by Chris Conrad
It’s easy to understand why Chobani added hemp seeds to its Blueberry Power Flip brand of Greek yogurt. Hempseed is an amazingly nutritious and meaty fruit. It has a crunchy texture, a nutty flavor and a wide array of essential fatty acids, essential proteins and minerals, as well as some rare digestive benefits.
Oh, and big news to anyone who has been asleep for the past 15 or 20 years, hempseed comes from the same plant species as marijuana, i.e., Cannabis sativa, L. That was big excitement back in the 1990s, when someone failed a drug test after having eaten a hemp snack. It turned out that Hungry Bear Hemp Foods hempseed treats were made with whole-grain hempseed that had somehow retained enough flower residue to cross the invisible threshold set by the very profitable drug testing industry. That led to the adoption of the TestPledge program to meet the most rigorous drug testing standards, with not one false positive since.
Hempseed products are lining the shelves of grocery stores across America — breads, cereals, vegetable oil, etc., — so it was just natural for the Chobani website to announce that its Blueberry Power Flip came with a side of walnuts, hemp seeds and chia that its customers could “flip” to mix in with a healthy serving of Greek yogurt.
It is not as easy to understand why Chobani flip-flopped and took hempseed back out of its Power Flip — or it’s as easy as following the smell of old urine down an alleyway. It turns out that the company had run afoul of the US Air Force’s war on food.
In an August 26, 2013 report, the Air Force Times portrayed the yogurt as a victim of the “policy barring consumption of any product that contains or is derived from hempseed or hempseed oil.” Capt. Adam Koudelka, legal adviser for an Air Force drug testing facility in Texas, told the Times, “The Air Force has not restricted military members from consuming Chobani Greek yogurt; rather, only Chobani yogurt that contains hempseed or hempseed oil is prohibited, just as any product which contains or is derived from hempseed or hemp seed oil is prohibited.”
The very next day, the Times quoted an email from Chobani’s director of public relations, Amy Juaristi, saying, “We’re committed to giving our fans what they want and are in the process of removing the ingredient from our Blueberry Power Chobani Flip.” Their fans? More like, their military contracts. There wasn’t enough time between the two statements for the company to have surveyed its civilian customer base or distributors.
Talk about a flip! The Air Force hadn’t banned any products, threatened the company or even asked it to remove hempseeds from its product. It simply advised members of the armed forces not to eat that one particular item.
“It’s too bad that Chobani took the easy out instead of standing up for its customers, its products, or even the facts,” mused David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which uses hemp oil in its top-selling products. “There is no possible drug test interference because when it’s been deep cleaned and de-hulled, a person can’t eat enough hempseed to trigger a false positive.”
The hemp foods industry has grown steadily as consumers have become aware of its high nutritional value, especially in the area of essential fatty acids (EFAs). These omega dietary compounds are the “good cholesterol” people try to get from fish oil. However, as the planet’s waters become more polluted, the fish oils now carry a heavy price: heavy metals. Hempseed grown as a food crop provides the same omegas without the risk of toxic contamination. The seed oil has many dietary and industrial applications.
Among its many benefits is that hempseed contains edestin, a protein similar to the human body’s own globular proteins found in blood plasma, which is easy to digest and makes the seed’s other components readily available as nutrition. Edestin produces antibodies that are vital to maintain a healthy immune system. Hempseed also contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a compound rarely found other than in human mothers’ breast milk, probably the easiest food to digest. The seed oil also lubricates the gastrointestinal tract, soothes the stomach and helps soften stool and smoothes bowel movements.
While it is often compared to soybean and flax oil, hempseed is actually more nutritious, easier to grow, and more closely resembles the protein and EFA ratios that the human body needs for nourishment. This striking physical similarity led noted scientist Carl Sagan to suggest that hempseed was perhaps the first food crop to be gathered and domesticated. Either way, the anthropological evidence of ancient hemp products in Europe, Africa and Asia points to cannabis as one of the very first cultivated crops. Of course, it was agriculture that laid the basis for human settlements, culture and civilization as we know it.
Its global industrial value up through the mid-19th century was so great that it led U.S. President-to-be Thomas Jefferson to write in 1791 that, hemp “is of first necessity to the commerce and marine, in other words to the wealth and protection of the country.” Today’s military relies on piss testing, instead, and hemp is illegal to grow under current federal policy. The president has legal authority to change that under rescheduling law.
Every recent President, including Barak Obama, has signed an executive order calling on the nation to maintain a supply of hemp for national security, and 2013 marked the first time in more than 50 years that the U.S. Congress has voted to allow for industrial hemp to be grown in the domestic states. Some 14 states have state-legislation in place that will allow research to move forward once the long-stalled Farm Bill is passed and signed. A number of others have legislation waiting in the wings. The State of Kentucky has convened a commission on how to capitalize on the return of hemp as a cash crop.
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a non-profit trade association with hundreds of member businesses, released economic estimates of the size of the U.S. retail market for hemp products in 2011 showing that retail sales of hemp food and body care products continued to set records. Sales of popular hemp items like non-dairy milk, shelled hemp seed, vegetable oil, soaps and lotions in conventional retailers grew by an estimated 11% that year alone. Transactions included in the SPINS data hit $43.5 million in 2011. Double that amount can further be attributed to the excluded retailers, like The Body Shop and Whole Foods Market, restaurants and all the unreported leading mass-market brands of suntan lotion and sunscreen products that include hemp oil as an ingredient.
“The total U.S. hemp food and body care market over the year 2011 accounted for at least $130 million in retail sales,” noted Bronner. Those figures grew in 2012 and 2013, as well, but more current figures will not be available until later this year.
“It’s time for the Air Force to get with the program now that even Cosco and Walmart have hempseed foods,” he added. “When poppy seeds were found to trigger false positives, they simply raised the threshold to accommodate the fact that there was no impairment, but with hemp they did just the opposite, dropped the level to a third of what it is elsewhere. Hemp should be free on the land, sea, air and in space.”
So, what’s the big deal about eating a product that doesn’t cause people to fail drug tests? To get this into perspective, good marijuana has about 10% THC or 100,000 parts per million. Hash is often 250,000 ppm or more, and hash oil 750,000 ppm and up. TestPledge limits THC in hemp nut to 1.5 ppm, which allows a typical adult to eat up to 14 ounces (not quite a pound but more than 342 grams) of hemp nut daily without failing a standard drug test. The federal government’s self-imposed threshold for failing a drug test, however, is 0.05 ppm — three times below industry standards. The yogurt had about 10 grams of hempseed per serving. At a less than 1.5 parts per million for 10 grams of hemp seeds, the maximum amount of THC in the yogurt comes to 0.000,015 grams per serving. Take whatever part of that survives the digestive system and is stored in the urine at any given time, and voila, you get a sense of the scope of the danger posed. Divide that by 10,000 (number of milliliters of blood in the human body) and you get the idea.
Boiling the math down, this means that a 150-pound soldier would have to eat more than 34.2 servings of Blueberry Flip every day to come close to breeching the Air Force’s most extreme drug test threshold, perhaps much more, and it might not be possible to eat enough to cross the invisible threshold of doom.
So if hempseed is not psychoactive and not detectable in drug tests, what is the problem exactly? The whole thing amounts to military overkill. The irrational Regulation AFI 44-120, paragraph 1.1.5, states that, “studies have shown that products made with hemp seed and hemp seed oil may contain varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active ingredient of marijuana which is detectable under the Air Force Drug Testing Program. In order to ensure military readiness, the ingestion of products containing or products derived from hemp seed or hemp seed oil is prohibited. Failure to comply with the mandatory provisions of this paragraph by military personnel is a violation of Article 92, UCMJ.”
“The whole thing amounts to military overkill.”
The armed forces face one insurmountable problem in achieving zero tolerance of cannabinoids in the bodily fluids of our servicemen and women is that the human anatomy makes its own cannabinoids. That’s how important they are to human health and well being. The endo-cannabinoid system was first revealed in the early 1990s and extensive research since has shown that it is an important modulator of other human body systems, such as the gastro-intestinal and neurological systems. So at some point every person has detectable cannabinoids in their system.
That’s a good thing, however. Just ask the mice who had their cannabinoid receptors knocked out by researchers in Israel. The poor little things couldn’t take in nourishment, did not take on weight, stunted and then died.
Or consider the saga of Acomplia, one of a new class of prescription pharmaceuticals known as cannabinoid 1 receptor blockers. It went into the brain to block the CB1 receptor so people would lose weight and stop smoking at the same time. Unfortunately, it did not actually prove to be all that effective for weight loss, it was never accepted by the American FDA and its manufacturer, Sanofi Aventis, stopped making it after such a number of bigger countries banned the product following reports of suicide, suicidal tendencies, depression and other dangerous side effects.
When cannabis interacts with the human endo-cannabinoid system, however, the plant’s phyto-cannabinoids can both bolster cannabinoid deficiencies and desensitize overstimulated receptors. Research suggests that this is why smoking cannabis may make one person feel sleepy but another person feel exhilarated, or one person loses their appetite after smoking while another gets a ravishing appetite, and it simultaneously soothes both the spasms and the ataxia of multiple sclerosis.
The cannabinoids affect the neurological system helping assorted human ills from chronic pain to PTSD and recent research suggests that they can help repair and regrow nerves damaged by concussions and other injuries, as well as killing both cancer and virus cells. So we may not want to eliminate cannabinoids all together.
In fact, CNN’s medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta noted in Why I changed my mind on weed, August 8, 2013, that the Israeli armed forces are providing cannabis to some of its injured veterans.
Despite overwhelming evidence that hempseed has many health benefits for veterans, among others, and while there is no evidence that the natural product could cause any problems or even cause anyone to fail a screening of their body fluids for cannabinoids, the problem is an irrational policy of zero tolerance for cannabis.
Yet, there is not one shred of scientific evidence to support the claim that cannabinoid testing is safe, effective or necessary as a mechanism to protect national security or determine impairment. It’s just taken as a bit of gospel that people should joyfully submit their body fluids to be tested to ensure complete subservience to the DEA’s inquisitorial enforcement of the federal credo that cannabis is bad but alcohol, tobacco and firearms are good. Amen.
“It’s just taken as a bit of gospel that people should joyfully submit their body fluids to be tested to ensure complete subservience to the DEA’s inquisitorial enforcement of the federal credo that cannabis is bad but alcohol, tobacco and firearms are good. Amen.”
From whence does this zealous infatuation with seizing and wallowing in human bodily fluids derive? Funny story, that. It seems that the National Institute on Drug Abuse once admitted that marijuana was not physically addictive, so it did a study to find out why. The reason it identified is that physically addictive drugs are purged from the body very quickly, and that causes a powerful craving for more, but cannabis metabolites are flushed through the blood stream, absorbed into fatty tissues, then slowly eliminated or excreted through human urine, fecal matter and hair. As a result, it does not cause strong cravings. The physical withdrawal found for marijuana was less than that found for coffee.
In general, if a person uses marijuana just one time, a urine test can detect metabolites for 48 to 72 hours afterwards. For a daily or regular user, urine contains traces of cannabis for up to 12 weeks depending on how long, how much and how often it is used. Testing a hair follicle can spot marijuana use back as far back as 90 days. With a saliva test, detection goes back about 24 hours, and blood tests are the most accurate for marijuana and can narrow a person’s past usage down to just the past few hours.
The insidious Carlton Turner, who headed the research program, realized that if a test can find traces of THC metabolite in people’s urine and hair for months after they use it, bureaucrats can use that to screen and keep marijuana users unemployed, take away educational opportunities and stigmatize them.
All that discrimination would take a lot of urine, follicle and other types of drug tests. So, Turner left NIDA and made a fortune in the testing industry. Over the years, Peter Bensinger and other federal Drug War officials have enjoyed the rotating doors between federal policymaker and corporate profit taker.
This is by no means the US government’s first attack on hemp foods. As soon as the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was passed, the US Treasury arrested farmers rather than giving them licenses to grow hemp. Throughout the 1990s US Customs interfered with legal imports of hemp products. As recently as 2001 the DEA unilaterally attempted to rewrite the definition of marijuana to include non-psychoactive hempseed foods. That got shot down when the HIA sued DEA and proved in court that it will take an act of Congress to revise the definition of “marihuana” adopted in 1970, when it passed the Controlled Substances Act, which was adopted the year after the Supreme Court struck down the MTA.
So the Air Force debacle is merely the latest shot across the bough in the federal government’s desperate struggle to prop up the profits the drug testing and prison industrial complex industries derived from waging an unwinnable war against a plant that was perhaps the first domesticated food crop and may turn out to be our last best hope for a sustainable future for this and future generations of people.
Meanwhile, the conservative Israeli government’s armed forces provide medical marijuana for its veterans who suffer from PTSD and nerve damage.
In a bit of blowback karma, Chobani’s Greek yogurt faced a nationwide recall on September 5, 2013 for product contamination. Undeterred, the U.S. continues to relentlessly taste its soldiers’ bodily excretions as a litmus test to select who is allowed to serve their nation’s armed forces.
Chris Conrad is the founder of the Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp and author of Hemp: Lifeline to the Future and Hemp for Health. He works as a cannabis expert witness in the courts and teaches at Oaksterdam University.