Cornell Researchers Investigate Future of Cannabis Variant for Industrial Use

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Cornell researchers hope to expand the profitable cultivation of industrial hemp — a cousin of the controlled substance marijuana — and relay the knowledge they have gained to growers and processors across “multiple markets.”

Prof. Larry Smart, horticulture, and his team in the the School of Integrative Plant Science began their work in 2016. Today, they are investigating 1,700 acres worth of industrial hemp to understand its uses and biological composition alongside a team of Cornell Cooperative Extension specialists.

The ancient hemp plant can be used as a fiber and oil, and it also bears medicinal properties, according to Smart. These hemp products dominate the “technical and industrial fiber production, healthy oil production and whole grain and gulled grain food and snack products,” he said.

Marijuana, which comes from the same plant species as hemp, is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance — meaning that it has no accepted medicinal use and bears abusive qualities. Researching hemp, therefore, can be difficult.

“The Federal government is still very hesitant to work with hemp, so there is no USDA germplasm collection and no USDA scientists actively studying hemp,” Smart stated. “Because there is biological overlap between hemp plants and marijuana, we must be careful to only work with plant material that we are confident will not produce high levels of THC.”

Despite these challenges, the team will advance its research with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), New York Sen. Thomas O’Mara (R-Ithaca) and New York Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton) — leaders of hemp legislation in New York.

Additionally, Smart stated that Cornell researchers “are starting to build collaborations with a number of hemp breeding programs and seed companies around the world, hemp processing companies interested in locating in NYS and food companies interested in developing hemp food products.”

Smart noted that apart from pesky wildlife, Cornell’s hemp fields have not faced any security issues thus far.

“Field security is a potential issue,” said Smart. “But folks who may raid a hemp field thinking it is pot are in for a disappointing outcome if they try to smoke it.”

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