Troy University to research hemp uses

Published 8:21 pm Monday, April 29, 2019

With the federal legalization of hemp use, production and sale, Troy University is seeking to be on the cutting edge of research into applications of the plant.

Dr. Zhiyong Wang, associate professor of chemistry and physics, will head up the hemp research program when it begins.

“This is something very new for the whole country as well as the state,” Wang said. “Before the end of 2018, hemp was still classified alongside marijuana as a controlled substance on the federal level, although some states began legalizing recreational use of hemp earlier. Last year the federal government decided to change that rule and separate it from marijuana and it can now be grown for industrial usage.”

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The U.S. Farm Bill passed in December 2018 paved the way for hemp production and sale to be legalized across the country.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, joined by several other state law enforcement agencies, confirmed in a public notice that the bill does make the production of hemp legal under certain standards.

“As a result of this Congressional action, CBD derived from industrial hemp, with a THC concentration of not more than .3 percent on a dry weight basis, can be legally produced, sold, and possessed in the State of Alabama,” the notice states.

Wang said this change opens up a new door for research into the potential applications of the plant.

The research program will have both a biological and chemical focus, Wang said.

“We will have a biologist to work more on the biology part; to cultivate the plant and see under what conditions it grows very well,” Wang said. “I’m a chemist, so that’s more of my interest. Hemp does contain many chemicals, many related to the ones in marijuana called cannabinoids. There are more than 100 of those type of compounds.”

The primary difference between hemp and marijuana, Wang said, is the concentration of Tetrahydrocannibinol (THC).

“THC is the reason hemp and marijuana were classified together,” Wang said. “THC is the ingredient that can make you feel excited, that gives you that high. For normal marijuana, that THC content is high. But most hemp has less than a 0.3 percent concentration of THC, which is also the regulatory line set by the government.”

The THC concentration is hemp is so low that “it would be almost impossible to get a high” from it, Wang said. And regulatory processes are in place to keep hemp from being sold with more than the legal threshold.

“Before we harvest, the Department of Agriculture and Industries takes a sample to bring it back to their lab,” Wang said. “If the THC content is 0.3 percent or above, that batch of plant must be destroyed. If it’s less than that, we’ll be able to explore the kinds of applications we can possibly do with it.”

Taking into account that batches of hemp with more than 0.3 percent THC must be destroyed, Wang said one goal of the research is to make production more consistent so that people seeking to begin production are not losing money producing bad batches of the plant.

On the chemistry side of the program, Wang said the research will seek what methods of extraction work best and test different mixes of the chemicals present in hemp.

“Once we find out what the major components are, we’re going to try to purify it or do some structure modification of those compounds,” Wang said. “We want to get a pure and definitive structure. Maybe we can evaluate compounds for arthritis, depression. In that area will need to be a lot of collaborations because it becomes pretty big from there.”

CBD oil, an extract of the hemp plant, is already being sold in Troy and some Pike County residents have reported using the chemical for a variety of ailments such as depression, anxiety, arthritis and blood pressure.

Wang said more research is necessary into CBD oil though for any of those claims to be verified.

“CBD is the biological opposite of THC,” Wang said. “Whereas THC produces a high, CBD is going to repress that activity. There has been much preliminary research on it and people making all kinds of claims. Some peer-reviewed scientific journals claim that it could possibly help epilepsy and other different conditions. But any pharmaceutical has to be approved by the FDA, and I don’t think they have approved any cannabinoids so it cannot be sold as a drug. In order to be a drug, it has to show efficacy against a condition and there has to be a lot of research.”

In order to conduct the research program, Troy University was required to get a license through the ADAI. The department website also shows that two licenses have been secured to grow hemp in Pike County by Joseph Brabham and Aretha Dix. Dix also received a license to process hemp in Pike County, while Braham is licensed to process hemp in Bullock County.

Individuals and businesses must be licensed by the ADAI to grow or process industrial hemp in Alabama. Under laws passed by the Alabama Legislature and the United States Congress, it is unlawful to possess any raw or unprocessed