Hemp – Just the Facts
By Maryanna Phinn
Ask the average American to explain what “hemp” is and you’ll frequently get a vague explanation that almost always associates this amazing plant with marijuana. This is only partially correct. Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is a cannabis plant and a cousin to the marijuana plant. But it has little or no THC, the main ingredient in marijuana that creates the “high” effect. This fact didn’t seem to matter in the 1930s when propaganda and misinformation led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and later more stringent laws instituted throughout the 1950s through the 1990s that effectively made hemp illegal in the United States. Hemp was thrown into the same category as not only marijuana, but also many illicit and dangerous drugs, categorized as schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act, such as heroin, LSD and methamphetamines.
In the 21st century, this seems implausible that hemp would still be characterized in the same way as dangerous street drugs. It’s especially baffling because we’ve witnessed a strong movement in many states toward decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, especially for medical purposes. But the good news is the United States made some major breakthroughs in federal legislation with the passing of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 which legalizes hemp that has a THC content of 0.3% or less and removes hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) schedule I category of illegal drugs.
Ongoing Challenges But Making Progress
Many obstacles to reaching hemp’s full potential exist nationwide as federal, state and local laws governing hemp continue to have many conflicts, stalling progress. The necessary infrastructure to bring hemp to the broader marketplace is virtually nonexistent in many states. Fortunately, progress is being made across the country. And, why not? As we learn more about this amazing plant and its multitude of uses for thousands of years, it’s inevitable that eventually, we will look back on the past 80 years in America and ask why it took so long to capitalize on the many, many uses of hemp!
Hemp Facts: Did You Know?
Why is hemp such an amazing plant with implications to impact a myriad of global industries? Here are just a few interesting facts about this extraordinary plant:
Hemp for Health and Nutrition Products
After the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 was enacted, a plethora of new health and wellness products hit the American markets related to CBD (cannabidiol) products, which catapulted hemp back into the spotlight after years of being illegal in the United States. But it is important to understand that parts of the plant are used for industrial purposes and other parts of the plant are strictly consumables for humans and animals. The market is now full of products for CBD derived from hemp in the form of oils, topicals, lotions, vapes and patches to provide support for everything from anxiety and insomnia to pain and inflammation. The most important thing is to do research on products and get educated on the ingredients. A good starting point is to visit Doc’s Hemp blogs to get a good overview of CBD extracted from hemp and all its uses.
Hemp and Paper
Hemp was the first known paper product, invented by the Chinese dating back to 150 B.C. Before trees and wood took over the papermaking industry in the 1800’s, hemp was the main source of paper for centuries. It is often noted that paper made from hemp was used for two of the world’s most important documents, the initial drafts of the United States Declaration of Independence and The King James Bible.
According to Western States Hemp, the leading grower of hemp in Nevada, harvestable hemp stalks for papermaking grows in about four months versus trees which takes years to grow and harvest. Paper from wood pulp obviously dominates the market; however, there is growing interest in hemp to move away from wood pulp as it requires significant amounts of energy and water to produce, creates pollution from its byproducts and contributes to deforestation, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Hemp and Plastic
Plastic products have created a well-documented global crisis. Some sobering statistics cited by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) states that since the 1950s, 60% of the more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced worldwide has ended up in landfills, in wildlife settings and in our communities. Virtually all plastics are produced by non-renewable fossil fuels including oil, coal and natural gas. Enter hemp bioplastics. While in its earliest stages of research and development, the potential for hemp-based plastic products is enormous given its durability and its biodegradable and renewable properties.
Hemp and Textiles
Hemp was used by sailors and seafarers for centuries for rope, masts, sacks and sails. Clothing was made from hemp for thousands of years. In fact, the word “canvas” comes from Latin and French variations of the word cannabis and means “sturdy cloth made from hemp or flax.” Almost anything made from cotton or other fabrics can be made from hemp. A major breakthrough in bringing industrial hemp to the world markets for textile products was announced by Panda Biotech, a Dallas, Texas based company that is opening a massive hemp processing facility, the first in the United States to produce hemp fiber similar to cotton for American and foreign textile industries outside of China.
Hemp and Construction Materials
Hempcrete is taking the construction industry by storm now that it is permitted for building in the United States. France, Canada and other European countries have been using hemp for more than 30 years as infill. Hempcrete is made from hemp stalk hurds called shiv, lime and water. It is much lighter than concrete. Hemp building materials were just approved in September 2022 in the United States residential building code public hearings held in Kentucky with oversight from International Code Council. According to Hemp Build Magazine, hempcrete and hemp building materials are fire-resistant, energy efficient and excellent for insulation. It is carbon neutral with the added benefits of repelling pests, water and mold.
Learn More About Hemp
Hemp has so many uses for countless industries from food and medicine, to textiles and building materials, to paper and plastics. Fortunately, we have many nonprofit organizations, universities and farming cooperatives in the United States and Europe that are doing research and development on hemp and working toward creating the inevitable products and economic opportunities that hemp will bring. Now that hemp is legal, it will undoubtedly create a huge paradigm shift across the United States and the world toward a more sustainable and versatile use of this plant. To start learning more about hemp, visit these websites:
National Hemp Growers Cooperative
European Industrial Hemp Association