If you try to get high off of some hemp, you're gonna have a bad time.
Though hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, they're two separate species, and have some pretty significant differences. In particular: commercial hemp contains only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana that gets you high. That's why, if a farm has a hemp crop that creeps above a government mandated THC-cap, the powers that be have only one choice: light that shit up.
It happened last week in Kentucky, when the state department of agriculture burned nearly 100 pounds of hemp after the THC levels tested above the legal limit. Under the Controlled Substances Act, industrial hemp can't contain more than 0.3 percent THC. But some crops grown recently in Kentucky had THC levels four times that limit, and that's just too dank for hemp.
A statement sent to me by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture said that it "has no choice but to uphold federal law," in order to "prevent that noncompliant material from entering the marketplace."
But if hemp has too much THC, wouldn't burning it put the department agents at risk of, well, getting stoned? Not really. First of all, cannabis needs much higher levels of THC to have a psychoactive effect. The average THC level in Colorado's commercial pot market, for example, is 18.7 percent, but can range as high as 30 percent or more. Even four times the legal limit for hemp is only 1.4 percent THC, not nearly enough
Second of all, hemp contains very high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD. In marijuana, combined with THC, CBD can contribute to the effects of the drug. But when there's hardly any THC, the CBD can actually block what little psychoactive effects the THC has, according to research by the North American Industrial Hemp Council.
Then there's the fact that, even if this hemp crop had THC levels on the order of pot, burning a field of weed won't get you high. This actually became a point of concern in California in the summer of 2015, when a series of wildfires began to burn through marijuana crops. Experts at the time said that the smoke from burning weed fields couldn't get you high, but might make you sick from the smoke inhalation.
Kentucky's agriculture department told me less than 1 percent of the hemp grown in the state surpasses THC levels and has to be destroyed, which is good considering it's been an important crop for the area, providing a new opportunity for farmers. For 2017, Kentucky approved 209 hemp growers to cultivate 12,800 acres of industrial hemp, which can be used for paper, textiles, and biofuel.
Even when it's too dank and has to be burned, there's no need to clutch your pearls. Just take it from Senator Ron Wyden who said this last year,when arguing in favor of more relaxed hemp growing regulations:
"You'd have as much luck getting high by smoking cotton from a T-shirt as you would by smoking hemp."