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Hemp Growing Returns To Scotland With Launch Of Country’s First Farmers’ Collective

Kyle Esplin, chair of the Scottish Hemp Association, talks to BusinessCann about his route into CBD, being a mouthpiece for the industry north of the Border, regulation, and a new wave of farmers who are following the green rush and turning their land over to hemp production.

KYLE Esplin is on a crusade to bring hemp back into the mainstream.

He may not see himself as a warrior, but his vigorous campaigning to cut red tape and create a more tolerant and competitive market for Scotland’s hemp growers, producers, retailers and consumers, tells a different story.

Kyle Esplin, chair of the Scottish Hemp Association.

He says: “I have made a large personal sacrifice in many ways for this, I suppose, but I don’t see it as any great crusade or any great quest. It’s just that deep down this resonates with me as the right thing to do and, although there are other things I could be doing, I can’t sleep if some of these issues aren’t being taken care of, especially given how hemp and CBD has played such a huge and positive role in my life.

“I can’t imagine what situation I would be in now if I didn’t have it in my life, and I suppose it is a driving force. When everything was against me, I looked into CBD, did my research, and thankfully all has worked out as good as could be hoped for.”

A Decade In Hemp

Kyle is casting his mind back nearly a decade to 2012 when he contracted a respiratory viral infection that quite literally, put him out of action. In those days he was better known as a piano whizz and singer than an advocate for hemp.

He toured the world with his all-action live show featuring everything from ballads to classic music and rock ‘n roll.

But he suddenly found himself laid up for eight months in bed with post-viral fatigue syndrome, which has hit the headlines in the past year as a side effect of long Covid.

In all, it took Kyle two years to get back to work – but only after he discovered CBD.

He recalls: “The doctors had no solution for post-viral fatigue syndrome so I went over to Holland to a clinic and I started taking a combination of cannabis and hemp oils. It completely changed my life.

“After a week of fairly good consumption, my symptoms began to tone down, although it took several months to start to get back to good functioning. But there was a steady uphill progress from the beginning.  

“I didn’t come to this from media hype or from the doctors, I came to this from looking deep into academic publications. The theory was there with lots of interconnecting dots as to how it could work.

“From there I was going back and forwards to Holland and telling other people about it. There was the early signs of a CBD industry starting up here in the UK, and I got involved.”

Kyle Esplin in his ‘other life’, performing on stage.

Holistic Highland Hemp

In tandem with touring his live show – the Covid pandemic aside – Kyle now runs his own Holistic Highland Hemp business selling a range of CBD oils and related products sourced from sustainably grown hemp, free of additives, chemicals or GMOs and containing less than 0.01% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that produces the ‘high’ sensation.

At the same time, he has found himself becoming an ambassador for Scottish hemp.

Covid may have stopped Kyle going on the road, but it has opened another door for him – the newly formed Scottish Hemp Association. 

With the Novel Food deadline looming and what Kyle describes as “shifts in the atmosphere of what could be coming” for the hemp industry, with the possibility of yet more red tape, he put himself forward as chairman and opened up negotiations with Food Standards Scotland, which has independent authority from the Food Standards Agency covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“I would have been away travelling last summer,” he explains, “but because of the lockdown I was then available to be here to fight the case for the Scottish Hemp Association. I feel it is a crucial time for the hemp industry. There has been a space in the narrative, the information cycle and communication with the regulators, and based on my experience, I felt a sort of duty to step forward and speak out.”

Scottish Hemp Association

The association may only have been registered in August last year, but it is already a force to be reckoned with. 

It has worked on new recommendations in a paper with Professor Mike Barnes, a consultant neurologist and medical cannabis expert, regarding the future of the UK CBD and medical cannabis industry – in particular the suggestion to raise the THC limit in hemp plants from 0.2% to 1%, based on the success of the Swiss model, which would allow British farmers to be competitive by opening up a wider range of plant varieties with different end uses.

The latter would drop the need for growing licences for industrial use.

The paper also calls for 0.2% THC hemp extracts to be removed from controlled drug regulation, has made the case for synthetic CBD to be labelled on products, and is pushing to make whole plant extracts exempt from Novel Food regulations.

“If we didn’t have lockdown and I was away playing rock ‘n roll piano last summer, some of these points wouldn’t have happened for the industry, I think,” Kyle says with an ironic smile.

He says that consumers haven’t been fully informed about the changes in Novel Food regulations which have meant that since March 31 this year, synthetic CBD products have been available on the market, with companies not legally obliged to disclose if their goods are manmade or isolate-based.

A recent survey conducted by a collective of UK hemp and CBD groups revealed that 88% of consumers were uncomfortable with synthetic CBD coming on to the market, with a further 94% saying it should be a legal requirement for it to be stated on a label.

As Kyle says: “Consumers should have the right to choose what they put in their body, and the survey has shown a strong preference for natural plant-based CBD over synthetic.

“If synthetic CBD is entering the food supply for the first time then we want that to be on the label because we think it is unethical to jump on the back of the hemp industry that has been built up.”

If the current position looks bleak there is some hope on the horizon. At Kyle’s instigation the Scottish Hemp Association has reached out to the Cannabis Trades Association, British Hemp Alliance and the Northern Ireland Hemp Association, with all four groups meeting with the Home Office seeking positive changes to the current legislation – especially with regard to import licences.

Farmers Plant Hemp For First Time In Decades

Kyle says the Home office was ‘very receptive’, although no official movement on the current stance has been announced.

But he is adamant that change is on the way. “Absolutely! And if the Scottish Hemp Association plays a part in it, the sensible voice of logic and reason on behalf of the industry and the consumer, I see no reason why we can’t shape the future.

“The regulators are often very receptive to hearing from us; there are often many angles of research and data and fine details that they are not completely aware of and you can help them join the dots and make a more informed decision.” 

Kyle Esplin the musician on stage.

Regulations aside, the future for hemp does seem to be rosier in Scotland. For the first time in decades, Scottish farmers have again started growing hemp as they look to tap into new markets.

Kyle says the Scottish Hemp Association is proud to have played a part in encouraging farmers to start growing the plant. There are around 12 in Angus and Aberdeenshire who have now given over land to hemp for non-novel CBD-rich seed oil and protein powder.

He says licencing, regulations and the lack of infrastructure to optimise the crop, has been discouraging. But the farmers have formed a cooperative so they can all grow under the one licence and seek investment for equipment and processing facilities, with a view to expanding the crop beyond food to textiles and industrial use.

Scottish-Grown Hemp Oil

Kyle believes this would encourage more farmers to become involved.

“To get hemp oil established from Scotland would be fantastic. It would have a provenance, a value, and a uniqueness to it as it would be the first time in years that the country has gone back to growing hemp as a food.

“The Scottish government over the last four years has invested money with the Rowett Institute at Aberdeen University to study alternative protein sources that Scotland can produce, which includes hemp as a recommendation.

“A 24-hour human trial was done in Aberdeen to compare blood results after a lunch of hemp and plant-based proteins compared to a meat feast, and it pointed in the direction of hemp being a very suitable source of protein for Scotland’s future.

“It could help address Scotland’s high rates of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure; all those things could possibly benefit from hemp.”

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