China permits the sale of hemp seeds and hemp oil and the use of CBD in cosmetics, but it has not yet approved cannabidiol for use in food and medicines. So, for now, the bulk of Hempsoul’s product — roughly two tons a year — is bound for markets overseas. Mr. Tian said he believed it was only a matter of time before China, too, approved the compound for ingestion.
Hanma’s ambitions are global. It has acquired an extraction plant in Las Vegas, which is expected to begin production soon, and it plans one in Canada. Mr. Tan, the chairman, said he hoped that China, with the world’s largest market, would follow the lead of the United States, which he called “the best-educated” market for the benefits of cannabis.
“It’s a new application, but one that carries forward our tradition,” he said, citing the ancient texts describing its medicinal purposes.
Yang Ming, a scientist with the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Science who is one of China’s leading experts on hemp, said the plant’s seeds were traditionally formed into a ball and used to treat constipation, but the psychotropic qualities of cannabis were not broadly known by farmers or other residents.
As China gradually opened up following the Cultural Revolution, however, foreign visitors to Yunnan in the late 1980s and early 1990s discovered an abundance of cannabis growing wild. That, in part, turned the region into a destination for backpackers and adventurers seeking a certain kind of experience.
“They would go to the villagers’ cannabis fields, pick the buds and bring them back to the hotel to dry and smoke,” Dr. Yang said. “Some of them became deranged and ran around naked after smoking it.”