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Kentucky Company Says It's Found The 'Holy Grail Of Hemp'

Josh James
Bottles of GenCanna CBD products are displayed ahead of the company's announcement that it has developed a hemp genetics with 0.0% THC on January 28, 2019.

A Kentucky-based company says it’s developed the first patentable form of hemp grains that contain virtually no THC, the compound responsible for giving marijuana users a high. 

They’re calling it the “Holy Grail” of hemp: a genetic variant with 0.0% THC. 

Credit Josh James / WUKY

Why is that number important? Because under the new federal guidelines for hemp, growers must keep THC content under a .3 percent regulatory ceiling, or risk noncompliance. That’s left some farmers, and even universities, reluctant to jump into the game.

"The issue is that there is strict compliance," says GenCanna president Steve Bevan. "And nature is nature, so when you put a plant in a field, sometimes stresses and strains, heat, too much water, not enough water, pests, all these different things can happen, and so farmers worry." 

Bevan says the collaborative effort between his company and the University of Kentucky lays the groundwork for improvements in processing, more research, and greater consumer confidence in CBD products, a main driver of industry growth. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis that's finding its way into a host of goods, from coffee to lotions to, yes, suppositories

"It's going to be a game-changer," Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles predicts. “Just like when a farmer goes out and buys corn or soybean seeds today, they know with confidence what genetic material is in those seeds."

Hemp production was recently legalized under the 2018 federal Farm Bill, and Kentucky officials sense an opportunity to market the state as the "Silicon Valley of hemp." 

"I'm proud but not surprised that this innovation occured right here in the commonwealth of Kentucky," Quarles adds. 

Kentucky lawmakers felt sufficiently reassured about the safety of CBD, and the potential benefits of the product, when they approved SB 154 in 2014. But there's no shortage of skepticism in the General Assembly when the topic turns to medical marijuana, with frequent calls to wait for more research.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a physician who represents the district where GenCanna is headquartered, says he's a "hemp fan" and points to studies that have shown CBD's effectiveness.  

"CBD, we know... extracts have medical purposes and benefits," the legislator says. "I've got parents who come in and say, 'I just want to be able to get a dose of CBD that I know is pure, and I know how much my son is getting, my daughter is getting for her seizure disorders. I can't find that.'" 

Many CBD users swear by it, and research suggests the compound may turn down "abormal signaling" in the brain, helping patients deal with epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, and other neurological issues. But CNBCreports there's still plenty of room for study. 

"Most of our current understanding of CBD is anecdotal — not proven through scientific studies," the news outlet says. 

But whatever researchers find, GenCanna's announcement is more evidence that Kentucky farmers and processors intend to take full advantage of the current hemp and CBD boom. 

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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