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Legal hemp cultivation in other countries, such as Canada and France, has allowed for a scientific enquiry into the biochemical composition of industrial hemp. This has created a new understanding as to why industrial hemp is significant for multiple applications. The area of interest for industrial hemp consists of the inner woody core (the hurd), the fibrous epidermis (bast fibre), seeds and the plant as a whole (Prade, 2011). For the purposes of this research paper, the medicinal and full spectrum biochemical composition will not be examined. The medical and biochemical information surrounding Cannabis will pertain to the significant features which are important for the health factors and industrial applications.

Cannabis sativa L. is an annual herbaceous plant belonging the Cannabaceae family (Kuddus et al. 2013). The plant is a dioecious anemophilous (wind-pollinated) herb with aromatic properties (New Frontier Data, 2019). Industrial hemp requires sunlight, moisture and sufficient drainage in soils (Thayer et al. 2017).

Hemp has successfully spread from Central Asia throughout the world. This postulates that hemp has resilient growing properties which allow it to successfully integrate into new climatic zones with different edaphic conditions. Hemp (containing less than 0.3% THC) provides a relatively high biomass quantity in a shorter time period than other lignocellulosic biomass sources. The stem of hemp provides woody and cellulosic fibres, with the cortex comprising of cellulose fibres (bast fibres) and the inner woody core consisting of lignin (pulp/hurd) (Andre et al. 2016).  

In terms of the health attributes of Cannabis, one must examine its effect on the human anatomy. The human body has an inherent system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS was recently discovered in the 1990’s. The ECS was so named after Cannabis based on the fact that the body produces endocannabinoids which resemble the molecular structure of phytocannabinoids, found in hemp and marijuana. The ECS is one of the most important endogenous systems which help maintain the physiological and cognitive health of the body. The ECS contains two nerve receptors found all over the body, relating to the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors. The ECS contains inherent arachidonate-based lipids (fats) whilst serving as neurotransmitters. There are two main endogenous ligands, anandamide which serves as a fatty acid neurotransmitter and is an essential omega-6 fatty acid (the word Ananda is Sanskrit for ‘joy, delight and bliss’) and 2-arachidonylglycerol, which is predetermined for the CB-2 receptor, and is a product from the omega-6 fatty acid (Andre, Hausman and Guerreri, 2016).

After the endocannabinoids are made available, enzymes breakdown and synthesize the targeted endocannabinoid. These are received by the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors located in the central and peripheral nervous system. This describes the ability of cannabinoids to trigger ideal processes in the human body when they bind to specific receptors of a neuron. Ultimately, the ECS is an endogenous process in the human body  which regulates various physiological processors, such as; regulation of the immune system, key communication between cells, pain-mediation, appetite, memory, mood, insulin levels, inflammation and energy and fat metabolism. The ECS serves to maintain homeostasis of primary autonomous functions, thereby displaying the recent medical investment and interest in the viability of cannabinoids medicine to address multiple diseases and syndromes (Borrelli, Pagano, Romano, Panzera, Maiello, Coppola, De Petrocellis, Buono, Orlando and Izzo, 2014).  

Cannabis sativa L. has a basic composition of cellulose polymeric chains, with very similar primary metabolites to most other plants (Karche and Singh, 2019). The secondary metabolites consist of cannabinoids which are terpenophenolic compounds, formed from secretary cavities in the glandular hairs (trichomes) of the plant. The aromatic molecules in Cannabis belongs to what are known as terpenenoids (terpenes). These have regulatory functions with biotic processes, such as the attraction of pollinators, anti-pest agents whilst amplifying pathogen blockers. Furthermore, these terpenoids are classified according to five carbon building blocks (CBB) in their sub-groups, being; Isoprene (5 CBB), Monterpenes (10 CBB), Sesquiterpenes (15 CBB) and Triterpenes (30 CBB). This is relevant when decoding the chemovars of cannabis.  Terpenoids are potent metabolites and have been proven to have significant effects on animals and humans when inhaled (Aleferis and Bernard-Perron, 2020). These are attributable to almost all species in the Kingdom Plantae. Andre et al. (2016) found that Cannabis has over 100 terpenoids whilst Russo (2011) suggested there are over 200 terpenoids, with only a few being recognised for their significant health benefits and agricultural potential. 

These are:

  • Pinene is the most abundant terpene found in nature. It has properties which contain anti-inflammatory and insect-repellent properties. It contributes to the combative agents against a strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). This terpene is known to have antibiotic effects as well as having properties to stimulate focus and memory.
  • D-limonene is a monoterpene and has immune-stimulating attributes with anti-cancer agents for breast cancer. The unique element of this terpene is the bioavailability and fast metabolism characteristics whilst having anti-fungal stimulation in the plant (Skrobin, 2018).
  • B-myrcene is a monoterpene and is the most common terpene is the commercial cannabis industry. It is recognised as attributing to anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic and analgesic properties. 
  • Linolool was discovered in 2001 and has anti-anxiety, anti-epileptic and analgesic properties. Linalool is produced by many plant species and has been used in medicine for itsanti-convulsing properties. It is commonly found in lavender. 
  • B-Caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene and has been identified as having a gastric protector agent whilst having anti-inflammatory properties. An interesting characteristics of this terpene is the anti-fungal and insecticidal properties (Andre et al. 2016) (Skrobin, 2018) (Russo, 2011). 

The secondary metabolites consist of over 120 terpenophenolic cannabinoids, known as phytocannabinoids (Andre et al. 2016). The phytocannabinoids mentioned below are found in cannabis and are received by the endocannabinoid neurotransmitter receptors in the human body when ingested or inhaled. This can only happen after a process of decarboxylation (removal of a carbon atom) which involves a low heat exposure to the cannabinoids. The most abundant secondary metabolites and their key differences are:

  • CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid) is no-psychotropic cannabinoid and is proposed as the mother cannabinoid leading to the formation of THCA and CBDA. However, there are only trace amounts of CBGA found in most cannabis strains (less than 1%). As the precursor to the most popular secondary metabolites, it holds intrinsic value for the human body. CBG acts upon the indigenous CB1 and CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system. Studies revealed that CBG naturally increases the level of dopamine, this contributes to mood, sleep and appetite regulation. Furthermore, CBG has been identified as an effective treatment for certain conditions such as:
  • Cancer: CBGA is showing promising support signs as a cancer-fighting agent. In a study conducted by Borrelli et al. (2014), CBG in vivo showed to interact with target cells relating to carcinogenesis. The molecular structure blocks specific transient receptors whilst activating essential cells which cause cancer cell development. Furthermore, CBG inhibited colorectal cancer cells in vivo with laboratory mice. This displays new evidence for cancer-combating cannabinoids. 
  • Antibiotic properties: CBG was found to have antibiotic properties against MRSA. Furthermore, in a study conducted by Appendino, Gibbons, Giana, Pagani, Grassi, Stavri, Smith and Rahman (2008), CBD, THC and CBN were found to have a potent bioactivity against MRSA.
  • Glaucoma: CBG is effective in reducing and minimizing the intraocular forms of pressure that are typical of glaucoma.
  • THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinol acid) which is the major cannabinoid in ‘marijuana’. It is important to mention that the cannabinoids are more effectively absorbed by the endocannabinoid receptors when coupled with THC. However, this phytocannabinoid will not be discussed as the focus of the paper is on industrial hemp which contains low amounts of THC (Andre et al. 2016). 
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid) is currently the most prevalent phytocannabinoid for health. CBD (decarboxylated CBDA) is a non-psychotropic metabolic compound attributed to anti-anxiety, anti-cancer, anti-arthritic, anti-psychotic, anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory agents and supporting immune system benefits for humans (Andre et al. 2016) (Challa, Misra, and Martynenko, 2020). When CBDA is absorbed by the endocannabinoid system, it interacts by inhibiting the release of what is known as the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme. This enzyme is primarily associated with inflammatory agents, thereby revealing that CBDA can reduce inflammation and relieve the associated pain. It acts a palliative substance by affecting the 5-HT serotonin producing cell receptors indicating that it can reduce the nausea and chemotherapy-induced pain and side effects (currently undergoing more extensive research at the time of writing this research report). CBDA has similar properties to antidepressant agents by affecting the selective serotonin uptake inhibitors thereby providing natural medication to combat depression in various doses (Havelka, 2019). Furthermore, according to Havelka (2019), Aleferis and Bernard-Perron (2020) and Appendino et al. (2008), CBDA has studies indicating that it may inhibit the migration of a particular highly aggressive component which consists of breast cancer in females (this is known as the MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells). Furthermore, this multi-applicable natural substance is linked to insomnia conditions by providing a sleep sedative effect when consumed in large amounts. More importantly, it addresses some of the constituents which cause insomnia, such as pain and/or anxiety. CBD medicine has been approved by the United States Federal Drug Association in treating epileptic seizures such as the Dravet syndrome and the Lennox Gastaut syndrome (Takeda, Okajima, Miyoshi, Yoshida, Okamoto, Okaka, Amamoto, Watanabe, Omiecinski and Aramaki, 2012).
  • CBNA (Cannabinolic acid) is derived from THC when exposed to heat or oxygen. This has been isolated and identified as a sedative. It acts as a prolonged sleep enhancer, and has been suggested to improve sleep when combined with THC. Furthermore, this isolated molecule has been reported as a potential stimulant for growth in bone tissue. Studies have suggested that CBN activates stem cells which allow for the growth of new bone. This can be used to address bone fractures with increased healing time.,Various additional studies have found that CBN has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-biotic applications. 
  • CBCA (Cannabichromic acid) is dominant in young plants and tends to decline with maturity. This cannabinoid has been identified as a promising constituent for medical research. Specific pain receptors in the body; vanilloid receptor1 (TRPV1) and transient receptors potential Ankyrin (TRPA1), are linked with the endocannabinoid system where CBC is proven to effectively bind. This implies that CBC may be used as a natural alternative to pain medication which is indicative of the anti-inflammatory properties effectively treating conditions such as arthritis. CBC has been linked as a cancer-combating agent, however not in the same way as the CBG in terms of inhibiting cancer cell growth. The unique nature of CBC is the mutually reinforcing relationships it has with other cannabinoids. A hemp lexicon coined ‘entourage effect’ implies the synergizing effects of cannabinoids optimally functioning to increase the positive attributes associated with each one. CBC is a key participant in this action (Russo, 2011)


  • CBDV (Cannabidivarin) has a molecular similarity to the CBD structure. However, its’ intrinsic value displays treatment for neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy. CBDV can deter seizure-events whilst administering before seizures may completely disable the seizure as well as reducing the intensity and length of event (Andre et al. 2016).

The biosynthesis and isolation of specific cannabinoids would allow for medical practitioners to intercede the spread and/or conditions of appropriate patients thereby increasing the demand and potential impact of cannabis in the health and well-being paradigm of sustainable development. However, as previously mentioned, the unique bioactivity of the cannabinoids work in an ‘entourage effect’. The synergism and molecular diversity of specific cannabinoids facilitate palliative conditions in cancer patients when in a full-spectrum. The medical and bioanalytical field of inquiry for cannabis derivatives is currently undergoing extensive research and development. 

There are over 538 different chemical constituents from cannabis. Of these, the importance of the elements consist of the:

  • Terpenoids
  • Cannabinoids
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Sugars
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Simple and Amino acids
  • Simple ketones
  • Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • Enzymes
  • Vitamin B1, B3, B6, C, E and K 
  • Flavonoids
  • Nitrogenous compounds (Kuddus et al. 2013).

The importance of cannabinoids is due to their significant natural health attributes for humans. Hemp seed oil contains 80% polyunsaturated fatty acids whilst being significantly rich in linoleic acid (omega 6) as well as two alpha-linolenic acids (Omega 3) (Challa, Misra and Martynenko, 2020). These are essential for the maintenance of long-term health. The food metabolomics industry categorizes hemp as strong component of natural-based nutrition supplement. However, Aleferis and Bernard-Perron (2020), argue that the biochemical structure of the food and the interactions of the terpenoids, primary and secondary metabolites and various other components in cannabis, pose a multi-complex situation for the integration of cannabis derivatives into food as a nutritional supplement. Hemp seeds have been reported to help with weight loss as they boost metabolism which increases the potential fat-burning effect. Hemp contains a proportionally high protein content. This protein is known as Edestin which has antibodies and is vital to the homeostatic of the digestive tract and immune system. Hemp seeds provide vital nutrients and a unique balance of the nine essential amino acids for human consumption. Edible hemp seeds have comprehensive health benefits by improving cardiovascular diseases, dermatological improvements and reducing menstrual cramps. These various health factors evident in cannabis have the potential to address nutritional health standards in communities in South Africa and more specifically, the Eastern Cape (more to be discussed in Chapter 4).

Andre et al. (2016) and Asquer, Melis, Scano and Carboni (2019) highlight that epigenetic engineering can create the ideal phenotypic characteristics of cannabis plants. This will contribute to a sustainable output of industrial crop with improved and fortified health benefits. These improvements could manifest as evergreen hemp farms, a very high fibrous content, minimal seed shattering, increase in potency and bioavailability of CBD and other phytocannabinoids, fast growing and drought resistance. The evolutionary nature of cannabis expressed by its behavioural resilience, multi-purposeful applications and agro-ecological interactions are directly related to the web-like network of chemical relationships. This identifies the cannabis plant as being a significant natural medicine for multiple diseases, syndromes and conditions. Therefore, cannabis as a natural medication can be used combat health issues and provide better regulation to the autonomous functions within the body.