Hemp (cannabis) is one of the oldest useful and ornamental plants in the world. The earliest evidence of the use of hemp fibers dates back to the third millennium BC. Hemp fibers were used to make sailcloth, ropes and cables until well into the 20th century. Today, they are used in textiles, pulps, papers and natural fiber-reinforced plastics. In addition to its use as a fiber and oil plant, hemp is also used as a medicine and (illegally) as an intoxicant (marijuana, hashish).
Ingredients of hemp
For the female hemp plant(Cannabis sativa), numerous ingredients have been proven, including over 100 different cannabinoids. The best known is THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is mainly responsible for the intoxicating effect. Another cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), is not psychoactive, so it does not induce intoxication. The cannabinoids are stored in special glandular hairs in the inflorescence area and are also present to a lesser extent in the leaves and stems of the plant. Hemp seeds do not contain cannabinoids, but are rich in fatty oil. The content of each ingredient depends on the hemp variety and climatic factors.
Situation in Austria
In principle, only hemp varieties with a THC content of less than 0.3% may be used for food production, i.e. they do not fall under the Narcotic Drugs Act or the corresponding ordinance. Foodstuffs containing hemp are e.g. hemp leaves (tea), hemp seeds, hemp (seed) oil, hemp (seed) flour, hemp (seed) protein, beverages (beer, lemonade).
The cultivation of hemp for fiber is regulated by variety and seed law in the EU and in Austria. The cultivation of the hemp varieties concerned is not subject to the Narcotic Drugs Act if their THC content does not exceed 0.3%. This allows the extraction of the fibers and seeds as well as leaves.
Placing cosmetics on the market that contain cannabis and extracts made from it is not permitted.
In Austria, one drug containing cannabis active ingredients ("Sativex") is currently approved. THC as a pure substance, also known as "dronabinol", can be dispensed as a so-called magisterial prescription, i.e. as an individual preparation of the drug directly in the pharmacy.
The seeds or the oil obtained from them and the stalks or the hemp flour obtained from them can be used as animal feed.
In principle, only hemp varieties with a THC content of less than 0.3%, i.e. which do not fall under the Narcotic Drugs Act or the corresponding ordinance, may be used for food production. The examination for THC content during cultivation takes place at the time when the hemp plant has produced the most THC (end of the flowering period). The limit of 0.3% THC for the cultivation of hemp for fiber does not apply to food, but only to the cultivation of hemp for fiber.
In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority EFSA conducted a risk assessment for THC in food of animal origin. The EFSA came to the conclusion that no adverse health effects are to be expected at a daily intake from such foods up to a maximum level of 1 µg THC/kg body weight (acute reference dose). This was also confirmed in a recommendation of the EU Commission.
As of January 1, 2023, THC maximum levels in hemp seeds and products derived from them came into force: This maximum level are 3 mg/kg for hemp seeds, hemp seed flour and hemp seed protein and 7.5 mg/kg for hemp seed oil and are set out in Regulation (EU) No . 2023/915.
The use of hemp flowers in food is not permitted due to the very high cannabinoid content to be expected. This can also be seen in the Austrian Foodstuffs Book, Chapter B31, Annex II. Flavors from Cannabis Sativa may only be used if they meet the criteria laid down in the Regulation (EC) No. 1334/2008 on Flavors. Their use must be safe, so certain flavors from Cannabis Sativa must undergo a risk assessment before they are approved.
Flavors are added to foods to impart or modify a particular odor and/or taste. If there is a specific concentrated enrichment of active ingredients (e.g. CBD) in extracts, it can no longer be assumed that these comply with the requirements of the EC Flavour Regulation. Consequently, a functional claim of the efficacy of flavors would not be permitted from a nutritional or physiological perspective. This circumstance is particularly important to consider in the case of food supplements, as their primary purpose is neither flavoring nor satiety, but rather these products are consumed for their nutritional or physiological effects.
Regarding the use of cannabis and extracts thereof in cosmetic products, reference should be made to the European Cosmetics Regulation (Annex 2 No. 306). In this list of substances prohibited in cosmetic products, natural and synthetic narcotics are mentioned. This is any substance listed in Tables I and II of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (ESK 1961), thus including cannabis and extracts made from it. Placing on the market is thus not permitted. Cannabis in the sense of the Single Convention is understood to mean the flower or fruit stalks of the cannabis plant from which the resin has not been extracted, regardless of their name. The seeds and leaves not mixed with such stands are excluded.
One medicinal product containing active cannabis ingredients ("Sativex") is currently approved in Austria. It contains the combination of two extracts, one derived from a THC-rich cannabis variety, one from a cannabidiol-rich variety. This medicine is approved to improve seizure-like symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis. Since September 2019, CBD has been approved by the EU Commission as the active ingredient in the orphan medicinal product "Epidyolex" (approval number EU/1/19/1389) under Regulation 2000/141/EC. It is used, together with clobazam, in patients aged 2 years and older for the adjuvant treatment of seizures, associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) or Dravet syndrome (DS).
THC as a pure substance, also known as "dronabinol", can be dispensed as a so-called magisterial prescription, that is, as an individual preparation of the drug directly in the pharmacy. Any physician can order such a magisterial preparation via a narcotic prescription. According to the current situation, physicians do not have a narrowly defined indication for this. Most likely, magistral prescription is used for spasticity in patients with paralysis, as well as symptomatically in multiple sclerosis patients and other nervous disorders, for the relief of chronic pain that does not respond to any other therapy (cancer, nervous system diseases) or loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. If the indication is scientifically verifiable and therapeutically reasonable (field of application), the prescription is usually approved by the chief physician, and thus the costs are covered by the health insurance.
Cannabis is also used in homeopathy. In registered homeopathic medicines, cannabis is present in a highly diluted form, and the specific area of application is determined individually by the treating physician.
In the course of the use of old cultivated plants and under the aspect of sustainability and regionality, hemp and hemp products are also repeatedly considered as animal feed. For livestock, especially ruminants, but also for pets, the focus is on the whole plant or the hemp oil extracted from the seed. According to current knowledge and ongoing discussion between EU member states, it is largely undisputed that hemp flowers and buds may not be used as feed. Hemp leaves are viewed differently due to their CBD content, but here too an exclusion from the feed chain is emerging due to negative findings from feeding trials with dairy cows that were given hemp silage. Accordingly, only the seeds or the oil obtained from them and the stalks or the hemp meal obtained from them remain as plant parts as usable individual feed components.
Cultivation of hemp or cannabis
Cultivation of hemp for fiber (industrial hemp)
The cultivation of hemp for fiber is regulated by variety and seed law in the EU and in Austria. The cultivation of the hemp varieties in question is not subject to the Narcotic Substances Act if their THC content does not exceed 0.3%. This allows the extraction of the fibers and seeds as well as leaves. The use of the blossoms and fruiting bodies, also of these varieties, is subject to extensive restrictions of the Austrian Narcotic Drugs Act, which are regulated in the Austrian Narcotic Drugs Ordinance (Annex I).
According to Article 4 of Regulation (EU) No. 2021/2015 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 2, 2021, land used for hemp cultivation is only eligible if the tetrahydrocannabinol content of the varieties used does not exceed 0.3%. Varieties must be listed in the current EU catalog of varieties "Common Catalogue of Varieties of Agricultural Plant Species".
For variety approval, a variety must undergo a two-year register test and a minimum two-year varietal value test. The register test checks the characteristics uniformity, stability and distinctness, the variety value test checks the agricultural value (=benefit of a variety for cultivation and processing) at different locations. In addition, a registerable variety denomination must be available. If these requirements are met, the variety is approved for cultivation.
Cultivation of cannabis for drug production
According to the Narcotic Drugs Act, the cultivation of plants of the genus Cannabis for the purpose of obtaining narcotic drugs for the production of pharmaceuticals as well as related scientific purposes and the testing of varieties, seeds, cultivars, lines, plants and plant parts of plants of the genus Cannabis is only permitted to the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety GmbH or a subsidiary established for this purpose.
This task is carried out by AGES under the supervision and control of the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK).
AGES may only supply the cannabis plants after harvesting and drying, or the cannabis obtained from them, to traders with a license to manufacture medicinal products and poisons and to engage in wholesale trade in medicinal products and poisons pursuant to Section 94(32) of the Gewerbeordnung 1994, GewO 1994, BGBl. No. 194/1994 as amended.
Last updated: 06.07.2023