Hemp is one of the most useful, sustainable and environmentally-friendly plants on the planet.
This is why hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years across numerous continents. One of the oldest ancient artifacts known to man is a piece of hemp cloth that has survived over 8,000 years!
There was even a point in time when growing hemp was actually required for early colonists in North America. The landscape of hemp has changed drastically over the centuries, but the truth about the sustainability of hemp remains the same and may be even more important as climate change becomes a prevalent issue that hemp may be able to help with.
One common slang term for cannabis is “weed.” This endearing name was given to the plant because it grows like one, which is a good thing for both farmers and the environment. Though the term now pertains exclusively to marijuana, hemp grows similarly (more to come on that). Hemp can be produced in a variety of climates and soil types. Industrial hemp can grow tightly together, reducing land use.
Hemp is a great commodity to rotate in during fallow (rest) cycles for other field crops. Unlike many crops, hemp actually improves the soil in which it grows by giving back nitrogen and removing toxins. This process is called phytoremediation. Hemp has been used for phytoremediation to remove toxins from the Chernobyl nuclear site for nearly two decades.
The vast majority of hemp can be grown organically. It is naturally resistant to most pests, which means there is no need for fungicides, pesticides or herbicides. Hemp also uses less water than most similar crops. Low maintenance growth practices mean that the benefits of hemp sustainability overlap with efforts to reduce the use of other natural resources such as water and energy.
The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are both members of the cannabis family. They share some similar qualities much like oranges and lemons, which are both citrus fruit, but yet different. The leaves of hemp and marijuana plants are similar and they have similar properties but they also have some big differences.
Marijuana is known for the psychogenic effect of producing a “high” or “stoned” feeling. This is due to high concentration of the cannabinoid THC. Hemp plants contain no more than 0.3% THC as regulated by the state and federal government. The lack of THC means that smoking or ingesting hemp is not going to cause a high. The two plants are often grown differently. Marijuana foliage requires a certain amount of space to spread out and is best grown indoors. Hemp plants often grow outdoors. Industrial hemp is grown similar to corn or wheat and is often significantly taller than marijuana.
Hemp is Not Just for Hippies
Gone are the days when hemp jewelry and clothing were only for those sporting tie-dye shirts and dreadlocks. Hemp use is becoming more mainstream every day as consumers begin to understand the reality of hemp's sustainability, environmental benefits and many practical uses.
Over 25,000 Uses for Hemp
There are so many things that hemp is good for. It is a highly versatile plant and has the ability to improve sustainability in multiple industries. Hemp can serve as an environmentally-friendly replacement for a number of man-made products such as plastic, fuel, fabric and even health supplements.
Fabric, Rope and Textiles
Cotton is the world leader in fabric production, but it requires 50 percent more water than hemp. Cotton also accounts for nearly 25 percent of the world’s pesticide use. Hemp fiber clothing is lightweight and three times as strong as cotton. It is also UV and mold-resistant. These factors make hemp ideal for clothing, rope and other textiles. Ship sails and covers for covered wagons were traditionally made of hemp because of the sturdiness of the material.
Food and Nutrition
Hemp has been gaining popularity as a quality protein source, especially for consumers who prefer plant-based protein. There are 10-18 grams of protein on average per serving of hemp protein powder or hemp seeds. All 20 amino acids are found in hemp, including the nine essential ones that the body cannot produce on its own. Hemp also contains a larger quantity of essential fatty acids than any other nut or seed oil. Hemp milk is a good alternative to other forms of animal or nut milk that may contain common allergens.
The non-psychogenic cannabinoid "CBD" has been long praised for its many health benefits. Receptra Naturals full-spectrum CBD is cultivated from pure hemp, grown on family-owned farms in Colorado. Each batch of Receptra CBD oil is extracted from the hemp flower, processed and tested by a third party before it reaches the consumer. CBD is patented by the U.S. government as both an antioxidant and a neuroprotectant. These properties can lead to a number of natural health benefits. Many people use hemp CBD as part of their daily wellness routine.
Hemp Paper Saves Trees
The first paper ever created was made from hemp and is more durable than paper made from trees. The United States' Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. In 1916 the United States Department of Agriculture reported that an acre of hemp produces as much paper as four acres of trees annually. Hemp also has a higher concentration of cellulose which is the main ingredient in paper. Hemp paper is not commonly produced in the United States because production costs are higher and there is not enough hemp currently cultivated domestically.
Hemp is already being successfully used to make biodiesel and bioethanol. This is just another example of how nothing goes to waste with hemp. Hemp biodiesel is the name for a variety of long-chain alkyl (ester) based oxygenated fuels made by pressing the oils in hemp seed and stalks. Alcohol fuels such as ethanol are produced by fermenting the whole hemp plant. Filtered hemp can even be used to directly power diesel engines.
Hemp fiber can be used as reinforcement in composite materials. Plant-based resins such as soy, canola or corn can be incorporated in hemp blends to make a 100% biocomposite, though thermoplastics and thermoset fiber are often more feasible. These hemp composites are used by several automotive companies such as Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Honda to create vehicle parts.
Hemp oil is catching on quickly as a go-to additive for body care products such as lip balm, conditioner, shampoo, lotions, face masks and massage oils. Antioxidants in hemp CBD oil may help combat wrinkle-causing free radicals when they interact with the body's natural endocannabinoid receptors just under the skin. The high volume and balance of essential fatty acids found in hemp assist in restoring and maintaining skin health.
Building with Hemp
Hemp is one of the oldest and most sustainable building materials available. “Hempcrete” is one-eighth the weight of traditional concrete and just as strong. The substance is made by blending hemp’s woody core with lime and water. Hempcrete is great for building construction because it retains thermal mass and is highly insulating. It serves as a natural pesticide and protects against mold. There are approximately 50 homes in the United States made from hemp, and hundreds in Europe and Canada including an eco-friendly house built by Prince Charles.
Hemp Sustainability Growth and Predictions
Domestic hemp production has been steadily increasing since 2014, which is great news for farmers, consumers and the environment. After the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill was enacted hemp has become a federally legal crop as long as it is grown under specific guidelines. In 2019 the acres of hemp grown in the U.S. quadrupled following the enactment. Colorado is one of the leading states in national hemp production. At a current industry net worth of $5 billion in the United States, projections show that the hemp industry is expected to reach a net worth of $23.7 billion by the year 2023, according to the Brightfield Group.