Can Chewing Hemp Clothing and Textiles get you High? Are they illegal in Singapore?
In the wake of news that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has issued a recall notice for a food product containing hemp seed flour, we’ve noticed a number of questions circulating on social media. Specifically, can hemp clothing or textiles can cause a high and are they illegal in Singapore under anti-drug legislation?
For instance, one forum user asked if the hemp cloth used in funerals and gunny sacks can cause a high if chewed. Another asked if hemp rope might be similarly illegal, or if hemp should be discounted as a sustainable textile. Some forum posts also mention that hemp products such as bags can be purchased online in Singapore – both from local and overseas shops.
CNB recent statements about hemp, which echoes their existing stance on cannabis derivatives, has prompted these questions. According to CNB, cannabis is a Class ‘A’ controlled drug. As “the botanical name for hemp plant is Cannabis Sativa. In other words, hemp is cannabis. This means that all hemp proteins, fibre, seeds, oils etc that are derived from the hemp plant are derived from the Cannabis Sativa plant.” Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a chemical substance that can be extracted from Cannabis Sativa and is also a Class ‘A’ controlled drug. THC has psychoactive properties and can induce “highs” when ingested.
Although THC is present in far smaller amounts in the hemp variety of Cannabis sativa, CNB notes that “Any products derived from the Cannabis Sativa plant or its seeds can contain controlled drugs such as THC despite the product labels indicating otherwise.” This does not fit within Singapore’s regulations, which have a “zero tolerance” policy towards any controlled drugs.
As hemp textiles and fibres are derivatives of Cannabis Sativa, do they also contain THC and do they have psychoactive properties?
According to a report published by the United Nations on Industrial Hemp, while hemp belongs to the same plant species as marijuana, they have been cultivated for vastly different purposes and been bred with different characteristics. Chiefly, the THC content of marijuana is much higher than hemp. Specifically, most regulations (although this varies slightly across different countries) restrict the THC content of hemp to 0.3% or less. Figure 1 below from another report on hemp also reflects the differences between the two varieties.
Multiple sources suggest that hemp products, when containing such low levels of THC, are not psychoactive. Further, while the seeds, flowers and roots of the hemp plant are used to make ingestible products such as oils, flowers and teas, hemp textiles are made from the outer stalks of the hemp plant. The stalks or stems of the cannabis plants have been shown to have the lowest (or in some cases none at all) concentrations of any cannabinoids such as THC.
Research cited by CNB notes that THC and cannabis use can have negative health consequences; particularly in high doses. Nevertheless, there is a difference between hemp cultivated for industrial use and cannabis as a narcotic product and hemp textiles do not have psychoactive properties. We therefore give the first claim – that hemp textiles can cause “highs” a rating of false.
However, while debate rages on surrounding the resurgence of hemp as a viable crop for textiles and other industrial applications, or even therapeutic uses from CBD oil, the fact remains that Singapore’s legislation does not allow for hemp products or any product with even trace amounts of THC to be imported, sold, or consumed in Singapore.
Are hemp textiles included in this category? While the CNB’s statement clearly includes “all hemp proteins, fibre, seeds, oils,” a quick Google search for hemp textiles in Singapore reveals multiple options. For instance, the Singapore Crate and Barrel website has a line of hemp bedding for sale, while Muji features a line of linen-hemp blended clothing. A line of dog toys available to purchase on the Krisflyer website claims to 100% hemp.
Without an official source specifically mentioning hemp textiles, it is difficult to know for certain if these products are breaking any laws. Black Dot Research has reached out to CNB for clarification and will update this post with any new information or statements.
However, based on our current research, three likely explanations might illuminate this confusion.
Firstly, if these products have been tested and proven to have no THC content it is possible that import approval was given. Secondly, it is possible that some of these products have not yet been flagged or noticed by the relevant authorities and the importers are unaware that hemp textiles fall under the same regulations as other cannabis derivatives. This second possibility has precedent from several years ago. In 2019, an article by Nylon Singapore looked at cosmetic products that contained hemp seed oil, which prompted the removal of several products from local shelves. In a statement to Nylon, CNB reiterated that such products were not allowed to be imported, and importers were informed and warned.
Finally, some hemp products might actually be made from Manilla Hemp, which is similar to hemp, but actually is derived from a completely different plant, Abacá or Musa textilis. The naming similarities stem from hemp being such a commonly used fibre that other similar fibres were lumped under the same nomenclature. This is something we found to be true when looking closer at some listings for hemp twine or rope. Although some listings had hemp in the title, they were either made from Manilla hemp or jute.
While confusion still remains over the exact legality of hemp textiles, this is an example of the importance of carefully researching complicated subjects such as the differences or similarities between hemp and marijuana. By understanding the nuances of each, it is possible to understand why certain legislation is in place and to recognise the difference between products such as textiles or oils or narcotics instead of wild speculation.
Black Dot Research has reached out to CNB for further clarification and will update this post with any new information or statements.