Cornell Hot Hemp Study

Research Shows Genetics Cause Hot Hemp, Not Environmental Stress

Research Shows Genetics Cause Hot Hemp, Not Environmental Stress

By Krishna Ramanujan

When hemp contains more than the legal limit of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that gets people high, the plants can test “hot.” State and federal regulations classify hemp as containing 0.3% or less THC; when hot hemp exceed that amount, farmers can lose their entire crop.

Many websites and news articles have claimed that environmental or biological stresses – such as flooding or disease – cause an increase in THC production. But very little research exists to show that’s true.

Now, a new Cornell study – published July 28 in the journal Global Change Biology-Bioenergy – finds no evidence that stress on hemp plants increases THC concentrations or ratios of CBD to THC.

“One of our goals in our research and in fulfilling our extension mission is to reduce the risks to growers as much as possible,” said Larry Smart, senior author of the study and professor in the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “With this research, growers should feel some comfort that stresses do not seem to have a strong effect on changing the ratio of CBD to THC.”

The study further proves that genetics, rather than environment, determine the THC content and CBD to THC ratios in hemp, Smart said.


Industrial hemp plants at Cornell greenhouse.

In the study, lead author Jacob Toth, a graduate student in Smart’s lab, created a series of plots in Geneva, New York, that included control plots and five stress treatments applied to three genetically unrelated high-CBD hemp cultivars. Stress treatments included flood conditions; exposure to a plant growth regulator called ethephon, used to promote fruit ripening; powdery mildew; herbicide; and physical wounding. They then tested THC and CBD content over a four-week period when the flowers matured.

One issue for farmers is that CBD and THC levels are linked, and both rise in the flowers at harvest time, creating a precarious calculation to reap the highest possible CBD levels and value of the crop, without losing everything by surpassing THC thresholds.

“What we found over the weeks that we were sampling, the amounts of CBD and THC went up proportionately in all of these different cultivars for all of these different stresses,” Toth said.

Continue reading this article from Cornell Chronicle.

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