arly in the morning, several days a week, Joe Arnone bikes from his home in Kalispell to a tiny farm near Creston to water a crop not commonly found in Montana.
It looks and smells like marijuana, growing similarly shaped leaves and flower buds, but Arnone has spent the last decade educating himself and others on the distinct differences between the well-known drug and his “miracle plant.”
Arnone grows hemp, a crop from which the current health-craze product cannabidiol, or CBD oil, is extracted.
His small crop of hemp is part of a Drug Enforcement Administration-regulated industrial hemp pilot program under the license of the Hemp Holding Co., which currently contracts with 17 farms across Montana for a total of 242 acres of hemp.
Under the company’s license, Arnone can legally experiment with his quarter-acre hemp crop and sell hemp products in the United States.
Following 12 years in the U.S. Air Force, Arnone retired to his home in Montana with a mission.
Though already familiar with the benefits of hemp, Arnone first became interested in the plant as a business venture after witnessing its effect on his brother.
A veteran of the Gulf War, Arnone’s brother suffered from physical pain stemming from combat injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.
While his brother initially was prescribed opiates by his doctor to treat pain, insomnia and anxiety, he sought an alternative remedy and began taking a CBD oil supplement instead.
The difference, Arnone said, was night and day.
“CBD has made it to where he can function and he’s back among society being able to contribute,” Arnone said of his brother.
Now the two brothers, one in Colorado and the other in Montana, work with a third partner in California to produce quality CBD products through their company, Glacier Hemp, with a primary goal of helping relieve some of the pain and stress experienced by other veterans.
“As a military member, we want to help the veterans primarily because we were working with them and dying with them, seeing our buddies dying and getting injured,” Arnone said. “So that’s why we were looking at it and then we saw all the benefits it has for everybody.”
Historically, hemp has been used in a plethora of industries and products, from rope to parachutes, clothing to makeup.
“Basically, anything you see in your house, you can make it out of hemp,” Arnone said.
heMP HAS has three parts common to most plants — flowers, seeds and stalks.
The flower, similar to the buds that make hemp’s sister plant, marijuana, contains CBD, as well as minute traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
Both hemp and marijuana belong to the plant class cannabis, but the differentiating factor between the two is the level of THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its psychoactive qualities when smoked or ingested.
Unlike marijuana buds, which can contain up to 80 percent THC, depending on the strain, hemp flowers contain only a fraction of that percentage.
Industrial hemp grown for CBD extraction and other uses must legally contain 0.3 percent THC or less.
Even at the highest legal level of THC, Arnone said, hemp cannot get you high.
“You can take that flower and roll it in your pipe, make a joint out of it, smoke it and you won’t get stoned because there’s not enough THC in there,” Arnone said.
“If you want to smoke marijuana, go find it,” he added. “This isn’t marijuana and it isn’t going to do the same thing.”
The CBD oils Arnone and his partners sell are considered “full spectrum,” meaning they leave in those trace amounts of THC rather than removing it all. He compared the THC levels in his oils to the levels of alcohol in cough syrup.
Users won’t get high, but they may experience other, more beneficial effects, he said.
According to an overview of cannabis and cannabinoids released by the National Cancer Institute, cannabis has been studied as a treatment for inflammation, pain, anxiety, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
“Cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory,” the study states, though it does not make a recommendation for its use as a cancer treatment.
Arnone suggested that “everybody over 30 years old should be taking a 25 mg CBD oil supplement, full spectrum, because of all the health benefits it does for you.”
HEMP ALSO has potential in the food market. Hemp seed oil contains 40 percent less saturated fat than olive oil and can be used as a substitute in most foods. The seeds themselves are a nearly complete source of protein and when combined with other grains can help supplement low-protein diets.
Even the stalks have value as potential building and clothing materials, animal feed and biodiesel fuel.
Arnone said he sees potential for such a super-crop to take over the wheat industry in Montana and the cotton industry in the south, which currently utilizes more pesticides than any other crop, appearing in everything from T-shirts to tampons.
The only thing stopping a hemp industry boom in the U.S., according to Arnone, is its lack of federal legality.
Still in its first year, Arnone’s farm has provided more of a educational experience for him so far, yielding a modest crop of around 225 plants.
The plants he hopes to soon harvest, he said, will be small and contain well below the legal limit of THC.
Arnone said he sees the most potential for pristine hemp growth in Montana, where the air is clear and the soil nutritious.
“Hemp alone is the crop that Montana in particular should be growing hundreds of thousands of acres, and they may in the near future,” Arnone speculated.
Because of misnomers about hemp as a viable, legitimate product, Arnone said he and his fellow hemp growers will have to fight for the “miracle crop’s” future.
Despite its low THC levels and lack of psychoactive effects, CBD remains on the schedule one narcotics list beside heroin and opiates.
“It’s been suppressed technology for at least 80 years,” he said. “Because of so much propaganda that was anti-cannabis, now it’s an uphill battle to reverse that.”
Until federal laws change, however, Arnone said he and his partners plan to continue to educate the public because he believes “cannabis seems to be the best thing overall for your body.”
Arnone’s legal CBD products can be purchased through his website, https://glacierhemp.com/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.