot to handle.

“The joke going around is that THC eats nuts. That’s how they put it. Some of the studies indicate that bioaccumulation might affect the testes and the ovaries, as well as the hypothalimic-gonadal axis. There are hints that this might lower the sexual drive or sexual fertility. It would be interesting if they found that the use of hemp products could contribute to a decline in population growth.”

With so much at stake, will the hemp-THC report ever see the light of day?

Davis says that guidelines and explanations will likely be offered after the findings have been thoroughly reviewed. The female researcher, however, says that the findings may never be published.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this information is quietly swept under the rug,” she says. “A lot of people doubt that these products are going to cause serious harm. It might be that you have to use gallons of hemp products before you’d even begin to see negative effects, if ever. But if some scientific research indicates that hemp can be a problem in the body, it might be decided just to let sleeping dogs lie. It might be that what I am telling you never officially sees the light of day.”