The large amount of misinformation about hemp has led to confusion about what exactly hemp is, what it’s for, and how it differs from cannabis. Unfortunately, these misconceptions have even led to demonization of this extremely useful plant.
In fact, hemp has an extremely long history and is still used in a wide variety of applications today. It is important that we educate ourselves about hemp to understand the plant and continue to benefit from it.
Hemp vs Cannabis
Hemp and cannabis are part of the same species: cannabis sativa. They are, however, different varieties. This means they share many of the same characteristics. The main difference between the two is the content of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the substance responsible for a psychoactive high.
Plants known as cannabis (or marijuana) contain a high amount of THC. Hemp, on the other hand, has been cultivated to have very little: less than 0.3 percent. This means that it is valuable for a variety of industrial uses and, if ingested, will not induce a high. It does, however, have a high content of different cannabinoids such as cannabidiol(CBD) and other minor players like CBG, CBC, and CBN.
History of Hemp
People have been growing hemp for more than 10,000 years. To put that into perspective, that is before people started making pottery. Hemp was likely the first crop cultivated for textile fibers and it may well have formed the first human industry.
Hemp in Ancient History
The oldest surviving example of hemp is a piece of cloth from Mesopotamia dating back to 8000 BCE. There is also evidence of the plant being used in China almost constantly for the last 6,000 years. For instance, China was the first country to use hemp in paper. The oldest surviving buddhist texts were written on a paper made from various materials but primarily hemp.
Hemp did not come to Europe until around 1200 BCE. Once it reached the continent, it was used widely throughout France, Spain, and Russia. It also appears to have reached the New World before the European colonists.
Hemp in Modern History
Over the last several centuries, hemp has increased in value and importance. For instance, in the 16th and 17th centuries the United Kingdom and parts of North America required land owners to grow certain amounts of hemp. This was because it was such an essential crop for clothing as well as sailcloth, rope, and oil. A little later, it became the first crop the Canadian government would subsidize.
In the early 20th century, hemp was still popular, but now beginning to face competition. For one thing, processing cotton was far less labor intensive. For another, companies producing synthetic textiles considered hemp a threat. It was actually the combination of lobbying from such businesses like Dupont and the spread of smoking marijuana that led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This law complicated the process of producing any plants in the cannabis family, including hemp.
Prohibition was temporarily lifted in 1942 to compensate for the lack of crude plant fiber or jute coming from the Philippines. However, it was immediately re-instituted at the end of World War II. Later, in 1961, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was drafted. This international treaty classified hemp as a narcotic.
It wasn’t until around the 1990s that the stigma surrounding industrial hemp started dissipating. Finally, the 2018 US Farm Bill legalized commercial hemp production and distribution. It is thanks to this bill that we are now able to take advantage of the hemp plant and it’s natural healing properties.
Current Uses of Hemp
In the countries where it is legal, hemp is an important crop. This is due to the versatility of the plant and the potential to use various different parts of the plant. For instance, users can consume the seed, turn the fiber into numerous materials, and gain oil from just about all of the plant.
Although around 95 percent of paper today is made from wood, before modern mechanical and chemical processes were developed, most paper was made from hemp or flax.
Hemp is actually ideal for making paper, as its fibers are both long and strong. Other advantages over wood pulp include the need for fewer chemicals and less energy. Furthermore, unlike wood, it leads to no harmful byproducts.
The strength of the hemp fiber also means that it is a valuable construction material. It is used for things like paneling, carpeting, and insulation.
Both hemp seed and hemp oil appear in many food products — in everything from non-dairy milk and energy bars to spreads, salad dressings, flour, and even beer. Raw hemp has more protein than any other food except soy, but it has the advantage over soy that it is easier to digest.
Hemp is also an excellent ingredient for its numerous health benefits. Studies suggest that hemp:
- Is good for heart health, lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol.
- Can speed up weight loss, in part by managing blood sugar levels.
- May contribute to a healthy immune system.
- Can reduce inflammation.
CBD (therapeutic cannabinoids)
Much of the recent popularity over hemp is due to its high CBD content, which like other cannabinoids, is most present in the aerial part of the plant (flowers and leaves). This industrial hemp also has a very low THC content which makes extracts from hemp more attractive to those who aren’t looking for psychoactive effects like cannabis would offer. With new technologies in extracting, even the small amounts of THC can be safely removed from popular CBD products. This offers extra assurance for most people who want the therapeutic benefits of CBD but who are not comfortable with still federally illegal THC.
You can also provide your body with the benefits of hemp by using hair and skincare products that contain hemp seed oil. The high content of fatty acids are great for the skin and can even treat chronic skin conditions. Additionally, more and more products are being infused with hemp based cannabinoids like CBD for therapeutic purposed. You can now find these products at local convenience, grocery, and pet stores.
The oil from hemp can act as a combustible fuel. By pressing the hemp seed, it is possible to make hemp biodiesel, whereas fermenting the stalk can make ethanol or methanol.
In Conclusion, it’s critical that more people understand what hemp is and what its properties are. This plant has a huge potential for playing a role in many aspects of our lives. Continuing to confuse hemp with recreational marijuana or thinking that it is somehow dangerous means missing out on the many benefits. Hemp is one of the most versatile plants available today involved in textiles, manufacturing, cosmetics, medicines, supplements and foods with even more uses on the horizon.