Jim Higdon is co founder and chief communication officer of Cornbread Hemp, a manufacturer based near Louisville. The company offers daytime and nighttime liquid products, gummies, capsules and pet products.
Higdon took the name of his company from a book he wrote during a former career as a journalist. The book detailed the activities of the so-called Cornbread Mafia, a group of renegade marijuana growers centered in Kentucky that operated in the 70s and 80s and created the largest single illegal grow operation in US history. All told 70 individuals were indicted as a result of the scheme.
Hard questions around hemp
Higdon said digging into the mafia’s exploits gave him a taste for dealing with hard questions that others would like to sweep under the rug.
“I grew up in central Kentucky where this all happened. I got into this industry as a story teller and reporter. After completing my education at Columbia Journalism School I decided to come home to write this story,” Higdon told NutraIngredients-USA.
“It was a topic that no one wanted to talk about, but there were copious amounts of government documents about it,” he said.
Higdon then transitioned into covering cannabis politics and policies before starting up his own manufacturing company. He said part of the motivation was what he saw happen in the marketplace after the 2018 federal Farm Bill opened the floodgates by removing the whole Cannabis sativa plant from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s schedule one list of controlled substances. (Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive fraction, is still on the list.)
“2018 saw a lot of opportunists come out of the bleacher seats and get into the game,” Higdon said. “I saw a lot of subpar ‘corporate CBD’ products.”
The extraction end of the industry has gone either toward CBD isolates or ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘full spectrum’ extracts. There is as yet no regulatory definition of those latter terms and little consensus within the industry as to what they should mean.
'Full spectrum’ as regulatory construct
One impetus for the ‘full spectrum’ movement was an apparent attempt to gain what little regulatory cover might be available in an essentially unregulated industry. There was a perception that FDA was more focused on products labeled as CBD and might be especially interested in products manufactured with isolates, as that might blur the line between what might eventually qualify as a dietary supplement and Epidiolex, the FDA-approved anti seizure drug that’s already on the market.
While that may be, in Higdon’s view that approach misses the point. A full spectrum hemp extract should be just that, and shouldn’t shy away from the fact that even compliant industrial hemp, defined as Cannabis sativa plants that have less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, has some THC in it. In his company’s view, the THC in its offerings helps the other cannabinoids to work better, ultimately making a more efficacious product.
“We are talking about the cannabinoids in the hemp plant in their full ratios to each other. Our goal is to get as much THC into a full spectrum hemp extract as the law will allow,” Higdon said.
“It’s disingenuous to continue to demonize cannabis while talking about hemp in a way that makes it different and distinct from the cannabis plant when in fact it is the same plant. It’s just not being honest about hemp’s relationship to cannabis,” he said.
“From my point of view this is mostly an ongoing issue relative to employee drug testing,” he added.
Setting a new ‘hot’ level
Higdon noted the issue of ‘hot’ crops has affected farmers in Kentucky as it has other growers around the nation. There are varying theories around how the 0.3% standard was first arrived at, but subsequent experience suggests that no one consulted an agronomist familiar with the crop when setting that boundary. Even supposedly reliable strains can easily run over the 0.3% level given the right conditions.
“I think 1% THC by dry weight would be a reasonable starting level,” Higdon said. “The USDA itself estimates that up to 20% of the hemp crops will have to be destroyed because they exceed the 0.3% level.”
A differentiator for his company’s products is the use of only the flowers for extraction purposes, Higdon said. While a few other companies do the same, Higdon said to his knowledge Cornbread is the only company using USDA Certified Organic hemp flowers. This makes the purest full spectrum extract with a minimum of other constituents that are irrelevant to the product’s health benefits, he said.