The Agricultural Research Council – Industrial Crops campus (ARC-IC) has begun a research programme that will focus on optimising the cultivation of hemp for medicinal purposes, it said in a statement released yesterday (Tuesday).
ARC-IC explains that research will be conducted to optimise the cultivation of local pharmaceutical grade active ingredients. This will aid in creating models, standard operating procedures and training manuals to ensure that good agricultural practices are achieved in cultivating hemp for medicine.
Hemp, the ARC-IC explained, has significantly lower tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations than marijuana, and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CDB), with very low psychoactive effects. Hemp also contains much higher levels of oil.
The research council also outlined the wide range of uses for hemp, with industrial hemp being capable of producing over 25,000 consumer products, from clothing and accessories to homewares and cosmetics.
Here are some of the products that can be derived from hemp:
Clothing and shoes
Rope and canvas
Fuels and chain lubricants
Biodegradable plastics, paper, fibreboard and cement blocks
Cosmetics and soap
Three main parts of the hemp plant are being cultivated, namely for the plant’s fibre, seeds, and for medicinal and narcotic properties. Medicine based on cannabinoids can be used to manage the symptoms of many debilitating conditions and illnesses.
The reason for ARC-IC’s excitement regarding creating a research programme is the recent Constitutional Court ruling that marijuana is legal to smoke in private residences. To date, handling and cultivating hemp in South Africa has been illegal, due to the plant being classified under the cannabis species. Because of this, cultivators are required to request a permit from the department of health under the medicines control council for the cultivation, transport and use of hemp.
ARC-IC is hopeful that Tuesday’s Constitutional Court ruling may make it easier to cultivate this resilient and sustainable plant on a smaller scale, as well as allowing it to develop new products and uses for hemp. It explains that this would be a good opportunity for enterprise development and job creation.
It added that not enough hemp is being produced for the local South African market, due to the legislative barriers which restrict the amount of hemp that is allowed to be produced. This exists despite there being a prominent market for imported hemp products, namely textiles and fibres. At present, many hemp products are being manufactured in the country, but are actually imported from raw materials accessed in other parts of the world.
The research body has been cultivating, harvesting, and researching hemp for over 20 years, it explained, after being granted permits to do so in 1994. Results indicate that hemp fibre can be successfully cultivated in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, and the Western Cape. It explained that the confined production of hemp is because of the plant only being allowed 14 hours of illumination each day, also known as a photoperiod.
The promising research will allow the hemp industry to thrive, stimulate job creation, and create healthy alternatives within the medical community.