Hemp Prices Stagnate; Hempcrete Gets Debunked

Thom Thompson

Thom Thompson


Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash 

PanXchange’s July hemp benchmark report was published on Wednesday. If you have been following this space you will not be surprised to learn that hemp prices remain depressed. Low prices for biomass and hemp-derived products reflect the overhang from last year’s harvests and processing. With reliable or official information about this year’s crop largely unavailable, the industry has to just wait and see what materializes. 

Some of the cannabinoids contained in biomass are somewhat unstable and deteriorate the longer they are held before being extracted. Biomass on farms or stored elsewhere needs to come to be sold and processed soon “before,” as PanXchange notes, “cannabinoid profiles degrade to the point where it is no longer suitable for marketing.” 

Industrial hemp markets are dominated by production of and demand for CBD at the customer level. The low raw material prices for CBD have resulted in weaker retail pricing. Lower CBD prices may be helping to introduce CBD to more consumers who, as many CBD-suppliers hope, will become long-term customers.

Nonetheless, the current outlook for CBD as a quasi-medical product or an ingredient in over-the-counter medicines and topical preparations remains clouded. In fact, as has been the situation for years, the CBD marketplace is a mess. CBD, while pretty much legal everywhere in the U.S. for production and trade, still is poorly understood. CBD from low-THC, industrial hemp sources suffers from a lack of clarity regarding the commercial requirements around its distribution (for example, is smokable CBD-hemp legal in your locale?), let alone about its efficacy as a cannabinoid – i.e. how it is reacts with receptors in the human body. 

All those quibbles aside, one thing that might benefit the CBD market would be for producers of retail products to use as much CBD in their products as they say is in them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported earlier this month that more than half of the products it sampled were mislabeled as to the amount of CBD they contained. 18% of the products had less than 80% of the amount they were supposed to have in them and 38% had 20% more than they were supposed to have. 

Also half of the tested samples contained slightly more than the allowable 0.3 percentage of the psychoactive – and federally illegal – cannabinoid THC.  

The FDA has been criticized for its response to its new obligations under the 2018 Farm Act which legalized industrial hemp cultivation, and critics were quick to point out that the FDA should have been doing things other than product testing. But is it unreasonable for the feds to evaluate what the dosing levels are of a new popular wonder drug like CBD? It helps them  establish a firm basis for at least a minimal weights-and-measures and product purity approach to regulating CBD sales. 

The FDA also signalled in July that it is looking hard at the potential medical applications of individual cannabinoids in what it called a draft report on clinical research considerations for cannabinoids derived from hemp. The draft conveys the idea that the agency is considering the possibility of regulating individual cannabinoids differently.

Background info on industrial hemp   

About four years ago I was introduced to industrial hemp when I worked for a hemp swaps start-up. One of my colleagues, Brett, would ask every prospective employee what was their favorite application for industrial hemp. Brett’s favorite use was substituting hemp fiber for carbon fiber in super-light applications like bicycle frames. My favorite application was “hempcrete.” 

This was 2016, eight years after the Beijing Olympics (remember when we used to have Olympic games every four years?) where, it was reported, major walkways near facilities such as the swimming center were made out of hempcrete. Hempcrete is made from a mixture of lime and the woody inner parts of hemp stalks. Hempcrete reportedly is not only more durable than other types of concrete for handling high levels of traffic but – and this really grabbed me – it was supposed to capture carbon from the atmosphere, contributing to the 2008 Olympics’ efforts to be carbon neutral. I was pretty sceptical but also pretty amazed and hopeful about a construction material that would offset the harmful effects of using concrete.

A few months ago, I wondered what was happening with hempcrete. Very little seemed to be going on. I wondered what had happened to the walkways in Beijing – were they really so durable? I could not find mention of their current condition. Published discussions of the use of hemp in any types of construction were scant. Clearly, there was no hempcrete building boom. 

PanXchange’s benchmarks report for July spotlighted hempcrete and provided some insight into why we have not been hearing more about its use. According to their debunking, hempcrete does not meet common building construction standards. Hempcrete, they say, is not nearly strong enough to be used for any kind of weight bearing construction. The report notes, however, that hempcrete functions well as a pest resistant insulating material. Hempcrete blocks might be used in conjunction with other materials (wood framing, steel, e.g.) that bear the construction’s load. 

On the other hand, in response to the question “Is hempcrete stronger than concrete?” the free Q & A website Quora says, “Foundation walls that are made from hempcrete are 7 times stronger and 3 times more elastic than those made by traditional concrete.” 

I still like hempcrete.   

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