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Salisbury University students blaze trails in hemp research

A pungent smell and onlookers’ gasps permeated the air in the Guerrieri Academic Commons on August 29.

The offending odor wafted from a set of potted hemp plants on display.

But, as Dr. Mark Holland, professor of biological sciences here at Salisbury University, will tell you, these aren’t drug plants.

This summer, SU students were able to partner with budding hemp growers across Maryland to help grow hemp and test the effects of a probiotic developed here at SU.

Participants like Josey McGoldrick, a recent graduate, Jamie McBain, a junior, and Sara Collins, a senior, all had plenty to say about the pilot program.

“I’m definitely super grateful. I loved doing a project that was one of the first. I think that’s really hard sometimes in science, and it’s really nerve-wracking if you want to get into research and you feel like everything’s already been done,” Collins said.

Both the federal Agricultural Act of 2014 and Maryland’s House Bill 698 (2018) gave way to the establishment of the Maryland Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program.

The Maryland Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program requires that every hemp grower partners with a public university with a specific research program.

While other schools in Maryland are attempting to join the program, SU is the first. SU also has a strong geographical advantage: Most farms that SU partnered with over the summer were on the Eastern Shore.

Students took on varying roles of responsibility, but they all shared one common experience: they were in the weeds, right alongside growers trying to figure out how to cultivate cannabis on the Eastern Shore.

“With the growers, we would go once every two weeks. We would split up the farms, we would take group trips and solo trips,” McGoldrick said. “We would make sure the leaves look good, make sure the plants are on track, making sure the soil was OK, just making sure everything was all right.”

Working alongside growers provided them a chance to exchange knowledge. As biology researchers, they were no strangers to mutually beneficial relationships.

“They would always ask us questions like we were the experts, but we were really learning along with them,” McBain said.“The farmers really gave us a lot of freedom to be on their property, which was amazing.”

The preliminary results were mixed. The results indicate that the probiotic PPFM, short for pink-pigmented facultative methylotrophic bacteria, might speed up the germination process.

However, there was no significant difference in the growth rate of the experimental plants versus the growth rate of the controls.

The project plans to expand its score. Future experiments will test PPFM and hemp in a variety of ways, such as examining its effects on mold and cannabidiol production.

Hemp has many uses, and is often referred to as a “miracle plant.” Hemp is commonly used in rope, textiles, clothing and progressively, in foods and alternative medicine.

You may have seen a sign for “CBD oil” crop up somewhere recently.

CBD, or cannabidiol oil, is derived from hemp plants, and early signs of research indicate that CBD can be used to address a medley of wellness issues, such as anxiety, chronic pain, a loss of appetite and even acne.

The difference between hemp and marijuana is all in the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content.

THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces the “high”. When crops have more than a 0.3 percent THC content, they are no longer considered hemp plants.



News editor

Featured photo from Purdue University, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.

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