The industrial hemp plant is a type of cannabis sativa, and is part of the cannabaceae family. Cannabis is best-known for producing a potent psychoactive effect in those who consume it. Contrastingly, hemp is non-intoxicating. However, the plant has numerous uses and health benefits. These can be found by delving into the historical archives, and also by studying the emerging hemp industries today.
In a world that is finally beginning to grapple with the realities of climate change, hemp products are likely to play an increasingly bigger role in the coming decades. The rise of both hemp and marijuana will perhaps coincide, just as their decline did due to prohibition in the early 20th century.
This article introduces six uses for environmentally-friendly hemp cannabis sativa. Hemp products are now legal according to the federal government in the United States. Since 2018, states have been able to grow hemp. Kentucky, for instance, considers hemp a lucrative cash crop. The hemp uses we’ll be focussing on in this post include:
- Hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD) oil products
- Quality hemp clothing
- Hemp paper
- Clean hemp fuel
- Hemp protein
- Hemp plastics, and more
Hemp-based CBD products
Hemp medicinal uses are not a new discovery. Indeed, hemp seed oil has been embraced by many years for its health benefits. However, the emergence of legal CBD products has taken hemp’s therapeutic profile to a new level. Previously, medical marijuana was largely centered around the medicinal qualities of psychotropic tetrahydrocannbinol (THC). When California, Colorado and other states legalized the plant medicinally, this was so that patients could get access to products with THC.
But cannabinoid research has revealed that THC is just one of several compounds - and cannabinoids - in cannabis that has beneficial effects. CBD is also helpful, and unique in that it has a regulatory effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). CBD is non-intoxicating, and is present in greater amounts in hemp than other varieties of cannabis. Moreover, the CBD to THC ratio is also much higher in hemp, meaning the psychoactive effects of THC are nullified. Therefore, hemp-based CBD is safer than THC-containing cannabis, and a possible medicine for all demographics.
These CBD products have caught fire in America over the past few years. The industry formed in 2014, after savvy companies took advantage of wording in the Farm Bill. This allowed the sale of hemp-based products with less than 0.3% THC. What it didn't explicitly permit was CBD products - CBD is a cannabinoid, all of which are classed as Schedule 1 drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. For a few years, this put hemp-based CBD in a grey area. That changed in 2018 when an updated version clarified that CBD is legal, with the caveat that it must be hemp-derived.
CBD use on the rise
A 2019 Gallup poll showed that one in seven Americans take CBD, with usage highest among younger age groups. CBD has a multitude of therapeutic uses, seemingly because of its impact on the ECS. CBD is most popular as a safe, natural, non-addictive pain remedy. The cannabinoid may alleviate inflammation, depression, anxiety and migraines.
CBD shot to prominence in tincture oil form, for the safety and fast-acting effects of these products. However, as of 2019, you can also find infused e-liquids, edibles, creams, hemp flower and highly concentrated products. Some manufacturers separate the CBD from the hemp extract to make CBD-isolate products. Others prefer whole-plant extracts, typically known as full-spectrum CBD. A few brands use MCT or coconut oil to make CBD more effective. Researchers are exploring nanotechnology to boost bioavailability.
Any company selling CBD must market products as supplements, and not medicines. At present, there is only one clinically approved CBD drug, called Epidiolex. This is used to treat medication-resistant (mostly in children), and is made by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company.
Hemp seed oil
Hemp seed oil doesn’t have much - if any - CBD, but still boasts a wide range of benefits. Many use it as a health food ingredient, such as in salads. Hemp seed oil is teeming with minerals, vitamins, omega-3 and is a great source of fiber, making it excellent for gut health. Hemp seeds may improve cognitive health, heart health and reduce inflammation by regulating immune system functioning. Cold-pressed, organic hemp seed oil is good for the skin, easing acne and other complaints. Some have found it also helps with hair growth and weight loss.
Records show that people were spinning hemp into fiber at least 10,000 years ago. From this alone, we can deduce that hemp has played a crucial role in the human story. Hemp cloth remnants dated from around 8,000BC have been unearthed in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization and modern-day Middle East. Hemp also has a history stretching back millennia in Ancient China, to the time of Emperor Shen Nong. The Chinese cultivated hemp for cloth.
More recently, early American presidents are documented as having an affinity for hemp. Back then, as today, hemp was a popular cash crop, used to make clothes, ropes, bags and fortifications. But what makes hemp so good for clothing as opposed to, say, cotton?
Hemp vs cotton
Hemp is stronger, more durable, absorbent, and also a better insulator than cotton. This indicates why the US government was so intent on growing its own hemp during World War Two for army clothing, even though the Marihuana Tax Act had effectively prohibited the plant just a handful of years earlier. Hemp keeps it shape when pulled taut, so is an ideal, long-lasting material for furniture. However, bear in mind that stretchiness is sometimes preferable, like for jeans and t-shirts. Cotton also has a softer feel than hemp.
Hemp is much more eco-friendly than cotton. The cotton cultivation process is intensive, requiring plenty of pesticides and water. Conversely, not as much fertilizer or pesticides are needed to grow hemp, which produces three times as much per acre as cotton. Moreover, hemp is a bioaccumulator, and saps up any harmful toxins and heavy metals in the soil. This leaves the ground nutrient-rich for the next crop.
Fashion trends may bring about a serious hemp comeback in the 2020s, as the plant becomes more a part of mainstream society. It may have a few drawbacks, but traditional, handmade clothing is certainly popular. And with hemp being much kinder to the environment than its alternatives, it’s an increasingly viable option.
Hemp paper has several benefits over tree-based paper, when considering the environment. Firstly, hemp paper takes around 20 weeks to make, in comparison with regular paper. Trees take up to 20 years to grow before they are ready for making paper. Furthermore, much more hemp paper can be created per acre than paper derived from trees, and it can be recycled many more times.
Hemp paper is tougher and more durable than regular paper textiles. Many famous historical texts, including the Gutenberg Bible, were scribed on hemp paper, which enjoyed massive popularity prior to prohibition. Hemp paper may be a great alternative to tree-based paper going forward. Deforestation is proving a huge problem, especially in the Amazon. Multiple climate scientists have argued that significantly reducing deforestation is a key step to conserving the planet in the 21st century and beyond.
Fossil fuels will soon be out, and a host of sustainable and - or - renewable options are already or soon to be on the table. These include solar power, wind power, tidal power, nuclear power and, that’s right, hemp power. Hemp is an exciting source of energy and fuel. Hemp is a bioethanol and biodiesel source.
Demand for bioethanol is set to increase in the coming years, judging by driving global economic and political factors. Many countries are looking to become more energy independent due to political uncertainties. Bioethanol is sometimes made from grain, but as these plants are also used for the food industry, it could drive prices of both fuel and food higher.
In contrast, while hemp does hold value for the food industry, this typically comes from the seeds. Cellulosic ethanol is taken from the leaves and fibres of the hemp plant. This means a single crop serves two economic purposes, and keeps food and fuel costs more affordable.
Opportunities for hemp-derived biodiesel are also promising, if a little way off. Biodiesel is preferable to petrol as carbon emissions are substantially lower. Moreover, diesel engines can currently take 20 percent biodiesel, whereas petrol engines can hold just 10 percent bioethanol. However, hemp biodiesel is, unlike cellulosic ethanol, made from hemp plant seeds. This makes it more expensive, and it may not be economically viable to use seeds for fuel if hemp has such high nutritional value. We discussed the benefits of hemp seed oil earlier in this post.
Protein powders are big business nowadays as gym-goers look to make the most of their sessions. Plant-based products also tend to be the favored way of gaining muscle mass. There are myriad options available, but few - if any - offer the kaleidoscope of benefits that hemp does.
Grinding up hemp seeds creates the base for hemp protein powder. This vegan-friendly power has a typical earth-like hemp taste, and is then added to smoothies and shakes. The protein boost is accompanied by helpful minerals, fats and amino acids. Hemp has the nine necessary amino acids, and is a prime protein source. Not to mention, the high digestion rate of hemp means nearly all the protein present is harnessed by the body. The rich fiber content may reduce hunger pangs and unhealthy snacking, a must if trying to get fitter.
Hemp plastic is just as the name suggests - a type of bioplastic made from hemp. Some hemp plastic products are made with a regular plastic and hemp fiber combo. Others are made solely from hemp. This form of plastic is more durable and stronger than polypropylene plastic, a general advantage offered by the plant.
Even products made with hemp fibers are better than regular plastics as they reduce pollution and make the plastic somewhat biodegradable. Hemp plastics are also safer than other forms of plastic, particularly those made with glass fibers. Humans have embraced plastic in the past hundred years or so. We can’t live without it, but we do need it to be more sustainable. Hemp may help.
Hemp is back, and it could become even bigger than ever before. When looking for solutions to several problems facing the world today, hemp answers the call. And even global warming skeptics can surely get behind something that is both safer and, in many cases, represents higher quality.
Whether it's for the CBD extract, fuel, clothes or plastics, hemp has massive potential, that we are just starting to tap. And as its cannabis cousin gradually gets mainstream approval, the barriers that have stifled hemp research and entrepreneurship are at long last being broken down.