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Division of Research & Economic Development

Research Programs

Industrial hemp is an unusual economic plant that can provide valuable products from almost every part of the plant, including the stalk for fiber and bio fuel, the seed for oil and food, and the bud/flower and leaves for health products. It is estimated that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products including fibers, rope, clothes, paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, building materials, bio fuel, food, dietary supplements, cosmetic products, and animal feed. However, the hemp industry was substantially restrained since the passage of Marihuana Tax Act in 1937 and the research on hemp stagnated. Despite significant progress made by the international research community, there are many biological and chemical questions needing to be addressed to revitalize hemp as an industrial, research, and academic enterprise.
To facilitate and promote the hemp agriculture and industry, we will conduct both applied and academic research.

Collaborative Agriculture Studies

In order for farmers to grow industrial Hemp within the state of Maryland, they must participate in a research program with an "institution of higher learning". Through these collaborations, we at Morgan State University will:
• Study and investigate marketplace opportunities for hemp products to increase the job base in the State by means of employment, related to the production of industrial hemp
• Conduct agronomy research and determine the required soil types, growing conditions, and harvest methods relating to the production of various varieties of industrial hemp
• Record the differences in biomass yield, CBD content, cannabinoid profiles, other high value product yields from various phenotypes grown in the various soil types and environments within the state

Bio fuel Production

1. Grains and oil production. As a semi-domesticated crop, many traits for hemp seed and oil yield require improvement; these include seed size consistency and improved shattering resistance. Selection for genetically stable cultivars with larger seeds will be important for increasing hemp grain yields. During domestication, hemp has retained little resistance to shattering. Significant grain is lost due to shattering prior to and during harvesting because of inconsistent inflorescence maturity. Thus, further domestication of non-shattering cultivars could greatly improve yield.

2. Hemp is a rapidly growing plant that tolerates high planting density and may therefore be suitable as a valuable bio fuel crop.   The total biomass of hemp per acre is similar to other energy crops. However, hemp may provide a key advantage of higher concentration of digestible cellulose and hemicellulose in hemp fiber than that of other energy crops. High fiber and stalk yield in hemp cultivar will benefit hemp as a bio fuel corp. Acids and enzyme hydrolysis methods will be explored to process hemp fiber and hurd to sugars suitable for production of ethanol by fermentation. Establishment of hemp as a bio fuel crop would be beneficial to the industry by increasing demand for hurd and fiber.

New analytical methods Development

1. Methods for quality control of hemp plants and products
Although numerous analytical methods have been developed for the analysis of medical and industrial hemp, new methods are also being introduced that are simple, fast, lower cost, and robust. The hemp enterprise is fast pace and changes quickly in terms of new scientific discoveries, new products, new regulations and requirements, and new technologies. We will keep pace with all the changes and provide new or modified analytical methods accordingly.

2. Building up a chemical profiling database for hemp plants (genome) and its products using chemo-informatics method
Large number of cannabinoids, terpenes, and phenolic compounds were reported from hemp. Different hemp plant varieties contain different numbers of these secondary metabolites with varied quantities. THC/CBD ratio and the terpenes have been utilized to differentiate medical cannabis from industrial hemp. Chemo-informatics method will be developed to characterize hemp varieties and products, also to ensure the quality of tested plants and products in terms of batch-to-batch consistency.

3. Methods to analyze terpenes and phenolic compounds
Most analysis undertaken on hemp is currently focused on cannabinoids. However, terpenes and phenolic compounds in hemp are also important bio active components for many health products. Method(s) for analysis of those compounds are needed.

4. New drug discovery 

New drug with single molecule: Over 600 compounds have been identified from Cannabis plant. However, most of these compounds have not been properly characterized for their biological activities. The Cannabis plant could be called a "neglected pharmacological treasure trove". In June 2018, the first CBD prescription drug, Epidiolex derived from Cannabis, was approved by FDA for the treatment of two rare types of epilepsy. There is still huge potential for new drug discovery and development from this plant. The chemical constituents of industrial hemp are less studied than the recreational cannabis. It is reasonable to hypothesize that new cannabinoids exist in industrial hemp. Morgan State University scientists will isolate and identify cannabinoids from different hemp varieties and evaluate their bioactivities. Special attention will be focused on the minor and high potent compounds because our previous experience showed that minor components are more likely to be new and have higher potency. Hybrid plants often produce different secondary metabolites. For this reason, hybrid methods will be utilized both as a seed breeding method and a method to produce new cannabinoids.

Botanical new drug development with the extract: To date, two botanical prescription drugs were approved by FDA. Hemp produces a large number of cannabinoids, terpenes, and phenolic compounds. Those compounds showed diverse bioactivities. Synergistic and antagonistic effects were seen between compounds from same class and different class were reported, which may increase the therapeutic effects and decrease side effects. Variation of the second metabolite profile from different varieties of hemp plant or from different extraction and purification methods may result in products applicable for different medical conditions. This is evidenced by the more than 750* cannabis related clinical trials that are completed or ongoing. Thus, hemp represents a rare example for great potential of development of several botanical drugs.

Methods for the production of refined products

1. Method for oil extraction and refining
Currently, hemp oil is produced by cool-press. A green method utilizing super critical CO2 to extract the oil will be explored. This method has the advantage of being environmentally benign and the potential of producing oil with less impurity (other oil-soluble components
from hemp seeds). Further purification method will be explored to remove THC and CBD from oil. This oil can be used as cooking oil or omega-3 fatty acid supplement without concern of residue cannabinoids.

2. Method to produce large quantity of pure CBD
As mentioned above, CBD is the principal ingredient of a prescription drug and many dietary supplemental products. Methods for large-scale purification of CBD from CBD rich hemp and hemp byproducts (seed coat, leaves, and impurity from oil) will be developed to meet the increasing demand for pure CBD and concentrated CBD oil.

3. Method for preparation of hemp extract
Hemp extract containing terpenes, flavonoids, and other ingredients can also be used as dietary supplements. A method for incorporating bioactivity assay, hemp extract products with high quality and desired bioactivity will be developed.

New Capabilities in the Morgan Hemp Lab

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many partners will MSU take on during the 2021 Grow season?

No to exceed 10

2. What area of research will MSU focus on?
    a. Rapid HEMP cannabinoid level determination analysis using FTIR
    b. Identifying HEMP strains with high CBD content and the presence of other interesting cannabinoids
    c. Factors affecting the yield of cannabinoids in HEMP

3. Will MSU provide Standard Operating Procedures for growers and reporting methods?

Currently, MSU does have a standard reporting/operating procedures. We will individually discuss each growers' research proposal and provide suggestions and/or comments as needed. 

4. Will a researcher be assigned to each farming partner?   

No. Contact Jiangnan Peng for specific technical questions.

5. What are the requirements to become involved in the MSU partnership?

Each interested participant must submit an application that includes a research proposal. We encourage each grower to discuss their proposals with MSU prior to submitting the final application.

6. Is there an associated fee?

No. Any support provided will be in the context of "research". Lab services to determine the legal eligibility of crops must be done by an accredited commercial lab.

7. Will there be revenue sharing as a result of the end product?

At the current stage, MSU is asking that program participants share information and samples of their crops.

8. Will seeds or clones be provided?

No. It's the grower's choice regarding the type and source of the seeds they use.

9. Does MSU require a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with each partner?

Yes. A MOU is part of the application packet.

10. When will decisions be made?

Within approximately 2-4 weeks after the proposal is submitted to MSU.

11. Will the research focus on a portable affordable unit?

MSU is currently collaborating with an external company to determine the relationship between signals provided from a timelier and more expensive HPLC analysis method and more rapid and less expensive FTIR method. The former requires an expert to run and maintain the equipment and the latter does not.

12. How can samples be submitted?

Samples can be either mailed or hand delivered to MSU. Researchers may also be available to collect samples from your farm, depending on the research requirements and the availability of time. Contact Jiangnan Peng for more details. 

13. Would you want samples at various stages of growth?

Yes, samples of different stages of growth are welcomed to allow us to study.

14. Can any of these machines be used to extract hemp isolate for the farmers?

Currently we do not offer extraction services for the growers. However, we are considering establishing a demonstrational extraction system to show growers how to extract hemp.

15. Has MSU found a strain that would potentially be compliant with new federal standards?
Our current data showed that it is difficult to find a strain with a high CBD level (>10%) and a low total THC level (<0.3%).