Morris Johnson isn’t your typical longevity researcher, if such a thing can be claimed to exist. Johnson doesn’t have the usual alphabet soup of accreditations following his name, but a childhood epiphany drives his interest in the mastery of human mortality.
While much has been made of the nutritional value of hemp in the past few years, Johnson, a Saskatchewan hemp farmer and chief technical officer of Canada’s Lifespan Pharma, Inc., believes that the plant has rare properties that can dramatically increase the lifespan of humans. His work with Hemp for Horses is the first step in providing a scientific basis for eventual human clinical trials.
I spoke with Johnson recently about longevity, hemp and salad dressing, as well as the hurdles faced by the plant’s proponents in the scientific community and the biases and stigma that flourish within it.
h+: What is so great about hemp?
MORRIS JOHNSON: It is one of the superfoods supplying a cornucopia of oils, proteins, fiber and phytonutrients. Nutritional density is a key aspect. As you consume your basic proteins and carbohydrates and oils, you want a food that also delivers nutritional supplementation in both quality and quantity. Hemp has gamma-linolenic acid, arginine, caryophyllene, functional terpenes, cannabidiol in high enough concentrations to accomplish anti-aging functions as detailed in scientific papers.
h+: How did you first get involved with hemp and longevity?
MJ: When I was three years old I said out loud to myself, “I will never die.” I remember where I was, that I was drawing some pictures, and that the thought just came to me. That moment has influenced everything I have done in the succeeding 51 years.
Over the years, aspects of science that contributed to potential healthspan extension became more clear with every new paper I read. When hemp became a legal crop to grow in Canada, I researched the chemistry and found that unique compounds found in hemp fit the niche of anti-aging compounds, with a high potential to bridge the gap between what we have easily available today to keep us vital and healthy and to be a good candidate to make the leading edge technologies work to their best in the future.
h+: Why use horses for tests?
MJ: Two reasons. Horse owners with high-value performance horses have a history of looking for and applying new ways to keep their highly stressed animals healthy and fit to show and breed. They are not averse to spending money on their horses so long as they see results in a reasonable period of time. They have experience with many supplements and understand how to administer and evaluate the results. They take better care of their horses than many ordinary people do to themselves and their children. If regulators question their supplement choices, they usually tell the regulators to mind their own business and bother somebody who really cares. Secondly, I had a close business relationship with a horse breeder who sold supplies and products to the equine industry. Thus Hemp For Horses (See Resources) was formed.
h+: What’s the process of getting approval for clinical human trials in Canada?
MJ: We plan to work with leaders in the research community like the University of Saskatchewan’s “Research Group on Aging” to proceed from study design to publication. Initial focus however is in the U.S., where DSHEA regulations foster an open market for our hemp-based compounded formulations. Proceeding under the guidance of a “Clinical Research Compliance Manual,” we will fund product-specific trials focused on positioning hemp in combination with other industry accepted anti-aging supplements and verify the findings, then publish in recognized journals.
h+: I’m confused by your statement that DSHEA regulations foster an open market when hemp production is banned.
MJ: In a nutshell: You can’t grow hemp in the United States in any meaningful way that would be commercially feasible. But you can import hemp from any jurisdiction that allows it to be grown and processed. So long as the THC (if any) is documented by an accredited lab and all supporting documents are presented to the appropriate gatekeepers, it is permitted to be freely moved, manufactured and sold in the USA. This is exactly what I have done.
h+: Is there a stigma regarding hemp in the research community?
MJ:Absolutely. Many researchers would rather create analog proprietary molecules that are divorced from the image of a marijuana leaf. The marijuana industry uses the term hemp indiscriminately and smears hemp with the image of being a mind-altering drug… sort of like low-quality marijuana. The effort to teach the public that hemp is to canola in the same way marijuana is to rapeseed would be both confusing and expensive, so it’s not a priority. The proper way to approach the research community is to proceed from the science that defines cannabidiol and caryophyllene as compounds that appear to create health and reduce some of the seven aspects of aging as defined by Dr. Aubrey de Grey. In a moment of sheer frustration, I created a logo with a hemp leaf and a red circle with a stroke through it and encircled it with the words, “I can’t believe it’s not marijuana.”
h+: I heard an analogy on MSNBC. They said it would take a joint the size of a telephone pole to even begin to suspect a psychoactive result from smoking hemp. Are scientists like “normal” people in that they need a non-subtle graphic illustration to overcome their bias?
MJ: Hemp products are regulated in Canada to not exceed 30 ppm (of THC). Pot has 10,000-25,000 ppm. At that rate, you would have to consume between 3 and 7.5kg (6.6-16.5 pounds) of hemp at one sitting to get the same buzz as one gram of good pot, so the telephone pole-sized joint [analogy] … is appropriate. (Test kits and lab drug screening tests for employment vary, but usually test positive at 5-100 ppm.) Scientists are likely more motivated by the fear that discussing any form of cannabis may impair their chances of getting research funding and grants or peer recommendations for their projects.
For example, Carl Sagan consumed marijuana but did not go out of his way to make it known to his peers and the public. To those with a technical background in plant breeding, I refer to marijuana as analogous to rapeseed and hemp as comparable to canola — in respect to the comparative ingredients erucic acid and tetrahydrocannabinol. I know many academics who like their pot, but who would criticize anyone who said good things about pot when they were talking in public. Scientists are ordinary people in that they are chickenshits on this subject. I would also say that those who promote pot mistakenly refer to pot as hemp, and that has seeded the same prejudice towards hemp as pot. Given that some hemp varieties are visually indistinguishable from pot, the image of the two, including its leaf, have become co-mingled.
h+: What dressing goes best in a hemp salad?
MJ: In season, I eat hemp buds and foliage in all sorts of foods. I have made up hamburgers with hemp as a binder, drinks and smoothies with hemp added and hemp in salads with ranch dressing.
h+: You’ve obviously integrated hemp into your diet, but would you see hemp extract used as a supplement?
Scientists are ordinary people in that they are chickenshits on this subject.
MJ: I have patented a whole plant powder that can be combined with a number of other food supplements. One formulation adds acetyl-l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid and carnosine, and is focused on keeping mitochondria from aging excessively. I see resveratrol as a complementary addition. In isolation, hemp has marked anti-aging applications. When combined with a growing number of well-researched food supplements, hemp has a capacity to forestall degenerative aging processes and reduce future expenditures for pharmaceuticals and medical procedures.
h+: Do you find it odd that in the United States the argument for legalizing and taxing marijuana has accelerated, while hemp policy remains stagnant?
MJ: No, because legislators are not usually scientists or medical doctors, and massive numbers of confusing and conflicting messages have created long-standing prejudices towards anything tied to the word cannabis. The legalizing/taxing issue is not science-driven, it is purely economic prospecting for new sources of public revenue. It is not tied to health policy or to changing long-standing drug policy. Hemp thus has become the misunderstood and neglected orphan that is more a nuisance than anything else to legislators.
Steve Robles has been a contributor to 10 Zen Monkeys, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Getting It, in addition to once upon a time being a co-host of the RU Sirius Show.