Greece’s hemp industry experiencing rebirth

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Apart from harvesting industrial hemp, the Kannavi collective also informs and educates the public on the potentials of cannabis and hemp in industry and medicine. [Giorgos Moutafis]

Early in the morning on the Mantineia plateau, the air is chilly. Even in summer, the temperature drops considerably during the night despite climbing above 30 Celsius during the day. “Big swings in temperature aid the production of resin in cannabis plants,” Argyris Mountzouris told us as he laid out a large cloth on the ground upon which to collect the plants.

With a magnifying glass, he showed us the tiny trichomes on a flower that produce cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a major nonpsychoactive component of Cannabis sativa with anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, antioxidant, antiemetic, anxiolytic and antipsychotic properties.

We were in a field in the uplands of northern Arcadia, in the northeastern Peloponnese, where members of To Kannavi, a collective that also informs and educates the public on the potential of cannabis and hemp in industry and medicine, were harvesting industrial hemp one day in early September. To Kannavi comprises people in various businesses that make use of the plant, among them a fast-food chain which uses cannabis flour in its pizza bases. At the same time we learned that growers around Volos, Xanthi and other parts of Greece were also beginning the annual harvest of the Cannabis sativa plant.

This was To Kannavi’s second harvest. Their first was last year, in Thiva, northwest of Athens, after the announcement of a joint ministerial decision to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in Greece after it had been banned for 60 years. Greek producers have since been free to plant varieties of cannabis included in a list deemed legal by the European Union which have a THC content lower than 0.2 percent. THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive constituent of cannabis which makes users feel high. Industrial hemp is rich in CBD oil, which has proven effective as a form of treatment for neurological disorders such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Studies are ongoing to find out whether it is effective in treating a wide range of other disorders ranging from asthma to diabetes.

An ideal climate

Judging by the size of the plants when we visited Mantineia, the harvest went well this year. Some plants reached 3.5 meters in height. The ground in Mantineia turned out to be more suitable than in Thiva, the Kannavi members told us. “The microclimate here is what we were looking for,” says Mountzouris. It’s no wonder that before it was banned in 1957 Arcadia was a big producer of both textile cannabis, low in THC, used to make rope, sacks and cloth, as well as indica for hashish. In 1904, the Moreas newspaper reported that the hemp harvest in Mantineia that year came to more than 6 million kilos.

Members of the Agricultural Cooperative of Tripoli have made good use of the change in the law. Following the drop in the price of potatoes in the last year, hemp production has provided them with a more profitable alternative.

In addition to the plant’s uses, researchers are also studying its cultivation – for example where it grows best – boosting research and the creation of a database that will help future growers. To Kannavi also provides data to the Hellenic Agricultural Organization (ELGO). “Last year we tried producing seeds. This year, besides the seeds and stems, we focused on the flowers,” Alexandros Delistathis, a member of To Kannavi, told us. “Cannabis has many uses, and all parts of the plant can be used. From the stems you can make chipboard and even bioplastics. From the seeds, you can make food products such as oil, flour, protein – or even eat them as a snack. From the flower, you have essential oils used in cosmetics and medical products.”

The production of pharmaceutical products from the cannabis plant is still prohibited in Greece. However, there are signs that this could change soon. In June, a joint decision by the Health and Justice ministries changed the classification of cannabis from a class A to a class B drug. This paves the way for legalizing the development of cannabis products for medicinal use. The decision was supported by the conclusions of a scientific committee that was part of an initiative by Health Minister Andreas Xanthos. For now, an institutional framework setting the terms and conditions for the production of cannabis-based medical products remains lacking in Greece. A business in Greece can import such products and can even submit a request to the National Organization for Medicines (EOF) for the manufacture of cannabis-based medicine, but the raw materials must be imported. “Essentially cannabis oil is the byproduct of a legal cultivation which we can’t make proper use of,” said Delistathis.

In the lab

However, Greek scientists are allowed to conduct research with the plant. Flowers and stems from the Mantineia fields are being studied at Athens University’s pharmaceutical and natural chemistry lab. Since last year, the lab has been studying the medicinal effects of industrial hemp.

“Our research is focused on cannabis oil, as there is an abundance of it in industrial hemp,” said Leandros Skaltsounis, a professor at the University of Athens. “Additionally, we want to see how much of the oil is produced depending on the location the plant is grown in. The second stage will be to develop innovative techniques for using and processing the extract for medicinal use,” he added. New regulations regarding the latter will be published soon which are expected to free up the market for the production of medical products.

In Mantineia, after the harvest, we learned the flowers would be taken to a storage area where members of the Kannavi team would remove the yellow leaves. They would then collect the seeds and hang up the flowers to dry for seven to 10 days. The stems were to be sent to the Technical Education Institute (TEI) of Western Greece in Patra to be studied and used for compost.

“The stems of the cannabis plant have many uses. We focus on fiber utilization and the residue produced by hemp, which can be used to produce a material that could be used instead of peat for agricultural purposes,” said Giorgos Kotsiris, a researcher of agricultural technology at the TEI in Patra. “Greece pays an enormous amount of money to import peat from Baltic states, and it is a product with a large energy footprint. It would be nice to produce our own substrate, so why not from hemp?”

Athens planetarium unveils state of the art projection system

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Dr Manos Kitsonas, director at the Eugenides Foundation’s new digital planetarium, recently announced the installation of new projectors that utilize the latest technological advancements in the field.

The new system comprises six Barco F90-W13 projectors, which use a laser-phosphor light source. “The result is really impressive,” said Kitsonas, “we are able to achieve greater levels of brightness (reaching 13,000 lumens) and amazing color quality, while maintaining excellent image contrast.”

The Eugenides Foundation planetarium is one of the first in the world to install this projection system, particularly for the level of brightness the facility uses. The installation was carried out by Sky-Skan Inc, one of the biggest companies in the world specializing in planetariums and the sole provider of technology for the new digital planetarium. This is the third generation of projection technology that has been installed at the Athens facility since it opened its doors to the public in 2003.

Popular with kids and adults alike, with families and students, the Eugenides Planetarium welcomed 250,000 visitors of all ages in 2016. This year it has already presented 11 different shows combining education with entertainment, sharing the latest discoveries and developments in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics and space science through engaging shows, while also raising awareness on a number of environmental issues.

Some of the screenings are in their original English, though most are dubbed into Greek so call in advance to find out.

Eugenides Planetarium, 387 Syngrou, Palaio Faliro, tel 210.946.9600,

Old party dressed as lamb

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The first round of voting this coming Sunday to elect a leader for the “new center-left party” – as everyone is calling the coalition that will emerge from the process – is basically the first step in an effort to glue back together all the different pieces that resulted from the fragmentation of the socialist PASOK party.

The creation of the new party is aimed at taking back some of the ground lost from the founding of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement by Andreas Papandreou and the modernized version of the party under former prime minister Costas Simitis, to its annihilation under Evangelos Venizelos, after a destructive stint at the party’s helm by George Papandreou.

There is something rather melancholic about the process, like a futile attempt at a political resurrection. The fact is that the center-left “shop” that governed the country for 20-odd years and brought so many ills upon it, has been taken over by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in particular and his SYRIZA party more generally.

Moreover, the new party has little raison d’etre following Tsipras’s dramatic volte-face in September 2015, when he fully accepted the dictates of the institutions and the eurozone’s finance ministers – to the degree that, after a number of amateurish plays that cost the country dearly, the radical-left administration has become arguably the most European government this country has ever had. The only traits of its former personality that it still retains are intangible things like attitude and style – none of which is of any concern whatsoever to the country’s creditors.

The whole center-left party idea is almost a romantic endeavor, an expression of nostalgia for a bygone era, a cry by a few well-known politicians and a few unknowns of “We are still alive!” It is, in this sense, rather sweet – if you can overlook the destruction wreaked by PASOK.

The process will also provide some comfort to those citizens who have been behind PASOK all this time, who benefited for better or worse – a bit like a memorial service.

SYRIZA is hoping that the new party will attract citizens who may otherwise vote for New Democracy, while the opposition is looking at a possible coalition partner if it is elected in the next polls.

For its part, this column wishes all the candidates equally good luck.

Shell at loggerheads with Stathakis on DEPA

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Shell’s plans for disengagement from Attica Gas Corporation (EPA Attikis) are hampering the government in its negotiations with the country’s creditors on the position of Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) in the natural gas retail market.

Shell’s proposal, which according to sources it has submitted to Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis and the creditors, provides for the reduction of DEPA’s stake in EPA Attikis from 51 percent today to 49 percent while also losing its executive capacity.

In the context of Athens’s commitments to open up the natural gas market, Stathakis appears to be sidestepping Shell’s proposal and rather attempting to negotiate a proposal with the creditors for the overhaul of both gas retailing companies (of Attica and Thessaloniki/Thessaly). That proposal foresees DEPA maintaining its 51 percent stake in EPA Attikis while its stake in EPA Thessaloniki/Thessaly would drop to 33 percent.

Whether the creditors accept Stathakis’s proposal also depends on Shell, although the Dutch energy giant has made it clear it will not back down on its own proposal. Both Shell and Italy’s ENI (the private stakeholder in EPA Thessaloniki/Thessaly) say DEPA being a supplier and a retailer violates the European legislation.

Eldorado freezes Skouries gold mine investment

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Canadian company Eldorado Gold said on Thursday that it is freezing investment at the Skouries gold mine in northern Greece and has appealed to the Council of State, the country’s highest body of arbitration, to uphold its legal rights.

The break on the investment has fueled concern among some 2,500 workers over the future of their jobs.

In a joint statement on Thursday, unions representing the workers condemned the government over its stance and demanded a meeting with Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis.

“Even at the final moment, we are waiting for the government to meet the promise of growth it made to the people,” the statement said.

Eldorado said on Thursday that the Skouries project will be limited to care and maintenance after the Environment Ministry failed to grant the necessary routine permits, which has led to unjustifiable delays in the project – one of the biggest investments in Greece.

It said it was seeking the arbitration of the Council of State because of the government’s noncompliance with previous rulings by the same court.

Eldorado said it will reassess the investment only if it receives the required approvals and permits.

“Although we have made good progress on the Olympias mine, we require the necessary permits and government support prior to investing further in Skouries,” Eldorado CEO George Burns said in a statement, adding that “as a consequence we are now taking the necessary legal action to enforce the company’s rights while continuing efforts to resolve outstanding matters through ongoing dialogue.”