Study: Most high-CBD hemp plants are 90% marijuana, genetically

High-CBD plants inherit approximately 90% of their genes from marijuana, according to a new cannabis genomics study by the University of Minnesota and hemp breeding company Sunrise Genetics.

The collaborators assembled a complete genome from a new cannabis variety and also examined several different cannabis varieties. They found that by breeding high-THC marijuana plants with lower-THC hemp varieties, breeders can develop new varieties that produce high levels of CBD.

But this breeding feat “poses a challenge” — and a big risk for farmers, according to study co-author CJ Schwartz of Sunrise Genetics.

“The genes that allow for the production of CBD are also a bit ‘leaky,’” Schwartz said in a statement.

“This can result in about 5% of the product ending up as THC instead of 100% CBD.”

Farmers who grow these high-CBD varieties to maturity have a much higher risk of their crops going hot, crossing the federal legal limit of 0.3% total THC.

“These high-CBD plants are genetically marijuana for the most part and they can’t be expected to meet the legal definition of industrial hemp in every situation,” said study co-author George Weiblen, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

“This means that CBD products — such as flowers, extracts and edibles — that are labeled ‘hemp’ could be incorrectly labeled and falsely branded. Fiber hemp and products made from hemp seeds, however, are drug-free.”

The full study is published in the New Phytologist, an online academic journal.

Weiblen and a team of researchers also developed a genetics test in late 2020 that can predict whether a cannabis plant will produce mostly CBD or THC molecules.

6 comments on “Study: Most high-CBD hemp plants are 90% marijuana, genetically
  1. Derek Cloar on

    This is literally nuts and shows that the university and those involved don’t have a damn clue of what they are talking about. First off, this is the Cannabis plant. It is one plant divided solely by a legal definition based on the content of one compound, THC, making most everything they said pure babble and nothing more.
    We CAN do better!

    • WesternUSCA1 on

      I complete agree with Derek’s comment.
      Hemp is a federally legal commodity crop, LEGALLY defined as such because the Cannabis Sativa plant is bred to contain less than 0.03% THC. This by definition makes it HEMP.
      Hemp flowers are not necessarily a CBD product, since the amount of each and every cannabinoid can vary by selective breeding or other more invasive and expensive processes done to the hemp plant. CBD and THC are only TWO of over One-Hundred different cannabinoids that a Cannabis Sativa plant can contain.
      As long as the THC content of a HEMP plant or a HEMP plant-derived product, is at or below 0.03%, (contrary to George Weiblen’s erroneous statement) it is LEGALLY, and therefore correctly, labeled and branded as what it is: HEMP. They are definitely not ‘incorrectly labeled,’ nor are they ‘falsely branded.’ George Weiblen needs to correct his statements since he could potentially and unwittingly place HEMP products manufacturers in legal peril for the labeling of their HEMP products. Predatory ambulance-chasers are always out there looking to exploit hardworking folks.
      A product that derives from a CANNABIS plant has, by that specific definition, a much, much higher THC content, and will require additional steps to lower that THC content, which is not the primary intent in growing CANNABIS.
      Additionally, there are well-known organizations tasked with certifying HEMP seeds for their different attributes and qualities, while maintaining the required 0.03% THC limit.
      We all benefit from keeping the HEMP and the CANNABIS industries separately regulated. I sincerely, and strongly believe that it would negatively, and significantly impact HEMP farmers, product manufacturers (and the final consumer’s wallet), if they constantly had the DEA, and others needlessly meddling in their agricultural businesses; not to mention the exorbitant fees for CANNABIS licenses and permits, and all of the burdens of CANNABIS over-regulation. Why place all those burdens on HEMP farmers who are only interested in growing low-THC HEMP?
      Today, HEMP is a federally legal commodity crop: Let’s keep it that way and not regress back towards prohibition-era, flawed, outdated mindsets.
      Hemp is hemp, regulated as such.
      And Cannabis is Cannabis, also regulated as such.
      Thank you.

    • lexington whitney on

      I agree with previous comment. That the cannabis plant that has been basically reverse hybridized and cultivated to become “Industrial Hemp” has a majority of the genes in “Marijuana” is, and has been, known to be so for years by researchers and drug enforcement agencies. The Professor and his client have wasted money and time. The breeding mentioned in this article has been done for decades. Defined in Federal Law as”Industrial Hemp” as long as this “cannabis” plant, during cultivation and after harvest and in one’s possession contains delta 9 thc under 0.3%, it is Hemp. If, as in the article, someone produces a hemp product that contains 5% THC ( such as oil) they have been in possession of marijuana and should have been aware of this before making the illegal product. Ruderalis Hemp the ” Fiber hemp” mentioned by the Professor is also “cannabis” that produces zero ( or undetectable) THC – and very little cbd- ( none in the seeds) and is also genetically similar to marijuana . To make a statement that anyone producing CBD products labeled as hemp is mis-labeling and that the Cannabis hybrid used to produce CBD “can’t be expected to meet the legal definition of industrial hemp in every situation” is partly true – one can’t let it reach .3% when grown- and therefore generally irresponsible. Farmers, formulators, and brands are painfully aware that their hemp and derivatives must remain under 0.3% THC.

  2. YearofAction on

    Why should growers have to worry about destroying hot hemp? Why should people not be allowed to grow any variety of cannabis plant according to their state’s regulations with a minimum of federal interference, like U.S. citizens did before 1937?

    It is the inaccurate federal definition of marijuana that enables so many federal rules. By accurately defining marijuana, there would not have to be a carve-out for hemp because cannabis plants would be carefully descheduled according to the 2nd, 4th, 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments, to be controlled by the states.

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