From the Ground Up, Cannabis Seeds Are Fundamental

By Oliver Bennett, Special Contributor to New Frontier Data

It’s usually a bad thing to hear of anything “gone to seed”, but that’s actually become a boon for the European cannabis market. 

Cannabis seeds are among the most valuable components in a cannabis producer’s armoury, with a dedicated and lucrative sub-industry devoted to them. As Europe’s cannabis industry grows and normalises, aiming for consistency and high quality to attract and keep consumers,  the role of seed acquisition is crucial, and the seed industry is growing in scale and sophistication. 


Legitimacy in Europe 

Two recent events show the increasing scope of the cannabis seed industry in Europe. Firstly and crucially, Europe’s first legally registered seedbank is about to open in Copenhagen, Denmark. Touted as the world’s largest seedbank, it offers 286 highly sought cannabis strains, including respective winners from 19 Cannabis Cups. With propulsion from Canadian company Franchise Global,  the Danish seedbank is licensed to store, sell, and export cannabis seeds globally, and as Franchise Global’s CEO Clifford Starke said: “Our goal is to become Europe’s most trusted source of high-quality, EU-GMP cannabis… by establishing our seedbank as a source for high-quality, Cannabis Cup-winning genetics.” 

The second factor throwing new light on the growth and importance of the seed market is the European Union’s (EU) recent decision to establish a new maximum level of THC in hemp food products,  which is also expected to spike interest in seeds. Since 2015, the EU had a strict maximum delta-9 THC level of 1 mg/kg, a ruling that had led customs officers to seizing hemp seeds that exceeded those levels. But after lobbying by the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), the EU’s European Commission (EC) has now raised the permitted level of THC to 3 mg/kg for hemp products including flour, proteins, seeds, and snacks, rising to 7.5 mg/kg for hempseed oil. The move is expected to boost the rapidly growing cannabis and CBD food and beverage sector. “It will greatly help our members and all food business operators wishing to work with hemp-seed derived products, such as hemp seed oil,” said EIHA President Daniel Kruse. Again, the idea is to achieve consistency across the EU and create a more stable environment for investors. And while these THC limits apply to hemp-seed products, discussions are also taking place in relation to the levels of THC in CBD food under the Novel Food regulations – despite the anomaly that the EC’s Novel Food Catalogue says that  “classic” parts of the cannabis plant such as seeds and oil are not to be classified as novel foods. 

That aside, there is already a thriving seeds market in Europe going back about 30 years: a grass-roots endeavour said to be rooted in the prevention of strain extinction as well as for supplying the home-grown market. Connoisseur home-growers in Europe have for many years been able to access seeds, sometimes even legally, in the case of the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. These connoisseurs take note of factors such as genetic heritage and sources of origin, and following their lead, there is now a brisk European business in seeds, with as a new report notes, all manner of IP-registered names including Dutch Passion, Royal Queen Seeds, Sweet Seeds, Serious Seeds, DNA Genetics, Sensi Seeds, Pyramid Seeds, Amsterdammarijuanaseeds, and Paradise Seeds, and so on. 


Inroads Abroad  

Some of these European brand names already have a fairly long heritage and are aiming exports to North America, where the purchase of seeds is restricted due to the U.S. federal proscriptions on cannabis. For example, the Dutch Passion seedbank, which has been going since 1987 and is one of the oldest cannabis seed companies in Europe  – indeed, it claims to have pioneered the first feminized seed in the 1990s – has partnered with Alberta’s first licensed micro-cultivator ANC to bring its seeds to the Canadian market. Elsewhere, the Ministry of Cannabis in Spain has been in the market for over a decade and a half, while the UK’s Seedsman (which sells over 3,000 specialty seeds) has been a going concern since 2003, and like others sells seeds to self-medicating market with information about the best seeds to cultivate for a range of conditions from inflammation to insomnia.  

The role of seeds is crucial to the growing cannabis business, and has cusped from the adult-use market to medical, hemp and CBD. In a competitive business environment reliability is the aim, hence the rise role of seed banks, which not only store and sell seeds but also play a big role in R&D, including the development of strains and seed feminization (‘feminization’ is due to the fact that only female plants grow flowering buds, and offers greater yields of useable plants). With the growth of the cannabis and CBD markets, seed banks now have an increasing focus on strains known for specific benefits or effects: not just higher THC content but also CBD content and for example, seeds that offer particular properties such as mental clarity and focus, of obvious benefit in the wellness industry. Thus are seedbanks starting to market into sub-sectors of wellness and health: Californian company Brightseed, for example, is focusing on three areas: metabolic health, cognitive function and gut health. It is a highly sophisticated biogenetic field, where breeders store ​​“mother” plants, and feed into the global genetic pool.  

Seedbanks also play a crucial role in the rapidly evolving world of cannabis science. With well over 500 compounds in cannabis, and research into the entourage effect ongoing, laboratory work in seedbanks continues apace.  

There’s every indication that seedbanks will increasingly inform the industry – and remain an important space for investment.