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Hemp in Europe

The situation of hemp today  

Today, the Common Agriculture Policy is responsible for establishing the maximum THC level allowed for industrial hemp on the field. Many EU countries still prohibit or have unclear regulations about the use and marketing of flowers, incorrectly considered as narcotic, even if the THC level is below the established thresholds in the EU regulation for industrial hemp. In order for hemp to be a profitable crop, farmers need to be allowed to maximise their income through the utilisation of the whole plant, especially the flowers and leaves. That is why, EIHA defends a “whole plant” approach (#unlockthepotential).

Hemp transformers source 90% of their raw material within Europe. More than half of flowers and leaves traded in Europe are used for the production of food supplements, including CBD extracts. When it comes to textiles, because of the relatively high raw material prices, the lack of fibre supply and the scarcity of manufacturing facilities, production is limited as it mainly represents a niche market. A huge consumers market existed for hemp fibres until after World War II. Just to give you an idea, in the 1930s Russia’s hemp area sown was almost 700,000 hectares, providing for 40% of Europe’s hemp needs. In comparison, Italy and Yugoslavia accounted for up to 100,000 hectares each. Currently the EU combined barely grows 50,000 hectares. France is currently the biggest producer, followed by Italy and the Netherlands.

Even though Europe has not unlocked the full potential of hemp, the industry is rapidly growing.  In fact, from 2013 to 2018, there was a 70% increase in the number of hectares dedicated to industrial hemp cultivation in Europe. If we compare it to 1993 figures, the number of hectares has increased 614% since.

Source: EIHA

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‘Explosive’ demand for hurd in Europe is bright signal for hemp building

A hemp dome home in Ukraine by Hempire. (Photo: Hempire)


A current supply crunch on hemp hurd in Europe, while a temporary inconvenience, signals a major shift forward for the hemp building sector and can advance the development of much-needed processing facilities.

“This is something we have or should have been expecting for a while, as the potential for expansion in the construction sector was always on the cards,” veteran hemp builder Steve Allin, founder and director of the Ireland-based International Hemp Building Association, said of the surge in demand for hemp building materials.

With most business plans requiring the identification of a potential market to prove the viability of hemp production, the current strong demand will help those advocating for fiber production facilities to be built, Allin suggested.

“For the longer term this is good news as it justifies establishing hemp processing facilities in many regions where there is currently interest in doing so,” Allin said.

Hard to find

While prices for hemp hurd in Europe currently range from roughly €200-€450 per ton ($230-$515/t), supplies are hard to find at any price, George Popov, COO & Head of Sales Trading at London-based hemp commodities trader Canxchange, told HempToday

Calling the current demand for hurd in Europe “explosive,” Popov said one-off buyers are finding it difficult to source the material.

“It’s hard to find spot buys,” Popov said, because stocks are often pledged to companies that have long-running business relationships and long-term contracts with processors.

On the top end, selling at roughly €450 per ton, is the highest quality hurd for construction and animal bedding, turned out primarily by big French and Dutch producers. Popov said some French suppliers can deliver one to two trucks per month on a spot basis but such sales are dependent on availability.

Longer delivery times

“The demand for hurd is quite high and we’re seeing longer delivery times,” confirmed Belgian natural builder Wolf Jordan, who sells hurd and special additives for hempcrete construction along with natural paints and oils.

Another source told HempToday that orders out of France are backed up for 90 days. Those supplies come mostly from big producers such as Eurochanvre, CAVAC, Agro Chanvre and La Chanvrière.

Dutch fiber processor HempFlax reported as far back as November that it was running its factories continuously as the company announced a project to expand production capacity at its main location in Oude Pekela, Netherlands.

HempFlax turns out hurd and fiber for hemp construction, and hurd for plant and animal bedding. The company also produces highly-refined “bast” or “technical” fibers for hemp-based plastics and other advanced applications.

Demand for bast fibers

Popov said demand for those fibers is also strong at some grades. Bast fibers are refined to different grades for products such as insulation, biocomposites and textiles. Because of the complexity of the overall bast fiber sector, pricing, supply and demand are more difficult to assess, Popov said, noting textile grade fibers can be found in the €1,200/ton range.

While some French processors have high grades of bast fibers available on a spot purchase basis, many of those producers also have long-term contracts under which their output is already reserved through next season, making one-off buys possible only if standing orders are canceled, Popov said.

Buyers are finding bast fibers in Lithuania and Russia, according to Popov, where there is some availability, but should check the grades closely, he suggested.

Shipments going abroad

Other sources told anecdotal stories of major shipments going abroad, contributing to the squeeze on supplies in Europe. In one case, an Indian textile producer is reported to be sourcing large quantities of high-quality bast fibers from European producers.

U.S. buyers are reportedly importing European hurd for animal bedding and hemp construction as the overall fiber processing infrastructure for the American market continues to be built out.

Allin put the European supply crunch in a broader perspective: “It is also reflective of the wider situation globally with resource supplies in everything from fuel to food, timber to tea, suffering from scarcity due to both the pandemic and the dawning realization that the growth model is creaking as various limits are reached,” he said.


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Italian farmers could get €300 per hectare under new funding program

Italian hemp farmers can get up to $300 per hectare of hemp grown under a funding program recently set in motion.

The Italian government earmarked €3 million in government funds for hemp from a total €10 million aimed at advancing the development of “minor supply chains.”

“Now hemp will be able to count on the first funds to strengthen the synergies between operators in the sector, creating a system, and to improve production by focusing on research,” said Giuseppe L’Abbate, a deputy from the M5S party who has backed the hemp industry and who serves on the Agriculture Commission.

Research, grants

In addition to the farm subsidies, which offer the $300-per-hectare support payments up to a maximum 50 hectares, the hemp funding is intended for research and other grants to companies that invest in post-harvest production stages such as drying, cleaning, scutching, and packaging. Those companies must meet quality standards for hemp seed and seed-based food products.

The money was allocated after a decree signed by Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Stefano Patuanelli that set criteria for allocating the €10 million for the “protection and relaunch” of supply chains in hemp, beekeeping, brewing, and nuts. The brewing sector received €3.5 million, while €3 million went to the nut sector and €500,000 for beekeeping.

The State-Regions Conference and the Ministry of Economy and Finance agreed on the criteria and set other guidelines for funding under the program.

‘Not merely playful’

“Our commitment continues because we strongly believe in this cultivation with a thousand industrial, pharmaceutical, construction and food uses and not merely playful as some would like to belittle,” L’Abbate said.

The Ministry said the funding will support research into development of new hemp varieties, THC control, mechanization and primary processing.

With reporting by Canapa Industriale


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Italian researcher says stalks from polluted soil OK for building, energy

Hemp grown to clean up polluted soil could be used for hempcrete construction and to produce energy, with virtually no health risks, an Italian researcher has suggested.

Vito Gallo, Professor of Chemistry at the Polytechnic of Bari, said the hemp plant’s performance in the phyto-remediation (phyto-purification) process leaves only trace amounts of any pollutants behind.

“Hemp allows a sort of dilution of metals in the biomass and this results in material that, in principle, presents very limited or even no health risks,” Gallo, who is also coordinator of BIO SP.HE.RE., a hemp-specific research initiative, told Canapa Industriale.

Gallo suggested that scientific organizations could get together to set acceptable levels of concentration of any foreign substances in downstream hemp products.

Robust research

Italian stakeholders are working on significant research regarding phyto-remediation, in which specific plants are grown both to clean up pollutants such as heavy metals, and to stimulate the degradation of organic compounds to enrich the soil. Hemp has proven itself to be highly effective in both roles, as Italian scientists have set out to further document.

The question has always been what would be done with the adulterated hemp once it’s harvested from polluted fields.

Italian researchers have posited that most of the heavy metals absorbed by hemp are stored in the roots and leaves of the plant, leaving only miniscule amounts in the hemp stalk, and continue to study that process. 

Hemp and soil

The research in Italy builds on studies from as far back as 2002, when researchers from the University of Wuppertal and the Faserinstitut of Bremen, Germany, showed that hemp plants sown for remediation collected most heavy metals in the leaves, while plant stalks were virtually unaffected by contamination. A later study in India in 2014 identified hemp as a promising tool for the hyperaccumulation of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, copper, chromium and nickel. Further studies since then have underpinned both analyses.

In addition to using the hemp stalks for hempcrete, hemp biomass can be burned for energy. With the ashes collected under controlled conditions, the metals can be extracted and re-used, Gallo said.

Sustainable new system

“The use of hemp for phyto-remediation would not only lead to the creation of a new system of land use linked to environmental protection, but also to the creation of jobs and sustainable resources for the community, according to the principles of the green economy and bio-economy,” said Marcello Colao, a biologist at the Italian non-profit Association of Apulian Environmental Biologists (ABAP), which is also studying phyto-remediation.

Colao is directing the GREEN project (Generate Resources And New Economies), which is studying different varieties of hemp and ranking them for their phyto-remediation capacity. That research, in partnership with the region of Puglia government, is part of a broader initiative that is researching hemp for its potential in sustainable development and carbon sequestration, and developing strategies for improved agricultural management practices.

Also supported by the Puglia government, BIO SP.HE.RE, the project under Gallo’s direction, is studying a mixture of micro-algae and hemp to see how it can enhance the phyto-purification of both water and soil. The researchers have reported that lab analysis showed the mix facilitated growth of hemp plants in polluted soil, thereby speeding up the phyto-remediation process; hemp plants were particularly effective at absorbing cadmium, nickel and zinc, the team said.

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News: 13th European Industrial Hemp Association Conference 2016

The Voice of the Hemp Industry

On June 1st & 2nd 2016 EIHA (European Industrial Hemp Association) held its 13th Annual Conference. It is the leading event of the sector worldwide with hundreds of participants and contributors. With EIHA & Nova Institut spearheading its organisation, the event has established itself as the central locus of both networking and technical dissemination within the Hemp Sector. It was an opportunity for the Hemplab Institute to cement various contacts made during previous projects as well as expand into new and exciting possibilities.

Standardisation, GMP / GAP & Hemp Market Projections

The repetitive theme of this year’s event, echoed by concerns from participants and contributors alike, was that of Standardisation of practices particularly GMPs & GAPs. This marks an evolution from earlier market concerns centred primarily on agricultural legislation, financial viability and agricultural techniques & equipment. It is testimony to the maturing process the industry is undergoing, with an ever growing list of products and hemp applications. The next step of this process is producing ‘mainstream’ products – particularly in the food & pharmaceutical markets – which invariably implies highest consumer standards, validation and analytical precision.


EIHA 2016 Conference – HEMPLAB Institute

Another marker of maturity evident during this year’s event was the presentation and discussion of much more comprehensive and authoritative market data and projections of the industry – with aptly demarcated analyses of particular sub-categories of products such as ‘self-care CBD’ products or food supplements. Key market risks relate to the lack of uniform legislation (on a European level) – a concern which was identified by our 2015 report.

Hemp: A market for Analytical Laboratories

With the concept of ‘Standardisation’ on everyone’s mind, the discussion naturally progressed towards the existence of institutions and companies capable of carrying out such programmes and their analytical methodologies. Analytical equipment manufacturer Waters was present with a dedicated stand and the presence of North American laboratories (e.g. ProVerde) to share technical know-how, with which we had the chance to discuss in depth our mutual experiences. With analytical standards and methodologies still absent for cannabinoids across the world, it provides a major opportunity on commercial grounds, as well as scientific and policy requirements.

We look forward to the 14th edition of this informative event!


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Medical v Recreational Cannabis: Initial Remarks – Part A.

Medical Cannabis: Debunking the Myth

A lot of air is being vented around the dichotomy of ‘Medical’ v ‘Recreational’ Cannabis. On the policy and public opinion level, this distinction is highly operative as countless legislative plans around the world are centered on it. However is there a sound scientific or medical basis that can support it?

The Plant & The Body: A Complex Interaction

In order to start the analysis of this question it is necessary to understand the plant & the human body holistically as a system of interaction. To the best of our current knowledge the Cannabis components active on the human body are Cannabinoids. These can, but do not necessarily carry with them psychotropic effects. Cannabinoids are particularly susceptible to interact in profound ways with the human body given a particularity of the latter. Humans have what has come to be known as the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is a group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain and across various parts of the nervous system – it plays an important regulatory role in pain, appetite, mood and others*. In short, the human body is naturally calibrated to recognize and utilize the chemical compounds produced in Cannabis. Even though true, this statement is in danger of producing the naïve conclusion that any/all cannabinoids in any form of intake are beneficial and free of negative side-effects – a conclusion that needs to be resisted. What is undeniable on the other hand is that cannabinoids have a strong effect on the human regulatory system (of which ECS is a major component).

Human Consumption

Cannabis Sativa L. (Cannabis / Hemp) has been used by humans for thousands of years. With that in mind it is virtually impossible to give a comprehensive list of methods of consumption, let alone the psycho-social and / or medical and self-care motivations that underlie it. However interesting pointers can be given in order to commence an analysis relevant to the 21st century. A salient operative distinction is the presence (or absence) of a particular condition for which Cannabis is used. In the former case, from a usage point of view, it is appropriate to apply the label ‘medical use of cannabis’. Things, however, are never as simple as they seem initially – important considerations are needed to supplement this simplistic distinction. Firstly, it needs to be separated from the question of the Efficacy of the Treatment. The latter needs to be independently and objectively determined through appropriate scientific and quantitative standards. However the degree of efficacy doesn’t alter the motivation or use as medical from a subjective point of view. Furthermore, a distinction needs to be made between curative & condition management approaches. Cures are not the only relevant medical category. Secondly, the presence of a clearly defined condition is sufficient for the ‘medical’ label but not necessary inasmuch as one’s subjective experience of an ailment might not be represented in medical orthodoxy. More importantly, in line with the mood, sleep and appetite regulatory virtues of cannabinoids, maintaining an overall quality of life through their consumption has strong arguments for the ‘medical’ label. Illuminating examples are stress/anxiety management and insomnia suppression – both liable to have a huge impact in a person’s quality of life and overall health. Another importantCannabinoid table JP-01 parameter to consider is which cannabinoids, or combination thereof, achieves the desired effects in an individual user, whether or not directly related to a specified treatment. There exists a general combinatory classification of cannabinoids and particular effects (see Table). However self-reported effects and outcomes are relevant given the uniqueness of each individual ECS. Furthermore, there is a strong a case to be made for ‘holistic’ effects of the plant as a combination of dozens of cannabinoids, terpenes and other micro-elements. A major dichotomy within the cannabinoids is effected between the psychotropic and non-psychotropic elements. The best representatives of each group respectively are THC and CBD. However it is wrong to presume that psychoactive cannabinoids are automatically associated with recreational or non-medical uses. Research shows that both these cannabinoids have major medical applications that range from mental conditions to cancer and multiple sclerosis. THC rich cannabis can therefore have medical applications in all its forms and methods of consumption. In conclusion it is misguided to naively conclude that the psychotropic effects of Cannabis are devoid of medical virtues.

Quality, Transparency and Ethical Responsibility

Transparency and accountability are the marks of any and all ethically sourced products. It is undoubtedly true that products marketed as ‘medical’ share a much heavier degree of responsibility however the principle is valid for all products destined to human consumption. In that respect there exist quality standards which can effect the Medical v Recreational distinction. Complete product characterization and ‘free of harmful exogenous substances’ are necessary conditions for the achievement of the desired medical effects as well as the protection of the user from potential harms (that could be caused from exogenous substances). If therefore a ‘Medical Cannabis’ legislation is adopted, it is necessary that the products available to consumers be of the accepted consumer, ethical and safety standards. As such, standardization and testing is necessary for a wide application of such a program, e.g. on a national level.

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion it is important to say a few words on the semantics of the ‘Medical’ v ‘Recreational’ distinction. The very setting of the debate implies the mutual exclusion of each term involved. However this is, at the very least, a hasty assumption. The term ‘recreational’ has been further hi-jacked by the political debate and necessarily associated with pejorative connotations – with negative implications and stereotypes flourishing liberally. The point is not to defend one or the other use (or any use), rather illuminate the assumptions and premises of the argument and its modes of presentation. Cannabinoids are chemically relevant to the human body in ways which our scientific culture has come to label medical or medicinal. This is the base-fact of the plant as a relation to the human body, regardless of particular uses and regional legislation. From there on, particular uses of the plant can be for explicitly medical or non-medical purposes – however the modality through which cannabinoids interact with the body can always be viewed from the medical point of view. It is therefore a logical conclusion that appropriate use of cannabinoids, in light of the right evidence and research, can have medically positive outcomes. This concludes the end of Part A. of this presentation. In the second part (Part B.), policy implications will be explored and related with actual examples and developments on the European level in Part C.

*Non-Exhaustive list / Internet Sources


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Medical v Recreational Cannabis: Some European Examples – Part C.


The following is meant as a short overview of current state of affairs with regards to Cannabis and / or Drug Policies in three European countries. It is intended as a short supplement to Part A. and Part B.


Portugal, since 2001, has ambitiously decriminalised all drug usage and possession, based on the assumption that it is a Public Health issue rather than a Criminal one. This approach does not make an explicit distinction, in the case of cannabis, with regards to medical or recreational use and is centred on a usage and harms reduction approach. In the words of Dr. João Goulão, Director-General of The General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies (SICAD) in Lisbon: “It’s difficult to measure the impact of decriminalization as an independent variable; the evolution of the indicators has to be seen as a result of the development of all those responses. Considering different indicators of changing drug use patterns and demographics, some effects of decriminalization have included:

Portugal’s case is generally accepted, including by the French report discussed, as a relative success with promising aspects to implement more generally. Given that it is not cannabis specific, it is difficult to assess its impact, particularly in terms of Harms Reduction. Although a bold and commendable policy decision, it fails to address distribution side of things, particularly in the case of large-scale organised crime. The existence of such organisations can divert significant police resources and have spill-over effects into unrelated criminal activities, with drug distribution often being a major source of income. This also makes a case for the notion that no matter the amount of prevention, drug usage as whole is not an issue that can be tackled in isolation. It is extremely unlikely that demand for cannabis will evaporate instantaneously. It is therefore necessary to address the issue and distribution resulting from that demand. For a detailed overview of all European countries’ drug policies and harm-reduction initiatives visit EMCDDA.


German Health Minister Hermann Gröhe has recently announced the country’s plans to make Medical Cannabis available to seriously ill patients by 2017. The law is rather an amendment on previously existing Medical Cannabis policies, relaxing conditions giving patients access to the plant.  Due to Germany’s federal makeup, there are various degrees of tolerance of cannabis not explicitly destined to medical use, with notable examples like Bremen and Berlin which are spearheading progressive policies. With regards to medical cannabis and the 2017 amendment, there have been several critical voices, particularly when it comes to reimbursement and social security. Incorporated within the proposal is the clause that makes reimbursement available only to those patients that agree to participate in research programs. What those ‘research programs’ entail is not yet defined, however that requirement creates issues of social justice even in principle. Adding the mobility restriction of many patients this stands to be a very controversial issue. Another issue of concern is production. With distribution ensured through the existing network of traditional pharmacies, Germany also intends meet its internal demand with domestic production. However initial estimates are skeptical of the country’s ability to develop appropriate facilities in time. In that case, Germany will be depended on imports. One can speculate as to the possible source of the product but it is hard to overlook Bedrocan form the Netherlands. Concerns from the Dutch experience pertaining to an over-centralisation of production are an interesting case-study for German politicians and decision-makers. With an estimated 800.000 potential patients making use of the coming law, it is not an inconsequential change. It is very interesting to see how the implementation will be carried out, what measures are taken towards training the medical professionals to prescribe, monitor and get the better out of the plant, as well as the production and quality measures. Combined with some relatively tolerant cannabis policies, this amendment to medical cannabis improves significantly the aggregated effect of the legislations, giving access to the plant to those that need it most while resisting the outright criminalisation of non-medical users. According to recent polls, the vast majority of Germans support the legalisation of medical cannabis, with a significant chunk of them favouring outright legalisation. It is therefore not unwarranted to expect further changes, whether regional or national, on cannabis legislation in Germany.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands are known worldwide for very a tolerant cannabis policy. With regards to medical cannabis, patients with prescriptions can buy purpose-grown cannabis from pharmacies since the spring of 2000. The product originates from Bedrocan, the grower designated by the Dutch Office of Medicinal Cannabis (part of the Ministry of Health) in order to ensure the necessary quality of the final product. Further Quality Control procedures and check-ups are performed along its production and distribution life-cycle. However the Dutch notoriety for tolerant policies obfuscates various grey zones of the Dutch system. In particular, personal growing and cannabis growing in general is illegal (and attacked) in the Netherlands, which means that effectively coffee shops are breaking the law on a daily basis. This has created a monopoly – a monopoly which is significant on commercial terms, but even more so on ideological terms. The latter refers to the resulting conception of the plant as determined exclusively within the constraints of the coffee shop system (quality, use, method of delivery, personal and societal consequences etc.). This confusion, sustained by commercial interests, has created a chasm between perceived and actual cannabis and has fostered short-termism in plant manipulation and potency increase as opposed to sustainable scientific research & development. Focusing on the explicitly medical side of things, a number of criticisms have been voiced by patients and patient organisations as well as NGO’s such as ENCOD (For a 2015 ENCOD-sponsored report click here). Criticisms tend to converge on the following points:

  1. Lack of strains and medical cannabis derivatives (edibles, oils, pills etc.)
  2. Overall quality of final product
  3. Lack of dedicated training for health professionals resulting in a reluctance towards prescribing cannabis

A highly centralised system, modeled on some aspects of the existing pharmaceutical industry, has created a very monolithic environment for medical cannabis users. With limits placed on the strains and products that can be labelled ‘medicinal’, the patient’s ability to find the right care for themselves is severely restricted. Furthermore, stringent decontamination methodology with gamma-ray irradiation over the final product, has a created a quality-compromised product. The main reason being, according to literature, the fact that gamma-rays destroy the terpenes of the plant, responsible for cannabis’ distinctive taste and smell. It is also believed, although scientific confirmation is still lacking, that terpenes can have a modulatory effect on the main cannabinoids – the entourage effect (Gamma-ray irradiation is an FDA approved technique for decontamination of food products, particularly ones destined for import / export). With a relatively restrictive list of ‘recognised conditions’, one could easily argue this as a negative of the system on both medical and social justice / human rights grounds. Coupled with a reported reluctant health establishment to prescribe cannabis, serious concerns have been voiced over the ability to access the medicine. The latter is further aggravated by a repressive policy on personal growth. A February 2016 court ruling, in a highly publicised case, gave permission to a patient to grow his own cannabis for treating his HIV. This is however an individual result that applies only to that person which further points out the need for access to medicine. Overall the Dutch system has the merits of not criminalising a whole section of its population who choose to use cannabis for whatever reason. However, reluctance to update and evolve the system, namely by integrating production into mainstream economic activity, the underground market hasn’t evaporated. This can partly be explained away by what is known as the ‘neighbour effect’ – meaning that neighbouring countries with repressive cannabis legislations drive that demand. However, there are important reasons to doubt that argument when the origins of coffee shop cannabis is considered. Furthermore, the Netherlands has a relatively sophisticated, albeit extremely rigid, medical cannabis infrastructure. However the aggregate of both policies stands to greatly benefit from a progressive amendment. This concludes our short introductory articles on Medical v Recreational Cannabis. You can find Part A. and Part B. on their respective links.

More detailed presentations and argumentation of this work is available for interested parties. Please do not hesitate to contact us in this regard by clicking here.


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