Hemp is Happening in Colorado
and CBD is the western slope “bonanza”
By Kathryn R. Burke
Top left, hemp plants in greenhouse. Top right and lower left, equipment used to pant hemp. Bottom right, hemp drying in warehouse. All photos by the author. Taken ad Little Flower Hemp Company in Montrose County.
[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]
What is Hemp?
Wear it, eat it, build with it. Use it for hair, skin, and health care. Hemp has so many uses, it’s hard to list them all. Hemp is truly a miracle crop; it’s to today’s consumer what the buffalo was to the Native Americans: an all-inclusive source of food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. As a topical body product, hemp is made into creams, creams, soaps, shampoos, bath salts, and sprays—all of which help skin stay soft and smooth and seem to have anti-aging benefits. The high fiber content gives it strength and durability for making into cloth or material that can be sewn, worn, or carried (like a backpack). It’s so strong (and doesn’t hold moisture) that hemp can be used in building construction and is even being considered for highway construction. And yet, from the late 1930s until recently, it was illegal to grow or sell it.
Now, thanks to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (popularly known as the 2018 Farm Bill), hemp and hemp-derived CBD have become one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., forecasted to be a $1 billion industry by 2020. Not surprising, since the turnover time for a hemp crop is only four months; it takes 40 years to replace a tree.
History of Hemp
Grown in North America since 1606, hemp is one of our oldest cultivated crops and an important source of oilseed and fiber. Prior to the 1930s, hemp was used for paper production, clothing, rope, herbal medicine, and even a recreational drug. The latter was the basis of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which killed the industry. It had a brief resurgence during WWII with the “Hemp for Victory” campaign, which ended after the war. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 placed hemp in the same category as heroin, to be regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The Farm Bill of 2014 allowed hemp to be grown for industrial purposes, provided it has a THC content of 0.3% or less. It was the THC component that got hemp banned as a controlled substance. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical that produces psychoactive effects and causes changes in cognition, behavior, and how you feel—in other words, makes you “high.”
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Both hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant, Cannabis Sativa, and both are virtually indistinguishable in appearance, but only marijuana has a THC content of over 0.3%. Marijuana is the fourth most popular recreational drug after caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Bet you coffee drinkers didn’t think of yourselves as indulging in recreational drugs. And did you know that alcohol is (supposedly) 114 times more toxic than marijuana?
Hemp is defined as being equal to, or less than 0.3% THC and grown for commercial and non-intoxicating purposes. Whereas most recreational drug strains contain primarily THC and little or no CBD, fiber and oilseed strains primarily contain CBD and very little THC. CBD stands for for cannabidiol, the second primary component of the hemp plant.
Pot? Marijuana? You hear that a lot and probably know what it is, especially if you were a “flower child” in the 1960s, as many of our readers were. And of course, since Colorado legalized it, you see “cannibas” stores everywhere, offering products to smoke, vape, eat, rub on your skin or hair, or wear.
Hemp? What’s that? “They make rope out of it, right?” someone asked me when I was writing this article. Well, yes they do, but they also make clothing, building materials, and consumables, including the newly popular CBD oil that supposedly cures everything from warts to worries.
Hemp and CBD
Right now, both are in the news. If you’re a farmer, you may be plowing up your food crops and planting hemp—probably both strains: high THC and/or high CBD. You can turn your fields every 40 days! If you’re a retailer in store or online, you may be selling CBD (and probably other hemp products, as well). CBD is the new “buzzword.” Everybody’s trying it, but few know what it actually is or does. After the 2018 Farm Bill passed, hemp agriculture and products became legal in all 50 states. This increased legality is largely in part due to the rapid acceleration in diversity and availability of hemp-derived CBD oil. Hemp oil consumables and edibles—that contain CBD—may provide potential health benefits, and help to reduce anxiety and insomnia, and alleviate different types of chronic pain, such as arthritis, in people or animals. Some claim it can help with cancer.
However, here’s the downside. Any product intended for human consumption, and/or marketed as a supplement or over-the-counter medicine with health benefits, must be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By law, if you consume it, the product should be FDA-regulated. In reality, it isn’t…yet. Some say this is because “big pharma” wants to get in on this billion-dollar industry. Maybe so, but research also shows that unregulated food and drug products can make you sick—even kill you.
Unfortunately, reading the marketing material or looking at the label doesn’t always tell you what’s really in the product. According to an article in the AARP September Bulletin cover story, recent studies have shown that just 31% of the so-called CBD oils on the market actually contain the amount of CBD listed on the label, and many are infused with dangerous additives. In some cases, consumable CBD products are sold with a false promise of “no” or “low” THC, so it won’t make you “high” or cause you to fail a drug test. Also, some of the cute little edibles (like the gummies or CBD chocolates) look like candy, attract children, and encourage adult misuse.
Like anything else you buy or use, knowing what it is and what’s in it just makes sense. Follow the caveat emptor rule. (Buyer beware). Be responsible and know what you are purchasing and from whom. That said, there are plenty of good, wearable, and consumable, hemp products out there sold by reputable dealers and manufacturers.
I’ve used CBD oil for myself and my cat—we both have arthritis, and I’ve purchased hemp clothing and various body products sourced from hemp and I love them. All of these I’ve purchased locally from companies I know and trust: among them, Mim by Kim and Little Flower Hemp Company.
Little Flower Hemp Company
When I buy CBD from these folks, I know what’s in the bottle, because I saw them making it. I recently visited the Little Flower Hemp Company farm in Montrose County and interviewed the owner, Peggie Baker. Little Flower has an impressive operation—they know what they are doing, and do it with integrity, top-of-the-line equipment, and expertise born of research. Their products are pure and do the job they promise to do.
The tour made me curious. Besides seeing what hemp is and does, and watching how they make the CBD oil I buy, I wanted to know more about how they grow and process their plants.
Little Flower Hemp Company combines ancient methods with modern technology to grow plants and produce products from CBD crude oil that is 96% pure. Their organic practices combine mechanical and by-hand methods. The company is half-way into receiving certification as an organic farm (it takes three years). Once achieved, they will be one of the very few, certified, organic hemp companies.
Their extraction machine (used to distill the oil) is the best that money can buy. This is a small, family operation that grows multiple varieties of hemp. Their all-female plants (so they can’t cross-pollinate) are grown from seeds (in a greenhouse) or cloned. Seeded plants do best when put in the ground, and they grow to a variety of sizes.
Little Flower Hemp Company planted their first hemp seeds just three years ago. Since then, they are growing their own and have developed 23 hemp-based products, which they sell commercially. LFH has won two national awards (best in topical products out of 140 entrants) and best in bath products. They were also nominated for the CBD World Award at that event held in Spain.
The CBD Process
Hemp plants from seed or cloned are started in a greenhouse with temperature and humidity controlled. Little Flower grows plants for specific purposes, such as for fiber or oil extraction. After 4 to 6 weeks, seedlings are ready to transplant. A machine makes the hole and puts plants in the ground; workers follow, tamping plants down by hand. While in the ground, the water-intensive crop is irrigated by two pumps (made in Israel), going 24/7 and operating a drip system (to conserve water). Plants mature in about 120 days, are harvested (by machine), and then taken to the drying barn. In typically dry Colorado weather, they are ready in three days—in wet weather, about six. From there, the dried hemp is shipped to facilities that make it into various fiber products, like clothing. If the oil is to be extracted for producing various body products or healing oils, like those sold in Montrose at Maggie’s Books and Chow Down, the hemp plants are processed right there at the farm.
The hemp is soaked in a “big teapot” in below freezing alcohol, then filtered to remove impurities, after that it is run through the SprayVap extractor. It is then decarbed at a high temperature to remove any remaining alcohol. After it is decarbed it is then made into consumable and body care products.