The many uses of hemp
As a result of the long-term prohibition and negative connotation associated with hemp in the United States, many people have forgotten the industrial uses of the plant and continue to misidentify hemp, thinking it is the same thing as marijuana. However, hemp can be an extremely beneficial.
So what is it?
Both hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, but are genetically distinct and are further distinguished by use, chemical makeup, and cultivation methods. Hemp can be grown as a renewable source for raw materials that can, and has, been incorporated into thousands of products.
- Within Canada and the European Union, commercial production, including cultivation, of industrial hemp has been permitted in Canada since 1998 under licenses and authorization issued by Health Canada. The sole regulation is that there must be less than 0.3% THC as this is the regulation for hemp cultivation in both areas.
- In the United States, hemp used to be banned completely. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act strictly regulated the cultivation and sale of all cannabis varieties. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis (including hemp) as a class 1 drug; making it illegal to grow hemp in the United States. However, hemp can now be imported from other countries as long as it contains scant levels of THC. Interestingly, 25 states have now legalized marijuana in some form, and four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Some states have made the cultivation of industrial hemp legal, but farmers in these states have not yet begun to grow it because of resistance from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. This begs the question, will marijuana become legal before hemp production is?
Where does it grow
France is the world’s biggest producer of hemp producing more than 70% of the worlds output, however it is produced across the world, from Canada to China to Serbia, it really can be produced all over the globe.
Why hemp is good for agriculture
According to studies in areas such as Environmental Economics, hemp is considered to be environmentally friendly. This study focussed on the agricultural benefits of growing hemp over other crops.
So why is hemp good for agriculture:
- Hemp has long tap root which helps aerate the soil, making it an attractive rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil, providing valuable nutrients.
- Hemp requires much less water to grow so it is much more environmentally friendly than traditional crops as it does not need a large amount of space to grow. This benefits farmers with smaller plots of land, as they will be able to produce larger quantities of this crop than they would if they were growing the more traditional crops, such as corn.
- It also requires less pesticides; hemp, because of its height, dense foliage and its high planting density as a crop, is a very effective and a long used method of killing tough weeds in farming by minimizing the pool of weed seeds of the soil. Using hemp this way can help farmers avoid the use of herbicides, to help gain organic certification and to gain the benefits of crop rotation.
What can it be used for?
Hemp has a huge variety of uses, making it not only an environmentally friendly product but also a hugely versatile material. Hemp has over 50,000 uses. To name a few, hemp is used in construction materials, biofuel, plastic composites, and more such as:
Food – Hemp seeds and hemp oil are extremely prominent, and hemp seeds are even considered a superfood. They have many nutritional benefits; they improve digestion, balance hormones, reduce arthritis and joint pain. They also have been shown to have the ability to stop, reverse or prevent some forms of cancer as well as the ability to improve your metabolism. They also have an excellent 3:1 balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which promotes cardiovascular health. They are high in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an essential omega-6 fatty acid found in borage oil and egg yolks that has been proven to naturally balance hormones. As well, they are considered to be a “perfect protein” not only containing all 20 amino acids, but also each of the 9 essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce. Furthermore they are rich in both soluble and un-soluble fibre which naturally cleanses the colon and reduces sugar cravings. The only major side effect to be aware of before consuming hemp seeds is that they can inhibit platelets in the blood, so caution should be used by people taking anticoagulant drugs.
When looking at the benefits and drawbacks of hemp, it is easy to conclude that the abundance of well-documented positive outcomes of hemp outshine the side effects. Hemp seeds are one of the only natural sources of all the essential amino acids, have been shown to have positive influence over illness, and have been suggested to improve general health. They are safe to be taken by those for whom other forms of supplements and or pharmaceutical medicines may not be suitable, including children.
Textiles – Hemp fibres and stalks are used in clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuel, plastic composites, and more. Hemp fibres have always been valued for their strength and durability making it great in textiles. Not only is hemp strong, but it also holds its shape, stretching less than any other natural fibre. This prevents hemp garments from stretching out or becoming distorted with use. Hemp may be known for its durability, but its comfort and style are second to none. The more hemp is used, the softer it gets; hemp doesn’t wear out, it wears in. Furthermore, hemp is naturally resistant to mold and ultraviolet light. Due to this nature of the fibre, hemp is more water absorbent, meaning it will dye and retain its color better than any fabric including cotton. This also allows hemp to “breathe,” so that it is cool in warm weather. Finally, air which is trapped in the fibers is warmed by the body, making hemp garments naturally warm in cooler weather.
Paper – What many people don’t know is that producing pulp and paper has a huge ecological impact on the world’s forests. Converting trees into paper uses large amounts of water, energy, and chemicals and generates vast amounts of air and water pollution. The pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for approximately 4 percent of all the world’s total energy uses. The pulp and paper industry also uses more water to produce one ton of product than any other industry. However, there is another option to paper produced from trees. Hemp plants make stronger paper which lasts centuries longer than wood paper, which could be very valuable for people who want to keep records aside from on computers. Hemp paper does not yellow, crack, or otherwise deteriorate like tree paper does now. The acids which are needed for wood paper eventually eat away at the pulp and cause it to turn yellow and fall apart. Publishers, libraries, and archives order specially processed acid free paper to limit the yellowing, but hemp paper provides another viable option as it meets these standards. Hemp paper also does not require any bleaching, and so does not poison the water with dioxins or chlorine like tree paper mills do. The chemicals involved in making hemp paper are much less toxic, in fact, both paper made from hemp hurd, and from the long bast fiber can be made without any chemicals at all, but it takes longer to separate the fiber from the lignin. Making paper from hemp could also eliminate the erosion that is created due to logging, reduces topsoil loss, and water pollution caused by soil runoff.
With all these benefits, hemp continues to hold a negative connotation as many are uninformed of the possibilities it has. The huge variety of benefits both ecologically and agriculturally, are numerous and should be used widely, but is not as people are uninformed. Hemp can save the world…if we let it.