THC Isomer Found in Fiber Hemp

by | Sep 15, 2021

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.


Recently the major enantiomer, or paired molecule, of THC was found in samples of low-THC fiber hemp from Europe. Such a report isn't surprising considering how biochemical processes work. However, this finding could cause a legal ripple capable of sending the hemp industry back to 2019.

What Happened with Hemp in 2019?

With the rise of CBD and hemp in the American market, buzz flew coast to coast. For many, this was their green rush. Unfortunately for Aneudy Gonzalez, a contract driver, his chance to participate would end up with him serving a month in prison. Why? For transporting legal hemp that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) believed was cannabis.

While DPS was correct, it was technically cannabis. However, the shipment was hemp with less than 0.3% THC. If that same flower sample tested with more THC, it would be medical or recreational grade cannabis. And, these difficulties intertwined with the reality of policing are cause for sympathy. However, that doesn't stop the feds from refusing to settle. Even after stealing thousands of dollars from American companies, they refused to cooperate with the hemp producer.

Yet thriving industries are powered by these businesses the law predates on. In addition to stealing products, cannabis businesses regularly get the short end of the stick, as the Small Business Association and IRS leave them out to dry. Despite putting a lot into the system, these businesses get little out.

What is an Enantiomer?

Stereoisomers are molecules that have all the same components in different physical arrangements. Imagine two modular houses, almost identical, but one has the kitchen on the left and the bathroom on the right while the other has the opposite layout. Stereoisomers are that relationship with molecules.

Enantiomers are specifically stereoisomers with mirrored structures, like limbs or eyes. They are not replications of each other but structurally identical. On July 25th, The Journal of Natural Products published that: “The cis-stereoisomers of Δ9-THC [(-)-3 and (+)-3] were identified and quantified in a series of low-THC-containing varieties of Cannabis sativa registered in Europe as fiber hemp and in research accessions of cannabis. While Δ9-cis-THC occurs in cannabis fiber hemp in the concentration range of (-)-Δ9-trans-THC [(-)-1], it was undetectable in a sample of high-THC-containing medicinal cannabis.”

To simplify, while THC was high in medical cannabis and low in fiber hemp, the cis-stereoisomers of THC were high in fiber hemp and not found in the medical sample. Compare this to water and ice: the more ice you freeze, the less water you have, and vice versa. Hence, it makes sense that fiber hemp would be high in stereoisomers of THC as it doesn't contain many molecules with the physical arrangement of THC. However, the plant is the same, and so the material is still there, just latent.

Although, latent might not be the right word because “the major enantiomer, (-)-Δ9-cis-THC [(-)-3], was characterized as a partial cannabinoid agonist in vitro and elicited a full tetrad response in mice at 50 mg/kg doses.”

So while this molecule is not THC and has its unique profile, it is still a bioavailable agent. Here is where the risk comes into play for producers. To leave off with the words of the study: “The current legal discrimination between narcotic and non-narcotic cannabis varieties centers on the contents of “Δ9-THC and isomers” and needs, therefore, revision, or at least a more specific wording, to account for the presence of Δ9-cis-THCs [(+)-3 and (-)-3] in cannabis fiber hemp varieties.”

Why are We so Obsessed with THC?

Cannabis isn't illegal – THC is. THC makes cannabis illegal, which is why fiber hemp and CBD products are perfectly legal federally. It's the same plant, the same leaves, the same terpenes. Everything is the same except for Delta-9 THC. The absurdity of this law is why you can see people buy hemp, spray it with Delta-8 THC and sell it as a psychoactive product.

We can continue to chase after Delta-9 and close the loophole of Delta-8, but what about Delta-22? Delta-4? Chemistry is flexible, and there will always be a person clever enough to figure something out for the right price. Maybe this is a symptom of prohibition gone on too long.

Hopefully, if we can't make cannabis legal outright this year, discuss raising the limit on THC hemp to include stereoisomers of THC and 3% THC rather than 0.3%? The point would be to secure jobs and protect farmers, which is in the best interest of literally all who live here. We must protect farmers' products from bogus seizure and thus forced bankruptcy.

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