Questions on Hemp

Changed on: 05.04.2017

Hemp

Hemp (Cannabis) is one of the oldest agricultural and ornamental plants in the world. The earliest evidence of the use of hemp fibres dates back to the Third Millennium BC. Until the 20th century, hemp fibres were widely used for the production of canvas, ropes, and cords. Today, they are applied to textiles, pulp, paper-and natural-fibre composites. Additionally to a fibre and oil plant, hemp is also used in medicinal products and (illegally) as narcotic (marijuana, hashish).

Hemp (Cannabis) is one of the oldest agricultural and ornamental plants in the world. The earliest evidence of the use of hemp fibres dates back to the Third Millennium BC. Until the 20th century, hemp fibres were widely used for the production of canvas, ropes, and cords. Today, they are applied to textiles, pulp, paper-and natural-fibre composites. Additionally to a fibre and oil plant, hemp is also used in medicinal products and (illegally) as narcotic (marijuana, hashish).

Ingredients of hemp

Ingredients of hemp

Numerous different ingredients have been identified within the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), amongst them approximately 60 different cannabinoids. The best known is THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol) which acts as narcotic. Another well-known cannabinoid, Cannabidiol (CBD), is not psychoactive -- therefore does not trigger such type of intoxication. CBD is assumed to have anxiolytic, neuroprotective, antipsychotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-nauseous and muscle-relaxing (antispasmodic) effects. It is also believed to express inhibiting/healing effects with specific types of cancer.

However, many of the effects attributed to Cannabidiol are not yet scientifically confirmed.  The cannabinoids are stored in specific glandular hairs in the region of the inflorescence and, to a lesser extent, can be found in the leaves and stalks of the plant. Hemp seeds do not contain cannabinoids, but are rich in fatty oil. The levels of the individual components in these plants depend on the hemp variety and climatic factors.

 

 

Cultivation of hemp grown for fibre

Cultivation of hemp grown for fibre

Fibre hemp is regulated in the EU and Austria by the Seed and Plant Variety Act. Cultivation of the varieties in question is not subject to the Austrian Narcotic Substances Act as long as the THC content does not exceed 0.3 %. This makes it possible to obtain fibres and seeds, as well as leaves.

By contrast, flowers and infructescences containing THC shall solely be used for medical or scientific purposes, in line with the provisions stated in the Austrian Narcotic Substances Act, and only processed by commercial businesses that are licensed to produce medicines and poisons or have a wholesale license for medicines and poisons in line with Art. 94 Subpara 32 of the 1994 Austrian Commercial Code, Federal Law Gazette No 194/1994, as amended.

In addition, it is important to note that in the EU hemp varieties are only financially supported if they do not contain more than 0.2% THC in their dry matter, in accordance with Article 39 of Regulation (EC) No 73/2009. Each variety must pass a two-year registration audit for licensing, during which characteristics such as uniformity, stability, and distinctness have to be checked. In Austria, a value analysis (the examination of the cultivation value at various locations) is undertaken for a period of at least two years. If the results of both tests are satisfying, the variety is approved for cultivation.

Cultivation of hemp for drug manufacturing in Austria

Cultivation of hemp for drug manufacturing in Austria

According to the Austrian Narcotic Substances Act (Art. 6, Federal Law Gazette I No 112/1997, as amended), in Austria only the AGES and any of its units specifically set up for this purpose are legally entitled to cultivate cannabis plants and produce narcotic substances for the purpose of drug manufacturing, and related scientific purposes.

This activity is subject to strict conditions and high security standards and is carried out by AGES under the supervision and monitoring of the Federal Ministry of Health and Women's Affairs (BMGF).

AGES is in charge of delivering the harvested and dried cannabis plants and any cannabis obtained from them solely to commercial businesses that have the appropriate licenses for the production and wholesaling of pharmaceuticals and poisons, in line with Art. 94 Subpara 32 of the Commercial Code of 1994, Federal Law Gazette No 194/1994, as amended.

Cannabis as a medicinal product

Cannabis as a medicinal product

In Austria, there is currently one medicinal product approved containing active compounds of cannabis. It comprises the combination of two extracts -one comes from a THC-rich cannabis variety, and the other one from a cannabidiol-rich variety. This pharmaceutical has been authorized for improvement of spasmodic symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis.

THC as a pure substance (also known under the generic name ‘Dronabinol’) can be dispensed in Austria as a so-called “Magistrale Zubereitung” – a medicine individually prepared directly in the pharmacy (pharmaceutical formulation). Each physician may request such preparations using a narcotics prescription. Currently, doctors are not required to specify narrowly defined indications. Pharmacy-prepared prescriptions are most likely used for spasticity in patients with paralysis, as well as symptomatically in patients with multiple sclerosis  and other nervous disorders, and to relieve chronic pain not responding to any other treatment (cancer, diseases of the nervous system), or against loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting in cancer and AIDS patients. If it is indicated, and scientifically and therapeutically justified, this preparation will be usually granted by the chief physician whereby the cost will be covered by health insurance. The therapeutic efficacy and safety of cannabidiol (without combination with THC) is currently being tested in clinical studies.

Hemp as food

Hemp as food

As a matter of principle, only hemp varieties shall be used in food production where the THC content is below 0.3% not falling under the Narcotic Substances Act or corresponding regulations. Whereby, the analysis of the THC content is conducted at that time when the hemp plant is producing the most THC (end of flowering). Even though the 0.2 % THC mentioned in chapter “Cultivation of hemp grown for fibre” are often taken as a threshold value to document the safety and lack of harm to health of the hemp variety cultivated, it has to be clearly stated that this value does not apply to foods, but exclusively to the cultivation of hemp grown for fibre.

Hemp containing foods are for instance hemp leaves (tea), hemp seeds, hemp oil, hemp flour, hemp protein, beverages (beer, lemonade). Hemp is also used in the manufacture of cosmetic products.

Between 2007 and 2016, AGES has examined more than 130 samples of hemp food. Only one sample (in 2008), a piece of gingerbread made of hemp flour, was assessed to be unfit for human consumption, due to its high THC content.

In the recent past, the European Food Safety Authority EFSA has carried out a risk assessment on THC in foods of animal origin (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4141), and has come to the conclusion that a daily intake of not more than 1 µg THC/ kg body weight (acute reference dose) originating from such foods is not expected to lead to adverse health effects. This was also confirmed by Commission Recommendation (EU) 2016/2115.

Thus, the acceptable maximum THC content depends on the amount of food consumed and must be established for each group of foodstuffs on an individual basis. However, as long as no legitimate maximum values have been specified, an individual risk assessment has to be carried out in case THC is detected in a food product. This assessment includes the marketability of the food product in question by taking into account the amount of food consumed and the acute reference dose set by EFSA.

Cannabidiol (CBD) enriched extracts

Cannabidiol (CBD) enriched extracts

Quite a new trend pose cannabinoid-containing oils / extracts marketed mainly as food supplements. However, such products are not consistent with the definition of food supplements as stated in Art. 3 Item 4 of the Austrian Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG, Federal Law Gazette I No 13/2006, as amended). As a result, they are not covered by food law.
The Cannabidiol concentrations of such extracts are much higher than those of conventional food products made from hemp. For concentrations at those levels there are currently no studies available that examine possible health effects sufficiently. In addition, such CBD preparations always contain varying levels of THC which have to be considered separately in respect of their potential adverse health effects.

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