- Category: Articles
- Published: 01 August 2000
By Jeanette McDougal, MM, CCDP, Chair
William R. Walluks, Member
Hemp Committee, Drug Watch Intl.
Fiber Cannabis hemp seed, though containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in hemp/marijuana) and other cannabinoid residue, is being heavily marketed and promoted by the hemp industry as a source of food, nutraceuticals, and cosmetics. The harmful effects of THC on humans and other animals is well documented. Hemp advocates, however, mimicking the tactics of tobacco industry apologist, challenge and “call into question” every statement substantiating harm caused by the use of Cannabis sativa L. hemp. (Where used in this paper, the term hemp refers to cannabis sativa, aka marijuana, and not to any of the numerous other plant fibers also commonly referred to as hemp.)
The campaign to use hemp fiber for paper, biomass, textiles, etc. has largely failed because hemp is neither economically viable nor technically feasible. However, because the handling, storage, and processing of hemp seed is more adaptable to present technologies than for hemp fiber, hemp seed production and products are now being aggressively promoted.
Low THC Cannabis sativa hemp that contains less than .3% (w/w) THC became legal to grow in Canada in March, 1998. THC and the other cannabinoids are found in food and other products made from fiber hemp seed. According to Canada’s national health department, Health Canada, “In theory the ripened seeds of Cannabis contain no detectable quantity of THC. However, because of the nature of the material it is almost impossible to obtain the seeds free from extraneous THC in the form of residues arising from other parts of the plant which are in close proximity to the seeds. Although it is required for the seeds to be cleaned before any subsequent use, the resinous nature of some of the material makes complete cleaning extremely difficult.” 
Since THC and the over 60 other cannabinoids are fat-soluble, i.e., store themselves in the fatty tissues of the brain and body, even a very small amount may be damaging, especially if ingested regularly. Fat-soluble substances accumulate in the body.
THC has a half-life of about seven days, meaning that one-half of the THC ingested or inhaled stays in the brain and body tissue for seven days. Traces can stay in body tissues for a month or more. The only important substance that exceeds THC in fat solubility is DDT. 
A risk assessment done for Health Canada states that, “New food products and cosmetics made from hemp – the marijuana plant – pose an unacceptable risk to the health of consumers. It also says that hemp products may not be safe because even small amounts of THC may cause developmental problems. “Those most at risk,” the study says, “are children exposed in the womb or through breast milk, or teen-agers whose reproductive systems are developing.” 
“Hazards associated with exposure to THC include acute neurological effects and long-term effects on brain development, the reproductive system and the immune system,” the study says. “Overall, the data considered for this assessment support the conclusions that inadequate margins of safety exist between potential exposure and adverse effect levels for cannabinoids (the bio-active ingredients) in cosmetics, food and nutraceutical products made from hemp.” 
The study reviewed the results of existing tests on lab animals. Health Canada may require warning labels or new regulations that could stop some products from being sold. It is considering new animal studies to examine the effects of low-level exposure to THC over several generations. 
To cast further doubt about safety, the Journal of Immunology (July 2000) recently reported that THC, the major psychoactive component of marijuana (hemp), “can promote tumor growth by impairing the body’s anti-tumor immunity system.” 
Another unknown is hemp as forage for animals. According to Stan Blade, a director of crop diversification for Alberta Agriculture, a program that will test hemp over the next year as feed for livestock is being considered in Canada. Forage hemp will be tested on cattle against a more traditional mixture of oats and barley. 
Buffalo, the common dairy animal of Pakistan, are allowed to graze on Cannabis sativa (hemp), which, after absorption, is metabolized into a number of psychoactive agents. These agents are ultimately excreted through the urine and milk, making the milk, used by the people of the region, subject to contamination. Depending on the amount of milk ingested and the degree of contamination, the milk could result in a low to moderate level of chronic exposure to THC and other metabolites, especially among the children raised on this milk. Analysis from the urine obtained from children who were being raised on the milk from these animals, indicated that 29% of them had low levels of THC-COOH (THC-carboxylixc acid, which is a major metabolite for THC) in their urine. This study indicates that the passive consumption of marijuana through milk products is a serious problem in this region where wild marijuana grows unrestricted, and that children are likely to be exposed more than adults.” 
Hemp use could compromise drug testing. In his book, “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill,” Udo Erasmus warns that people whose jobs require mandatory drug screening should avoid the use of hemp products, since THC residues in hemp products can show up in urine tests. 7. THC-positive urine tests from hemp product use were also reported in the August 1997 Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 8. For drug-testing reasons, the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force National Guard, the New York Police Dept., and the U.S. Coast Guard have banned the use of hemp foods and health supplements by their personnel. [8. & 9]
“Dr. Hugh Davis, Acting Head of Microbiology and Cosmetics at Health Canada, is quoted as saying that he has been looking at studies on hemp and has found research showing hemp (i.e., fat soluble cannabinoids) is accumulative in the body because of its long half-life and has the same adverse physiological (but not hallucinatory) effects that smoking marijuana does. One study states that cannabinoids may postpone puberty. There are 60 known cannabinoids, only three of which have been widely studied. This means that the potential harmful aspects of the remaining 57 cannabinoids, when used in a cream or shampoo, are unknown.” 
John Bailey, Microbiology and Cosmetics Division, US-FDA, (US-Federal Drug Administration) is concerned as well, stating that there is no definitive information about THC in food and cosmetics. 
Dr. Mohmoud ElSohly, Ph.D., Marijuana Project Director, NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse), states that “Fiber hemp can have significant potential for narcotic application....The threshold THC concentration (below which Cannabis would have no significant psychoactive properties) has not been determined.”  [Emphasis added] Dr. Roy H. Hart, Clinical Psychiatrist and research chemist (ret.), asserts that it is possible to experience chronic intoxication without being high. 
In addition to THC, there are other bioactive, but nonpsychoactive, cannabinoids [cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabigerol (CG)] in Cannabis sativa marijuana(hemp).  David West, Ph.D., pro-hemp activist (HI), claims that CBD blocks the effects of THC in the nervous system.  However, Dr. Carlton Turner, Director of the Federal NIDA Marijuana Project (1970-1981) and former US Drug Czar (1980s) counters that “CBD is abundant in hashish and if CBD blocked THC’s action, why would hashish be so popular? I know of no known definitive study that shows that CBD blocks THC’s affects. Fiber cannabis is rich in CBD with little THC. However, naive users can sometimes get high but regular users will not.” 
The nonpsychoactive cannabinoids may be even more toxic than THC. According to Dr. Roy Hart, “Cannabidiol (CBD) exerts an important effect on the hippocampus which is part of the limbic system of the brain, a collection of interfunctioning units concerned with emotion. CBD produces a depression of hippocampal function...Thus far experimental evidence indicates that CBD is even more toxic to tissues than THC.”  [Emphasis added] Dr. Gabriel Nahas, Research Professor, New York University, states that cannabionids other than THC (CBN and CBD) also impair dividing cells, and “are even more potent than THC when it comes to inhibiting DNA production.” 
Dr. Hart further states that “Both the psychoactive and nonpsychoactive cannabinoids occurring in nature interfere with protein synthesis, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) synthesis, and ribonucleic acid (RNA) synthesis. This is without doubt the most important statement to be made about marijuana(hemp) and is based upon the burgeoning literature of basic and applied research into cannabis. Cell-tissue-organ damage follows inevitably from these alternations occurring at the molecular level.” 
Longtime and internationally renowned Cannabis researcher, Dr. Gabriel Nahas says that research has shown that the most serious adverse consequences of consumption of THC and other cannabinoids have been observed at the earliest state of reproductive function, on the “gametes” or germ cells of man. These drugs cause damage to the genetic information contained in DNA, causing apoptosis (programmed cell death and deletion). This threatens future generations before they are conceived. 
A 1996 study conducted in the Ukraine (formerly Russia) showed that there are no varieties that completely lack(ed) cannabinoids. A rather high content of these substances (cannabinoids) was found in some varieties. The results obtained have shown that hemp cultivated in more northerly areas is naturally rich in cannabinoids. 
European Union (EU) hemp regulations for the year 2000 state that hemp subsidies will be paid on condition the farmer uses certified seed of hemp varieties with a THC content of less than 0.3%. From the years 2001/02, that upper limit will be lowered to 0.2%. 
The European Union (EU) too is concerned about any inclusion of hemp products’ in food, stating in their regulations, “...Hemp seed has one traditional but limited application as food for fish and birds. The oil from hemp seed can be used for specialist cosmetics applications. The use of hemp seed or the leafed parts of the plant for human consumption would, however, even in the absence of THC, contribute towards making the narcotic use of cannabis acceptable and, in any event, there is no nutritional justification for this. [Emphasis added] None of these products should be encouraged in their own right by Community aid....Moreover, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB, a United Nations body) states that: ‘while illicit cannabis cultivation (sic) have soared, a considerable market for food products and beverages produced with cannabis has developed in the European Union (...). The health effects of these products have not been adequately researched.’(...) [Emphasis added] The wide and unrestricted availability of such products in shops, where cannabis candy bars can be sold to minors without restriction, contribute to the overall benign image of cannabis, a drug under international control.” [OICS note of 12.3.1999.] 
“It is therefore important to remain vigilant and step up controls to ensure that illegal crops do not tarnish the reputation of the sector producing hemp for fibre. To avert such dangers, the cultivation of hemp for fibre must be strictly controlled, which means the area cultivated will have to be restricted, and the uses to which it is put must NOT include human nutrition.” [Emphasis added] These EU regulations apply from July 1, 2000. 
The findings of the previously mentioned Health Canada THC Assessment are quite alarming from a consumer health and safety standpoint. Two key areas of health hazards to humans were reviewed, and the potential for risks from consumption of hemp products was characterized. 
One health area was neuroendocrine disruption during developmental states (perinatal, prepubertal and pubertal) that leads to permanent adverse effects on the brain and reproductive systems. The second area was neurological impairment manifested as deficits in cognitive and motor skills’ performance. 
The study could not, due to data gaps, develop definitive conclusions regarding the degree of potential risk from ingesting THC through hemp products. However, even without considering the bioaccumulative hazard potential of THC through repeated or multiple-product use, or the risk from chemicals other than THC in Cannabis sativa hemp, it nevertheless came to the following conclusions:
CHARACTERIZATIONS OF RISKS FROM THC
IN HEMP PRODUCTS FOR HUMAN USE & CONSUMPTION
HEALTH CANADA STUDY (DRAFT of November 23, 1999)
|HEALTH RISK/ PRODUCT
|RISK OF NEUROLOGICAL IMPAIRMENT AND PSYCHOACTIVITY
LIKELY, PARTICULARLY FOR CHILDREN
|UNLIKELY, THOUGH CANNOT BE EXCLUDED ENTIRELY DUE TO LIMITATIONS OF STUDY
||POSSIBLE, PARTICULARLY IN CHILDREN.
*Developing fetus, nursing infant, and prepubertal/pubertal child are at greatest risk of long-term effects. THC is rapidly transferred from mother to fetus within minutes of exposure. THC accumulates and is transferred via breast-milk. 
The in-depth Health Canada Risk Assessment on THC and Other Cannabinoids (in products) Made with Industrial Hemp (11/23/99) warns “On the basis of currently available data it is concluded that the present Canadian limit of 10ug/g (i.e.,10 ppm) THC in raw materials and products made from industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa cultivars with less than 0.3% THC) would likely not protect the Canadian consumer using industrial hemp-based food, cosmetic and personal care, and nutraceutical products from potential health risks of neurological impairment and neuroendocrine disruption associated with low level exposure to THC and other cannabinoids.” 
In the United States even salad oils must be examined and certified by the US-FDA as “generally recognized as safe.” This has not been done for hemp.
Allowing or introducing toxic chemicals in our food and cosmetic systems through use of THC-containing industrial hemp products is unthinkable. To do so would jeopardize public health and safety. U.S. citizens and government agencies and officials should do everything possible to prevent this from happening, thus protecting future generations from both known and unknown health and genetic hazards.
REFERENCES: THC in Food and Cosmetics
1. Industrial Hemp Technical Manual, Health Canada, Standard Operating Procedures for Sampling and Testing Methodology Basic Method for determination of THC in hempseed oil, 1998.
2. Hart, R.H.: Bitter Grass, The Bitter Truth About Marijuana, April 1980,13-14.
3. Mcilroy, A.: “Health Canada study says THC poses health risk,” Globe and Mail, Ottawa Canada, July 27, 1999.
4. Zhu,LX., Sharma,S., Stolina,M., Gardner,B., Roth,MD., Tashkin,DP., Dubinett,SM., -9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Inhibits Antitumor Immunity by a CB2 Receptor-Mediated, Cytokine-Dependent Pathway, The Journal of Immunology, 2000, 165: 373-380.
5. “Alberta Farmers Slow To Try Growing Hemp,” Calgary Herald, Calgary Canada, August 14, 1999.
6. Ahmad, GR; Ahmad, N., “Passive consumption of marijuana through milk: a low level chronic exposure to Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)., Journal of Toxicology, Clinical Toxicology, 1990,28:2,255-260;ref.
7. Erasmus, U., Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Alive Books, 1993, p. 287.
8. Pulley, J., Air Force Snuffs Out Hemp-Seed Extract, Air Force Times, 2/8/99.
9. Cooper, M., New Police Policy Takes On Hemp Oil!, New York Times, 7/22/99.
10. Begoun, P., “Hemp Claims Can’t be Confirmed,” Tampa Tribune (FL), February 4, 2000.
11. Report to the (KY) Governor’s Hemp and Related Fiber Crops Task Force, June 13, 1995, Letter from Mahmoud A. Elsohly, Project Director, NIDA, Marijuana Project, University of Mississippi, to Prof. M. Scott Smith, Ph.D., University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, 1995.
12. Hart, R.H.: Bitter Grass, The Bitter Truth About Marijuana, April 1980, p 17
13. Ibid, p 17.
14. West, DP., Hemp and Marijuana: Myths & Realities, North American Industrial Hemp Council, Inc., 1998, p5.
15. Personal Correspondence from: Carlton Turner, Ph.D., Carrington Laboratories, Inc., Irving, TX., March 22, 1999, to: Jeanette McDougal.
16. Hart, R.H.: Bitter Grass, The Bitter Truth About Marijuana, April 1980, p 18.
17. Nahas, GG, M.D., PhD., D.Sc., Keep Off The Grass; Paul S. Ericksson, Publisher, 1990, p148
18. Hart, R.H.: Bitter Grass, The Bitter Truth About Marijuana, April 1980, p 17.
19. Nahas, GG, M.D., PhD.,D.Sc., Keep Off The Grass; Paul S. Ericksson, Publisher, 1990, p282. and Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore 2000.
20. Virovets, V.G.: Selection for Non-Psychoactive Hemp Varieties (Cannabis sativa L.) In the CIS (former USSR), 1996, Journal of the International Hemp Association 3(1): 13-15.
21. Community preparatory acts, Document 599PC0576(02): Http://europe.eu.int/eur- lex/en/com/dat/1999/en_599PC0576_02.html
22. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Other Cannabinoids in Foods, Cosmetics and Nutraceuticals Made with Industrial Hemp - A risk Assessment - (Draft) Prepared for Health Canada, November 23, 1999 (available through Access of Information, Canada). Final Report due fall of 2000, available through Health Canada.