Pakistan has begun large-scale cultivation of hemp under the first license for hemp cultivation that the Cabinet had issued to the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), in 2020.
The first crop of Iranian and Turkish varieties of hemp that is currently ready for harvest was planted in Rawat, Rawalpindi, in collaboration with ARID Agriculture University. Special oil extractors have been called for the extraction of cannabidiol (CBD) oil from the plants for $10,000 per liter.
Dr. Rehmatullah Qureshi, a professor at ARID Agriculture University, who is working on a hemp cultivation project, said that it is a high-value, short maturing crop that is ready for planting when it is almost three and a half months old. He also calls hemp ‘innocent’ like any other plant, but it has been besmirched by drug addicts, because of which its benefits are disregarded.
The oil extracted from hemp is called CBD oil, and it is used in medicines for various diseases, including cancer. Initially, cancer patients were treated with drugs made from the opium poppy plant, which made them addicts. Dr. Qureshi said that medicines made from CBD oil are given to patients as well.
There are two types of compounds: CBD oil and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). Unlike THC, CBD oil is not a narcotic. Special types of hemp plants that contain high levels of CBD and extremely low levels of THC are used for the extraction of CBD oil.
Hemp, like other plants, has both male and female parts that are important and can be processed to obtain CBD oil. Dr. Qureshi explained that hemp plants that are grown to obtain CBD oil are identified and separated at an early stage and if this is not done, the hemp plant becomes intoxicating after it is cross-pollinated. Plants that are not cross-pollinated produce CBD oil that contains negligible levels of intoxicants.
Dr. Qureshi said that wild hemp has 99 percent male and 1 percent female plants. Its amount of THC increases even after cross-pollination and it becomes intoxicating. The female wild hemp has intoxication that is absent in the male.
In order to obtain CBD oil, it is important to prevent female plants from being cross-pollinated by the male plants, for which the male and female plants should be identified early on. Researchers say that hemp plants are identified as males and females at the nursery stage using DNA kits, after which only females are grown to obtain CBD oil.
Medicinal hemp plants are segregated from the males and females to prevent them from becoming intoxicating, after which CBD oil can be obtained from them. On the other hand, industrial hemp does not require differentiation between male and female plants as they are only used for the extraction of their fiber which is used to make cloth. Also, the length of the industrial hemp plant is taller than the one used for CBD.
Dr. Qureshi said that 2,000 medicinal hemp plants are planted in one acre, which yields 10 liters of CBD oil, and one liter of CBD oil costs $10,000. Hemp cultivation can bring in up to Rs. 1.5 crore in terms of CBD oil, which can be increased if more value-added products and medicines are derived from it.
He remarked that no part of the hemp plant is useless. It is used in the paper and cottage industries, its leaves can be used to make ethanol, and its fiber is also used to make vehicle spare parts. Additionally, if hemp seeds are produced, they can cost up to $12 per seed, and the price of one seed of the hemp varieties in the USA and the UK is up to $18.
The first crop of hemp is ready for harvesting at the government level, but ordinary farmers are not allowed to cultivate hemp yet.
The Minister for Science and Technology, Shibli Faraz, said that the policy on hemp will be finalized within the next three to six months, after which hemp cultivation will be allowed under it. He added that many investors are interested in hemp cultivation but no one can be allowed to cultivate hemp before the formulation of the policy.