CSU researchers investigate industrial hemp

Plant with practical uses

Colorado State University is starting to research hemp, a plant with practical uses such as the creation of textiles, soaps and oils that can also be used in the production of a range of pharmaceutical compounds. Because industrial hemp is the same species of plant as marijuana, CSU is navigating a complex legal landscape that has expanded to allow universities to conduct research on industrial hemp.

The research Colorado State University has begun is designed to benefit producers by identifying best varieties and innovative research techniques that should be used under Colorado conditions to ensure industrial hemp is cultivated efficiently and profitably.

Industrial hemp is botanically the same as marijuana, but is different in that it contains less than 0.3 percent THC – the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Bill makes provisions for CSU to conduct research on industrial hemp. Researchers in the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences work with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to manage these crops, in part because the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration considers industrial hemp to be the same as marijuana and classifies it as a Schedule 1 narcotic crop.

National leaders

“While this emerging industry faces a number of unique challenges, such as its legal landscape on a federal level, Colorado’s hemp farmers are becoming national leaders in their industry,” said Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown. “Our registrants are passionate and dynamic entrepreneurs who are developing uses that weren’t imagined just a few years ago. It will be exciting to see how this industry develops in the years to come.”

Although industrial hemp is grown in a manner similar to irrigated corn, Colorado’s arid climate and short growing season present challenges for some producers. CSU researchers believe that the greatest economic opportunity for industrial hemp may be in its future use in pharmaceutical compounds, and less for widespread production as a biomass crop for producing fibers.

Trials underway

Hemp variety trials are now underway at CSU research centers in northern Colorado and the southwest region of the state. These trials will begin to identify how different fiber, seed and oil varieties perform under different Colorado climatic and growing conditions, and are being done in cooperation with researchers in the European Union who have similar interests.

Because the federal government has allowed for industrial hemp research to take place at universities throughout the U.S., CSU is taking a leading role as the state’s land-grant institution in exploring how hemp may become an important crop in Colorado.