Hemp: The Plant that Helps Your Body & Your Planet Thrive
While sifting through your local retail outlets and grocery stores, you may have come across certain products labeled with the term “hemp.”
Hemp is used in hundreds of goods and commodities—from ropes, to clothes, from fuel, to even milk. But nowadays, hemp is more recognized from its derivative oil—CBD.
Hemp is a variety from the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis goes by many names, but it was described in ancient texts as the “useful plant,” and hemp lives up to the name! This hardy plant can heal you, clothe you, and feed you.
For any layman, hemp may seem the same as its “controversial” cannabis counterpart—marijuana. Uninformed folks associate it with the mind-altering effects that everyone feared in the infamous film Reefer Madness.
Well, this is simply not true. Hemp is NOT paranoia, madness, and mayhem, and this guide will clear the air about the world’s most misunderstood plant, its history, and its long list of uses.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What Is Hemp?
We’ve already established that hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant.
Like humans, hemp carries sex chromosomes, meaning it can produce male and female plants—hermaphrodite plants are also possible, though. Both female and male hemp plants produce flowers, and both are useful in the hemp industry.
The female flowers are full of cannabinoids like CBD, which determines its recreational and medicinal potential.
The male plants that grow in mixed crops are usually single out to use their strong fibers for textiles. The females’ fibers are used for ropes and canvas.
Nothing from hemp goes to waste. The entire plant, from the seed to the stalk, is used by people to make an endless number of products. The hemp plant has been divided into 4 categories—all of which have a specific application. These categories include:
Differences Between Hemp & Marijuana
Both—marijuana and hemp are two different forms of the same cannabis plant, and hence, they both are used very differently. These differences between hemp and marijuana, however, have been some kind of mystery for the world.
These mysteries caused some controversies about hemp and its counterpart, which resulted in hemp being illegal for about 80 years!
Here are the major differences between hemp and marijuana:
Even though, both varieties look similar, they still have slighly different appearances.
The main difference between these two varieties of cannabis is THC or tetrahydrocannabinol content. This is the constituent in cannabis that is responsible for the psychological influences.
Another key differences between hemp and marijuana has a lot to do with their individual processes of cultivation, harvesting, and even application. These differences were, however, chosen to be ignored when all the derivatives of cannabis were banned of any use in 1970.
Marijuana—a.k.a. psychoactive cannabis was, and still is used for recreational or medicinal purposes. Even though marijuana is still federally illegal, many states all over the US are slowly legalizing its consumption and sales.
Hemp, on the other hand, is used for so many other purposes that marijuana can never fulfill. Other than the few mentioned above, hemp has been used to produce clothing, fashion accessories, skin products, and also some very popular health and dietary supplements.
Nowadays, you can just whip out your mobile phone and order legal hemp products online.
The useful plant made friends with humans before the written word existed. It’s believed that hemp trade is one of the oldest industries on the planet. It left its first mark in history about 10,000 years ago with the beginning of Chinese pottery.
Hemp is also the first plant cultivated for textile fiber, a remnant of hemp cloth from ancient Mesopotamia was found for Archeologists. This is a finding that dates back to 8000 BC.
Hemp was used as medicine in China 6000 years ago, but the first reported usage case took place 2700 BC, when the Chinese emperor Shen Neng used cannabis-based tea to help with a range of health conditions.
He documented his findings in the first editions of the Pen Ts’ao Ching, the earliest extant Chinese pharmacopoeia. It’s important to note that there’s no clear differentiation between hemp and marijuana in these texts.
Egyptians wrote about hemp to treat inflammation in the Ebers Papyrus. In India all cannabis plants are considered a divine gift from the gods. In fact, Atharva-Veda manuscripts describe how hemp seeds and flowers were used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Hemp made its appearance in Europe in approximately 1200 BC. From there, it spread throughout the ancient world.
The Romans used hemp to relieve pain, to relax contractions of the joints, and cure gout and similar maladies.
The Chinese were the first to use hemp as paper in 150 BC.
For centuries, hemp was used as a medicine throughout the ancient world. The seeds and flowers were recommended for insomnia, arthritic joints, rheumatism, dysentery and labor complications.
Hemp in America
Hemp has an interesting but unfair history in America. The sails that brought European colonists to the new world were made of its fibers.
The useful plant was fundamental for the development of the colonial U.S. The British crown mandated farmers to grow it, and it soon became the darling of colonial planters.
George Washington predicted hemp crops were more profitable than tobacco, thus he grew the cash crop across his Mount Vernon farm. So did Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Americans were able to get over-the-counter hemp tinctures in pharmacies and doctors’ offices up until the 20th century.
Until racism and xenophobia changed everything.
After the Mexican revolution in 1910, an influx of dark-skinned immigrants from near the south borders sowed fear and prejudice among the white U.S. population. Back then, Americans used hemp only for industrial and medical purposes.
But Mexicans popularized the recreational use of the plant among other racial minorities and introduced the Spanish term marihuana, which was coined later as “marijuana,” a pejorative name that served to brainwash the American public.
In order to control immigration and minorities, rumors spread that marijuana-smokers were committing violent crimes aroused by the effects of this “evil-weed.” This included not only Mexicans but also Puerto Ricans, Filipinos, and African Americans.
With the relentless efforts of a federal agent—Harry J. Anslinger, chief of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics—the Congress passed the “Marijuana Tax Act” in 1937, which was basically a tax placed on the sale of the plant in the aim to decline the hemp industry.
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
—Harry J. Anslinger
Anslinger was looking to make a name for himself and declared his personal war on the “evil” weed. Not without the help of Corporations like DuPont that didn’t want competition for their new synthetic fabric—Nylon.
Less hemp meant more Nylon sales. Ka-Ching!
Pharmaceutical companies were on board too for obvious reasons, and even a big newspapers chain joined forces with them to outlaw the plant.
After “reefer madness,” lots of dishonest propaganda and a well-planned smear campaign, the “useful plant” was rebranded as a “public enemy.”
The demonization of hemp has worked for decades; people were made to fear the plant that had been benefitting humanity for centuries. And even today, folks closely link the two different plants and think that hemp and marijuana are the same thing—just another joyride for doped hippies and dropouts.
Hemp prohibition made it to the big league when president Richard Nixon, around the ’70s, announced the “War on Drugs” where the Controlled Substances Act was signed into law. The War on Drugs was meant to oppress different groups of racial minorities. It worked before to promote political and corporate agendas, so it made sense to bring it on again.
This is why the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with malicious intentions officially banned of any use of one of the world’s most useful and oldest crops.
Regardless of THC levels, hemp and all cannabis plants were listed together as Schedule I drugs. Schedule I is the most restrictive class, reserved for drugs like heroin and LSD that meet the following characteristics:
- High potential for abuse
- Not currently accepted for medical use
- Lack of accepted safety
As a result, tons of people were sent to prison, scientists were heavily restricted to conduct proper research, and we lost a lot of knowledge about the health qualities of this fascinating plant.
Decades of nonsense prohibition, mass incarceration, and many destroyed lives later, brings us to one fundamental question…
Is Hemp Legal Now?
Several attempts to decriminalize hemp were made after Prohibition, and it was during World War II that hemp had a brief comeback in the U.S., when cheaper imported fibers were scarce.
America was in the throes of keeping the economy going, so in 1942, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reversed their stance on hemp and started a campaign to encourage farmers to grow the plant for war efforts.
But the “war efforts” program was shut down right after the war was officially over, and imported fibers became available again. Therefore, the American hemp industry continued to decline and was officially banned in 1970.
After decades in obscurity, two farmers were granted licenses to grew hemp in 2007.
In 2014, hemp pilot programs were enacted in what is known as the “2014 Farm Bill.” These programs allowed hemp cultivation as part of university research but with lots of restrictions.
It was only until December 2018 that the hemp industry was allowed to proudly say they work with a bona fide American crop. This is because the Senate passed—and President Trump signed—the new 2018 Farm Act, which made hemp legal and let the USDA post some formal guidelines for the versatile plant.
This cannabis varietal is now legal to grow, harvest, test, process, transport, and be sold. The FDA guidelines are, however, something the industry is impatiently waiting for.
One thing that’s important to mention here is that the regulations laid out by USDA have left room for some “measurements of uncertainty.”
Since hemp is classified as “not marijuana” until the THC content of distribution stands at 0.3%, they have allowed for a safe plus/minus of 0.06%. If the hemp plant gets hotter than this, then it’s quite possible that it will become a total loss for the producer.
Although hemp is federally legal in the 50 states of the union, some states have put their own restrictions on hemp production, which makes hemp transportation a real issue.
The USDA said that hemp can be transported across state lines, but since authorities are unable to tell marijuana and hemp plants apart, they have either confiscated or attempted to confiscate shipments of hemp traveling through some states.
Benefits & Uses of Hemp
Since 10,000 BC, hemp has been used for many industrial and manufacturing purposes all over the world. There are so many overwhelming benefits and uses of hemp simply because this sun-loving crop can be grown easily and quickly in every soil, temperature and continent of the world—except, of course, Antarctica.
Hemp cultivation requires no pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides to grow well and can reduce global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).
CO2 emissions contribute to the expansion of the greenhouse effect, which is increasingly warming the planet and has become the horrific phenomenon we know today as climate change. We all know that global warming is devastating planet Earth.
Hemp can also help us conserve our precious water thanks to its drought-tolerant characteristic.
In addition to help improve air quality, reduce pollution and contribute to water conservation—growing hemp save trees and can also be used to create clean renewable products that we use every day, like plastic and fuel.
Undoubtedly, hemp can help us protect our lovely planet, and researchers have come across an approximate 25,000 possible applications of this versatile plant.
Let’s have a brief look at the most popular uses of hemp.
There are plants with proven qualities to naturally reduce, degrade or remove contaminants from soil and water. This amazing feature is called phytoremediation. Soil remediation plants are usually easy to grow, need minimal care and don’t require toxins or chemicals like pesticides or fertilizers for optimal growth.
Hemp is one of those plants. In a recent study published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, it was found that stressed hemp plants cultivated in land mine soil, were able to produce more CBD resin in their flowers, than the ones harvested in healthy soils.
What’s even more outstanding is that the flowers grew free of heavy metals and contaminants from the soil. Meaning the plant has a way to protect its precious cannabinoids even in the more difficult conditions.
Hemp seeds are considered for many as a superfood. They have antioxidant effects and may improve the health of your heart, skin, and joints. You can consume the whole seeds or find them in more processed forms such as:
- Hemp seed oil,
- Protein powders
- Hemp seeds milk
Hemp seeds are full of protein and essential fatty acids (EFA). They have the perfect omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that is very important for the human diet, because your body can’t make EFA on its own.
Hemp seeds are also high in dietary fiber, phosphorus, iron, B Vitamins, and magnesium.
Hemp seed oil contains all these vitamins and minerals plus potassium, copper, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B9, and chlorophyll. As you can see hemp seed oil is very nutritious, but it doesn’t contain CBD.
Hemp is rich in CBD and low in THC, which makes it the best source for CBD products. CBD is extracted from the leaves and flowers of the plant.
In the CBD craze there are new products and trends ubiquitously popping up every week. The list of products available on the market is larger-than-life, and it includes oils, tinctures, vape juices, gummies, candies, suppositories, sexual lubricants, makeup and even CBD-infused clothes.
ANIMAL BEDDING AND PET FOOD
Because this plant consists of such diverse, healthy proteins, it has been preferred by many cattle farmers for pet food. The seed of this plant is high in GLA, Omega-9, Omega-6, Omega-3, and fatty acids—all of which are perfect for raising healthy cattle.
BODY LOTIONS AND OIL
As noted above, hemp plants also consist of essential oils that have essential fatty acids content for body lotions. A body lotion manufactured with hemp additives can help regenerate dry and cracked skin while making for a great moisturizer.
Even its non-comedogenic properties can help unclog pores in your skin as other unnatural products do.
Hemp has a long history as a construction material. Hempcrete is a more recent material that is used as a concrete-like product. Hempcrete is a combination of the bast core fibers of hemp, lime and water, the result is a strong, durable and lightweight material for construction.
After legalization this building material is spanning the world, and now there are 50 homes made with hemp in the United States—located in Hawaii, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
However, hempcrete has been used for centuries across parts of Europe where industrial hemp has always been legal.
“Biodiesel” is the name for a variety of eco-friendly fuels that can be made from sustainable and renewable oilseed crops such as hemp. Hemp biodiesel is becoming quite a big name in the petroleum industry—and for good reason:
- Hemp biodiesel is more lubricating than petroleum diesel fuel, which can extend the life of diesel engines.
- It’s also the only alternative fuel that runs in any conventional, unmodified diesel engine.
- Biodiesel is safe to handle and transport.
Hemp was first used as paper in China centuries ago. The drafts of the U.S. Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights were writing in hemp paper.
Hemp paper is eco-friendly, saves trees, and is a more resistant product compared to alternatives made from wood pulp. It’s also prone to be recycled more times than traditional wood paper.
To produce a ton of paper you need 17 trees. Despite the advanced technology of today’s world that encourages paperless offices—over 400 million tons of paper are consumed every year around the globe. Meaning 30 million acres of forest are destroyed annually.
That’s an alarming amount of removed trees, posing an ongoing threat to the environment. It’s estimated that hemp can produce four times more paper per acre than trees, which could help reduce deforestation.
The downside is that, currently, hemp paper is considerably more expensive than traditional paper. That’s why it’s usually used in special papers, such as cigarette papers.
Hemp has been used to manufacture clothing for millennia. From fabrics to fibers, hemp is stronger and tougher than cotton. Hemp also grows faster and requires half as much land as linen and cotton to produce the same finishing textiles.
Its fibers are strong—and remain strong even when wet—but they’re also the lightest available. Hemp also has antibacterial properties. All these unique qualities make the plant a perfect substitute for the non-sustainable clothing sources we use every day.
Hemp is now going high fashion as celebrity brands like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Armani are using it for their clothing lines.
Plastic is one of the most environmentally harmful products that are devastating our planet. Plastic is cheap, therefore vastly used. Our dependency on plastic and it’s non-biodegradable nature are the main culprits for the filling of landfills and oceans on an incredibly high scale.
Hemp plastic, on the other hand, is biodegradable, so it can have less of a negative impact on the environment reducing CO2 emissions and plastic pollution.
Hemp bioplastics are made from renewable hemp fiber biomass that are 100% toxic free. Hemp fiber biomass refers to the organic materials of the hemp plant that are left over after the flowers have been harvested and processed.
Bio-plastics can be used for lots of things, like musical instruments, toys, straws, bags, bowls, bottles, and much more.
As you can see, hemp is a versatile plant that has been seriously misunderstood by the world, prohibited for decades because of greed and racism.
It’s not only a healing plant it has so many other uses and benefits that the fact that it was banned for so many years is just absurd!
Thankfully now, at the end of 2019, there’s more awareness about this plant being anything but a menace. It can’t only benefit health’s people in so many ways, but it also provides clean and renewable alternatives to many products and practices that are harmful for the environment. That’s anything short of a miracle.
It’s about time to fully embrace a plant that can help you and your planet thrive.
Hopefully as laws keep improving, and as stigma recedes, we’re definitely going to see more and more use of hemp in the U.S. as well as all over the world.