Challenges towards Revitalizing Hemp: A Multifaceted Crop

Craig Schluttenhofer, Ling Yuan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

206 Scopus citations


Hemp has been an important crop throughout human history for food, fiber, and medicine. Despite significant progress made by the international research community, the basic biology of hemp plants remains insufficiently understood. Clear objectives are needed to guide future research. As a semi-domesticated plant, hemp has many desirable traits that require improvement, including eliminating seed shattering, enhancing the quantity and quality of stem fiber, and increasing the accumulation of phytocannabinoids. Methods to manipulate the sex of hemp plants will also be important for optimizing yields of seed, fiber, and cannabinoids. Currently, research into trait improvement is hindered by the lack of molecular techniques adapted to hemp. Here we review how addressing these limitations will help advance our knowledge of plant biology and enable us to fully domesticate and maximize the agronomic potential of this promising crop. For states which define hemp (<0.3% THC) as distinct from marijuana, the USA Agriculture Act of 2014 allows departments of agriculture or universities to cultivate hemp as part of a research pilot program. As of 2017, at least 39 US universities and dozens of researchers have begun studying hemp, yet guidance on top research priorities are lacking. While traditionally a fiber and grain crop, hemp has emerged as a source of nonhallucinogenic medicinal phytocannabinoids (e.g., CBD) with distinct properties from marijuana. Dozens of clinical studies are now investigating anecdotal uses of CBD to treat various medical conditions. The last several years have seen advancements in understanding Cannabis genetics through publications of a draft genome, transcriptome sequencing, quantitative trait mapping, and genetic comparisons between hemp and marijuana.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)917-929
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Plant Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Rich Mundell and Dr. David Williams for their invaluable insights into hemp research and for providing us with hemp seed for research. We also thank Doris Hamilton and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture for providing production statistics. We are grateful for Dr. David Zaitlin for his critical comments of the manuscript. This work is supported partially by the Harold R. Burton Endowed Professorship to L.Y. and by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement no. 1355438.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors


  • cannabidiol
  • cannabis
  • fiber
  • grain
  • seeds
  • specialized metabolites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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