The legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill has opened many new opportunities for research by universities across the country. One example is that of the Oregon State University Global Hemp Innovation Center. This program is the latest example of expansion into institutional hemp research, with their program tasked “to advance the research of hemp and its market potential across multiple diverse industries and research fields to serve the growing international demand for innovative approaches to food, health, and fiber.”
Central to fueling new research and ensuring its validity is establishing standards for cannabinoid testing to guide farmers in the choosing of applicable genetics, setting planting/harvesting dates, and irrigation/fertilization rates. Hemp is comprised of over 100 different cannabiniods in both acidic and activated forms. An example of this is THCA, which when heated or “decarboxolated”, transforms into Delta-9 THC (the only known intoxicating molecule in the cannabis plant). Although most hemp currently being grown in the United States is cultivated for its high CBDA/CBD content, new genetics are being created for their reported beneficial effects – for example CBGA/CBG for inflammation, CBNA/CBN for sleep, THCVA/THCV for appetite suppression, and CBCA/CBC for nootropics. The focus on these genetics has been due to their higher market value for their varying uses in the health food industry.
As research continues on the various therapeutic uses for hemp, it is imperative to have a testing platform that can give accurate values for both the acidic and activated cannabinoids. Currently the two acceptable primary testing platforms used to test hemp are high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography (GC). However, gas chromatography – unlike HPLC – heats and alters the test sample causing the acids to turn into their activated forms. HPLC maintains the integrity of the sample at its current chemical state offering a true value of potency in a sample.
Hemp is sold based on the percentage value of cannabinoids contained in the raw material. Without a consistent platform standard that provides accurate cannabinoid values farmers and extractors are going to suffer from instability in the markets. HPLC has been written into law an allowed testing platform in both Texas and South Carolina. If one were to choose a single testing technology method to standardize deployment across the country, HPLC appears to be a solid choice. Either way, it is imperative that testing is standardized across research to ensure the validity of findings and allow for cross-comparisons between outcomes.