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Hemp

Much of the prejudice against growing hemp is caused by the confusion between hemp and other cannabis plants. Hemp is a member of the cannabis genus but with distinct differences.

Cannabis is a genus containing cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis. Hemp is cannabis sativa – a tall single stalked plant, which has been cultivated for centuries for use as an industrial fibre, seed oil, food and medicine. Mostly used for its long fibres, each part of the plant is harvested differently, depending on the purpose of its use. Cannabis indica is a much shorter, many branched plant and is more widely known as recreational cannabis. Cannabis ruderalis is considered by some biologists to be a sub-species of cannabis indica which evolved in Northern Europe for shorter seasons as a quick-flowering variety. Recently it has been used to develop strains of recreational cannabis because of this ability. Cannabis sativa has never been used as recreational cannabis.

Perhaps the most important difference between hemp and recreational cannabis (marijuana) is that  marijuana has a high delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol content, or THC, which supplies the sought-after psychotropic effect, but it’s

low in cannabidiol content, or CBD, which has medicinal properties. Hemp is just the opposite, being typically high in CBD and low in THC, meaning it’s not going to get anybody high.

In the Past

The history of hemp growing is pockmarked by politics, ignorance and the machinations of big business. Once it was grown on every continent, and was worth more than gold because it supplied so many everyday needs as well as fitting out our armies and ships. Farmers were required to grow it for ropes, sails, oil and for food. But in the 30’s American industrialists, who’d begun processing petroleum  for plastics and nylon, became disgruntled by the way hemp cut into their market shares and started putting pressure on various government officials to limit its growth.

The marijuana act in the USA outlawed cannabis. Films and posters were made to demonise cannabis and this caused complete confusion between Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indicus. This propaganda spread across Europe with only France holding out and  continuing to grown hemp.  Then a prohibitive tax on hemp completely ended its production and sale of the plant in the US but by 1942 the second world war and a shortage of imported materials turned hemp’s fortunes around. Farmers were then made to ‘Grow Hemp for Victory’.

Unfortunately the war demand for hemp ended before full production and new processing plants were built but possibly hemp farming would have slowed anyway as people took to the new man-made fibres.

Every bit of this ancient plant known, as Hemp, is useful for manufacturing rope, textiles, auto parts, cosmetics, dynamite, supplements, food, medicine and plastic. It is so versatile that hemp was once called the ‘Billion Dollar Crop’ for its potential to produce 25,000 different products.

Hemp plastic

Henry Ford himself manufactured the body of an automobile from hemp-based plastic in 1941. The plastic was much lighter than steel and could withstand ten times the impact without denting. The car was even fueled by clean-burning hemp-based ethanol fuel. Modern hemp plastic can be produced to biodegrade in the time suitable for the product or not to degrade at all.

Present Day

Recently American legislators have tried to support the growing of hemp. All over the world people are realizing its potential. France and the EU in general are actually encouraging farmers to grow hemp and there is a subsidy available from the EU. Hemp is now cultivated in at least 30 countries worldwide,

In the UK Kevin McCloud built a small housing estate out of hemp which was grown close to the building site cutting the environmental footprint of the houses to nearly nothing. He promotes hemp building materials because they are light and safe to use.

Hemp as a food

The main nutritional sources of hemp come in the seeds and the oil although, as it can easily oxidize, it is not recommended for frying or baking. Hemp is considered to be a “superfood” as it contains a highly concentrated balance of an easily digested protein, a balanced 1:3 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (more than any fish) also super omega-3 stearidonic acid and super omega-6-gamma-linolenic acid. Hemp seeds are also high in fibre, antioxidants, and minerals like iron, zinc and copper as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, carotene, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B6 and vitamin E. If that’s not enough, there’s also chlorophyl, sulfur, phosphorus, phospholipids, and phytosterols.The essential fatty acids in hemp oil do not serve as energy sources, but as raw materials for cell structure and as precursors for biosynthesis for many of the body’s regulatory biochemicals as well as giving us healthy hair, skin, and nails.

The benefits of Hemp

  • Hemp removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than the same acreage of trees.
  • It needs much less water to grow than cotton.
  • Unlike the vast amount of chemicals needed to keep cotton weed and pest free, hemp needs very few chemicals in its cultivation.
  • Hemp grows on many types of soils and in a wider temperature range.
  • It also benefits the soil needing only one manuring for many years growth also
  • it has an amazing ability to be used as a healer of soils and has been utilised around much of Chernobyl.
  • Hemp’s long strands are superior to cotton.
  • It has anti-mildew and antimicrobial properties.
  • Its products can be biodegradable.
  • It is a safe alternative to fibreglass.
  • It also has much less susceptibility to insect damage and disease.
  • It is a great weed control crop for growing in between other crops.

To grow hemp in the UK you need a licence.

Summary

Leaving out claims that hemp can replace our need for timber and paper and replace oil for fuel, growing hemp does still have many benefits to the land, and can help with reducing climate change as well as replacing modern materials that are harmful to us and the environment.

Hemp used as building material would make building sites safer and reduce the need for using highly polluting cement products.

We cannot use all our good food growing land to grow hemp but we can use land temporarily to grow enough hemp for individual building products especially as it can be planted in between other food crops.

For the same reason neither can we replace all oil based plastic with hemp plastic but we need to seriously reduce our use of all plastic as we are now finding that not only are our oceans irreversibly polluted with plastic particles but even our drinking water is filled with plastic that cannot be removed in water treatment plants. Hemp is, though, a serious contender to help in turning around our pollution of the environment.

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