As the director of the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research at Middle Tennessee State University, Dr. Elliot Altman is on the front lines of researching hemp. Students in the program are cultivating cannabis in greenhouses to research potential medicinal uses for the plant.
Since federal and state law have changed in the last few years to allow the use of industrial hemp, the interest in the center’s research has attracted more and more attention, including more funding.
The Ledger spoke with Altman about his research and the future of the hemp industry.
What is the nature of your work at MTSU and your research involving nonpsychotropic cannabis? How long have you been doing it, and how is it funded?
“At the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research we specialize in developing antibacterial, anticancer, antifungal, antiviral, immunostimulant and immunosuppressant agents from compounds derived from plants.
“This expertise is what led us to the research on hemp. We have been investigating whether any of the nonpsychotropic cannabinoids as well as the terpenes and terpenoids that can be isolated from hemp have any of these activities. What has truly impressed us is that many of the cannabinoids are potent immunosuppressants.
“We have been working on this since August 2016 thanks to a 10-year $2.5 million grant from GreenWay Herbal Products, who challenged us to understand what the medicinal value of hemp was and develop testing methods that could ensure product efficacy for consumers.”
Why is there so much attention swirling around industrial hemp right now?
“There is interest in hemp both for the nonpsychotropic cannabinoids it produces, with the primary interest focused on cannabidiol, CBD, and the use of hemp seeds as a superfood or nutritional supplement.
“Hemp seeds are the best source of the essential polyunsaturated omega fatty acids on earth because it makes omega-3 and omega-6 in the ratio recommended by most dieticians. Hemp seeds are also one of the few sources of all of the 20 amino acids that are required for an optimal balanced protein source.”
Can you share some of your research findings when it comes to positive effects from nonpsychotropic cannabis?
“We have shown in carefully controlled experiments using both human cells and mice that the cannabinoids produced by hemp are excellent immunosuppressants. So, it makes sense that people have found that cannabinoids, such as CBD, are really effective at treating immunological diseases or conditions.”
Are there dangers to using CBD oil?
“CBD is completely safe. The only worry we have is the reliability of the products that are being sold by different companies, since no one guarantees the potency or efficacy of the CBD products that they sell. Hopefully, GreenWay is about to change that. Thanks to the testing methods we have developed, and some of our discoveries regarding which cannabinoids are the best immunosuppressants, they plan to offer hemp extracts to consumers that will be superior to anything on the market.”
From your perspective, what are the most exciting things about the industrial hemp industry for Tennessee?
“I think the hemp industry will continue to grow with hemp being used as a source to produce CBD, seeds and fiber. Hemp can be used for three very different products. I am very proud of the legislators in Tennessee for having the foresight to pass the required legislation that will allow Tennessee to become one of the premier hemp states.”
If you could flash forward five years, where would the industrial hemp industry in Tennessee be?
“I think this industry is truly about to explode.”