UA Analyzes Hemp Plant

Lucasz Ciesla holds hemp extract as part of his lab’s research with the plant.

Alabama’s fledgling hemp industry is getting some help from the University of Alabama.

In a recently signed agreement between UA and The Wemp Co., of Dallas County, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Lukasz Ciesla will analyze the hemp the company grows on its 20-acre farm to determine the plant’s chemical make-up. The Wemp Co. is one of 200 licensed growers of industrial hemp in the state.

“Hemp is a new agricultural product in the state of Alabama, and the industry is not sure how the climate and soil make-up of the state is going to impact the levels of certain chemicals,” said Ciesla. “We are excited to fully characterize the product to contribute to a program with great potential to enhance the regional economic system.”

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Farm Bill, declassified hemp as an illegal drug, deeming hemp as an agricultural commodity that can be grown, processed and handled only by those with licenses from the states’ agricultural departments. In Alabama, the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries launched the Alabama Industrial Hemp Research and Pilot Program in January.

The Farm Bill defines hemp as all parts of the cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% of the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, including derivatives, extracts and cannabinoids. THC is the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

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Ciesla, who studies chemical compounds in natural products, will examine the plants to check the level of non-psychoactive compounds to help select the best cultivars, and to control the quality of final products, including the CBD isolate. CBD stands for cannabidiol, which some researchers say has health benefits.

His lab will analyze the full CBD oil chemical profile, including selected cannabinoids along with terpenes.

“The only thing anyone cares about right now is the level of THC, so we can know if it’s legal,” Ciesla said.

There aren’t any regulations concerning levels of other chemicals produced by hemp, for example CBD. His work with The Wemp Co. will ensure the hemp grown and processed is not only legal, but contains levels of CBD the company desires in its products and does not contain harmful levels of other chemicals, such as pesticide, herbicide or mycotoxin residues, Ciesla said.

Besides ensuring quality in the product, Ciesla said access to hemp will allow his lab group to find other non-psychoactive compounds that could potentially be used in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

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