You may remember pervasive, eye-rolling rumors from your teenage years about the possibility of getting high by smoking hemp rope, or banana peel, or oregano. Well, as you've probably figured out by now, none of these things are going to expand your mind into a state of psychedelic nirvana. But for some reason, many people still seem to experience a lack of clarity over the whole "hemp" thing in particular—is it the same thing as pot? Is it not pot?
It doesn't help that a lot of hemp products seem marketed to encourage such confusion, with everything from body lotions to energy drinks emblazoned with a prominent pot leaf that we've come to identify as the signature stoner insignia. But look a little closer, and you'll find the disclaimers: "No psychoactive effects," "Contains no THC." Online comments on the very weed-y looking Cannabis Energy Drink, for example, are largely ones of disappointment: "Tastes bad gives you a head ache [sic] and it's [sic] best feature is it has a cool can but this shit sucks," remarks one taster. "What I find really disappointing is that there is almost no hemp in it. 0.02% can be classified as trace amounts. So it's a stress to claim any hemp-related health benefits. Nor is there any hemp-related taste or smell," says another.
Well, yeah—that's because the drink is laced with hemp seed extract, derived from Cannabis sativa plants that have low levels of THC and are bred for industrial purposes—not for smoking before you watch Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Hell, you can buy and eat an entire bag of hulled hemp seeds right now if you so desire, but it won't put you any more in that Pink Floyd mindset than a bowl of oatmeal would.
That doesn't stop anyone from trying to make money off the mix-up, however. Take the case of Habitual Fix, the New Zealand sandwich and wrap chain that's in the doghouse this week after advertising its new hemp smoothie with some decidedly druggy language and imagery.
Advertising for the smoothie—which costs AUS$7.50 and contains hemp oil, cucumber, mint, yogurt, and apple juice—clearly tried to further the notion that despite hemp extract's legality (and unintoxicating effects), it would give consumers a boost like the one they'd expect from a fabulous strand of sativa. As noted in The New Zealand Herald, slogans for the new offering included "Man, that's some strong stuff," and "Just ask your dealer." And on top of that, the cups that they're served in got the weed leaf treatment—creating the impression that whatever's inside would get you high.
The Ministry of Primary Industry was less than pleased with this advertising direction, and demanded that Habitual Fix cut it out with the drug references and health claims. Plus, the leaf had to go.
And it has. But Habitual Fix owner Tim Benest defends his strategy, claiming that it was actually a means of "provoking debate so staff could point out that there was no drug in the drink," says the Herald.
Which doesn't really make tons of sense. So you want to make it look like your drink has drugs in it ... so that your customers will ask and be told that no, they don't? "A lot of people don't know the difference so we wanted to create an opportunity to talk about it," Benest said.
I mean, maybe we're just high right now, but wouldn't that perpetuate the hemp/cannabis confusion rather than help to eradicate it?
The advertising clearly worked, as the hemp smoothie quickly became the second-highest seller in Habitual Fix stores. About 1,000 such smoothies were sold each week, though the location at Auckland Airport experienced less of a swell because airline staff were concerned that the hemp ingredient could show up on drugs tests.
There have been claims of hemp seeds containing enough THC to show up on drug tests—at least one man has escaped a DUI conviction by pinning them as the culprit—but tests have shown that it's very, very unlikely that the seeds or their extract would contain THC in levels detectable on a standard screening.
Seriously, though, man: banana peels.