Hemp Science Takes Root at Morgan State University

April 4, 2019

In this installment of “Cannabis Crossroads,” we take a closer look at the hemp revolution, and more specifically, academic hemp research.

In this installment of “Cannabis Crossroads,” we take a closer look at the hemp revolution, and more specifically, academic hemp research. Here Dr. Jiangnan Peng, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Morgan State University, discusses the pioneering efforts in hemp information sharing going on at Morgan State.

Hemp requires minimal care and grows in most climates, whereas medical cannabis is nurtured in a much more controlled environment. Additionally, hemp applications span from paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, body care products, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, semiconductors, and automobile parts to animal feed. In fact, hemp seeds, bast fibers (fibers that may be stronger than steel), and hurds (soft inner core material) are proposed to have more than 25,000 applications (1).

There seem to be many opinions related to hemp, but almost everybody agrees that hemp has the potential to become a massive market within the next few years. Hemp is vastly different from medical or recreational cannabis in terms of its cultivation and application. Despite these differences, there has been much confusion and many misunderstandings which resulted in hemp being grouped with all cannabis as a Schedule I Drug until the 2018 Farm Bill was introduced and passed.

Can you describe what makes the 2018 Farm Bill and the cultivation of hemp so important to the U.S.?

Dr. Jiangnan Peng: Hemp is a miracle economic plant that can produce a wide variety of products, from textiles and building materials, food and health products to industrial products such as fuel. However, the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and the 1970 Controlled Substances Act banned the production of hemp in the U.S. The 2018 Farm Bill could unleash a hemp renaissance in the coming years. Some analysts estimate that hemp could grow into a $20 billion industry by 2022. It benefits our farmers and entrepreneurs. It also benefits the public, not only by providing a large number of jobs, but also by producing various new products, which may include construction material made from hemp, cosmetic products containing hemp ingredients, biofuel from hemp, and new medical applications for the treatment of unmet diseases. These products may have significant impact on our daily life. In addition, hemp is an environmentally friendly and sustainable crop.

How important is hemp research, and where do you see research advances in the coming years? Any comments on some of the challenges that we will need to overcome?

Peng: The enormous opportunities in hemp research is in the field of new biomedical application, nutrition, material, and biofuel. The success of hemp renaissance depends on the breakthrough of research in these fields to provide better cost-effective products. In the coming years, new seeds and strains of hemp will be bred to provide better yield in cannabidiol (CBD), oil, protein, fiber, and biomass. Many bioactivities, which may be used for the treatment of diseases or improve health conditions, will be discovered. Technologies to remove or totally block the biosynthesis of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and generate strains totally free of THC will be needed.

What excites you most about the future of hemp science? 

Peng: More than 600 compounds have been identified from hemp, including the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and so on. However, most of these compounds have not been properly characterized for their biological activities. The cannabis plant could be called a “neglected pharmacological treasure trove.” In June 2018, the first CBD prescription drug, Epidiolex, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of two rare types of epilepsy. More applications of CBD and other components from hemp and cannabis for the treatment of different diseases are under investigation in clinical trials. As a medicinal chemist, I am most amazed and excited about the diverse bioactivities and the potential medical use of those types of compounds from hemp. I am very optimistic that more applications of CBD and THC containing new drugs derived from hemp will be approved by the FDA.

You will be speaking about the hemp industry and opportunities for science programs at the 2019 Cannabis Science Conference (April 9–10). Can you share with us a little teaser of what you will be presenting?

Peng: We have seen great opportunity and potential of industrial hemp. However, there are many challenges to boost the hemp industry to a tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars industry with sustainable development. My presentation will focus on the scientific challenges, which deal with the quality control, medical and health protection applications, optimization of seeds and agriculture conditions, fine product production, and potential biofuel production, and so on.

MSU is championing information sharing related to the hemp industry. Is there anything that you would like to add regarding MSU and any future plans for hemp science advancement?

Peng: MSU plans to facilitate the industrial hemp economy in Maryland in three aspects. First are the educational programs. MSU will develop interdisciplinary academic hemp training programs at several levels-bachelor, master, and certification programs-in the areas of medicinal plant science, chemical analysis, nutrition, and entrepreneurship. Second is the MSU research program. Our research plan includes the discovery and development of new biomedical applications of hemp; development of methods for better quality control; better agriculture; better production of fine products; and biofuel production. Third is the service program. MSU is applying for a pilot research program to collaborate with Maryland farmers to grow hemp.  Lastly, in collaboration with Shimadzu, we will build up a platform to analyze hemp and related products, and provide assessment service to the Maryland hemp industry.

Conclusion

Thank you to Dr. Peng. We look forward to your presentation, as well as Dr. Willie May’s also of MSU, at the 2019 Cannabis Science Conference in Baltimore on April 9th and 10th!

Dr. Jiagnan Peng will be giving a talk entitled, “Challenges and Opportunities Towards Revitalization of Industrial Hemp-Scientific Perspectives” on Wednesday, April 10th at 9:50 a.m. in the Analytical Session. Dr. Willie May will give the keynote address entitled, “Facilitating an Industrial Hemp Economy Within the State of Maryland” just prior to Dr. Peng’s presentation at 9 a.m.

Reference

  1. https://ministryofhemp.com/hemp/ 

About the Columnist

Joshua Crossney is the columnist and editor of “Cannabis Crossroads” and a contributing editor to Cannabis Science and Technology magazine. Crossney is also the president and CEO of CSC Events. Direct correspondence to: josh@jcanna.com

How to Cite This Article

J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology 2(2), 36-37 (2019).

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