Gaining the green light with the signing of the Farm Bill, farmers all over the United States are ready to hit the ground running to plant hemp. With an exploding market for hemp-derived, cannabinoid extracts, the temptation to jump into the market may lead some farmers down a less-than-ethical path. Until federal regulations and testing requirements catch up, the allure of fast money can easily lead to shady business practices, endangering lives and creating more significant health problems in the long run.
No matter how you look at it, hemp is a miraculous plant. For thousands of years, man has been cultivating hemp for food, fiber, medicine, and more. Unfortunately, pollutants from industrial manufacturing, chemical-heavy farming practices, landfills, and toxic waste sites, as well as, automobiles started to infiltrate our environment several decades ago, and in many cases, the toxins left behind have grown out of control. While hemp can help correct the problem through the process of phytoremediation, we need to evaluate how manufacturers intend to use the contaminated biomass.
Understanding the process of phytoremediation, and the dangers therein, for products intended for human consumption only requires a simple science lesson regarding the biological processes of the cannabis sativa l. species of plant.
Botany 101: Phytoremediation
Phytoremediation is just one of the many ways hemp has the potential to save the world. While not exclusive to the hemp plant, phytoremediation is nature’s way of vacuuming toxins, like chemicals and heavy metals, out of the soil and groundwater. In fact, through the process, hemp can absorb a wide variety of compounds from the soil including:
- Heavy Metals
- Radioactive Elements
- Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fungicides
Essentially, through the process of phytoremediation, certain plants are Mother Nature’s ‘Magic Eraser’ – cleaning up the messes left behind by poor farming, industrial, and waste dumping practices. While some plants are better at it than others, there are three fundamental ways the process works:
- Phytoaccumulation: While the hemp plant absorbs the water and nutrients necessary for survival, the roots also readily absorb the contaminants from the soil around them. The toxins, such as lead, cadmium, nickel, zinc and even arsenic, accumulate in the shoots and leaves of the plant, where they are stored until the plant dies, degrades, and then repeats the process.
- Phytovolatilization: Through this process, plants absorb organic contaminants, but instead of storing them like metals, the plant releases the pollutants through its leaves and into the air.
- Phytodegradation: The plant does not only consume some pollutants but come can be metabolized and destroyed entirely.
Through these natural processes, environmentalists have high hopes for hemp. As a hyperaccumulator for metals like lead, cadmium, magnesium, chromium and more, hemp could help clean up thousands of toxic sites across the United States. Hemp also requires fewer resources and a shorter growing cycle than many other types of bio-accumulators which ultimately speeds up the process.
Already in practice around the world, last year, Italian farmers made international headlines, using hemp to remove toxic levels of dioxin from their sheep farm. The farm became so severely polluted from a nearby steel plant, they had to euthanize the entire herd. In an effort to decontaminate the soil and prepare for future livestock, the farmer planted hemp to remediate the soil.
Here in the United States, there are thousands of acres of contaminated land. According to the EPA, there are dozens of ways soils became toxic including “intended, accidental, or naturally occurring activities and events such as manufacturing, mineral extraction, abandonment of mines, national defense activities, waste disposal, accidental spills, illegal dumping, leaking underground storage tanks, hurricanes, floods, pesticide use, and fertilizer application.”
A Blessing and a Curse
While hemp is a blessing for the environment and could solve many of the pollution problems throughout the US and the world, for a patient or consumer seeking health benefits, untested hemp could be more of a curse. Contaminated plants produce contaminated products. Therefore, proper regulations regarding the cultivation, processing, and thorough testing of hemp-derived cannabinoid supplements is critical for consumer safety.
In 2015, a study on medical cannabis concentrates from California showed more than 80 percent of the samples tested positive for contaminants. As manufacturers produce the extracts, they are essentially condensing the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical compounds, as well as, toxins, into the extracted oil. If the plant material contains pesticide residues or heavy metals absorbed from non-organic soils, then the oils extracted from the plant will also contain the same contaminants.
For patients and consumers seeking health and wellness benefits from CBD dietary supplements and nutraceuticals, untested, unregulated hemp may do more harm than good. As a hyperaccumulator, hemp may store several toxins from the soil it was grown in, just a few include:
- Cadmium (Cd) – highly toxic metal found in fossil fuels, phosphate fertilizers, iron and steel production, certain industrial pigments, and other manufacturing methods. Recent studies suggest cadmium ingestion is associated with higher risk of endometrial, breast and prostate cancer as well as osteoporosis. Cadmium inhalation leads to pneumonitis, pulmonary edema, and death.
- Lead (Pb) – used in hundreds of manufacturing processes, construction, and consumer products, lead is highly poisonous if inhaled or ingested. Lead poisoning affects the entire body causing issues with the central nervous system, muscular system, brain development, as well as, cause organ failure and death.
- Nickel (Ni) – an essential element for plants, and in small doses, harmless for humans, but chronic inhalation of nickel can be toxic or even carcinogenic over time.
Ethical CBD Production Starts with Responsible Cultivation
Colorado, Washington, and Oregon went through the growing pains and the learning curves of discovering safe cannabis cultivation and production, and we understand regulations are necessary. Keeping CBD in the hands of farmers, and out of the hands of the FDA, means providing products which are ethically-grown, in controlled conditions, verified contaminant-free and safe for human consumption. Because of the process of phytoremediation, this starts with organic soils and clean water.
As other states look to hemp to correct otherwise failing agriculture industries, we must not lose sight of our roots. Cannabis is a healing plant by nature, but allowing poor practices is sure to ruin a good thing.