Many people are not aware of the difference between marijuana, hemp and cannabis and the interchangeable use of these terms may have contributed to the ban of hemp in an attempt to regulate drug use. Cannabis is a family of plants with its primary classifications being Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica. Cannabis used for its psychoactive qualities is referred to as marijuana while Cannabis grown for industrial use is called hemp. Hemp is of the Cannabis Sativa family while Marijuana is of either the Cannabis Sativa family or the Cannabis Indica family.
It is easy to physically differentiate hemp from marijuana. Marijuana has broad leaves, a short bushy appearance and dense buds while hemp is tall and skinny, it has skinny leaves at the top of the plant and has very few branches beneath the upper portion of the plant. Cannabis plants have many cannabinoids but the main ones are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). The chemical composition of marijuana and hemp are very different. Marijuana has 5% – 40% THC and hemp has less than 0.3% THC. THC is the psychoactive part of the plant and the high CBD content of hemp acts as an antagonist making THC’s effects useless.
In the 1950’s to 1980’s the Soviet Union was the leading producer of hemp, but when the Soviet Union collapsed, its commercial cultivation declined. In fact, the plant still grows wild in some areas. When the war on drugs began to gain traction, cannabis was banned altogether in many countries beginning with the USA despite the fact that hemp was widely grown in many countries. Chemical testing however has helped in restoring the plant, but most of the damage has already been done and many countries stopped production of hemp. Today, France is the leading producer of hemp in the world followed by Europe, Chile, North Korea and some parts of Australia
Growth and Cultivation of Hemp
Hemp seeds are sown using grain drills or other seeding equipment but care is taken that they are not sown too deep to inhibit competition from weeds. The plants are grown close together in the fields and they take 108 -120 days to mature. They grow very densely together, which prevents the growth of weeds and they therefore do not require herbicides. They also tend to discourage pests and therefore do not require pesticides either. They return 70% of their nutrients to the soil, making them gentle on the soil. They should be harvested towards the end of flowering if they are grown for their fiber as their seed yield is lower at this point.
They can be harvested by hand or mechanically using cutters. They are cut 2-3cm above the ground and left to dry for up to three to four days. The top parts of the plant containing the leaves are can be collected for cold pressing as the stalks are left in the field to dry. After drying, the stems are ready for retting. Retting is the process whereby the plant is soaked to facilitate the separation of the fibers from the woody parts of the stem (decortication) before processing. Dew retting is whereby the plants are left out in the farm for natural retting to occur through dew and moisture from the environment and the soil.
Traditionally, the process of separation of the fibers was done by hand, a process known as scutching. These days, there are mechanical methods for this, for example through high-speed kinematic decortication machines. The process is very expensive at the moment, but as more countries legalize the growth and industrial processing of hemp, innovation may help create cheaper methods.
All parts of the hemp plant can be utilized making them very environmentally friendly. This is besides the fact that they can be grown organically and the fact that they are very good for the soil. The hemp seeds can be sold whole, husked or cold pressed for oil. The leaves are edible by animals and humans. The stems have best fiber (a natural fiber derived from plant stems) which is useful in making fabrics and the inner woody fibers and pulps can be used to make mulch and animal beddings. Hemp core is referred to as hemp shives but when it is broken down, the pieces are referred to as hemp hurds. Hemp seeds are high in protein, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, B vitamins and dietary minerals, for example, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, iron and magnesium.
Industrial Use of Hemp
Hemp growth is very sustainable as most plants of the plant are used. Its uses are varied and it can be used to make fiber, paints, insulation material, biodegradable plastics, biofuels, shoes, clothing, textiles and paper. The plants have also been shown to assist in soil and water purification. Some of its uses are explored below.
Hemp Use for Humans
Hemp seeds are a rich source of essential fatty acids that the human body cannot produce. Hulled hemp seeds are a rich source of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals and B vitamins. Unshelled hemp seeds have less fiber than the unshelled seeds, but still retain most of the seeds’ nutritious value. They can be consumed whole or crushed into a powder. Hemp seeds can be incorporated into smoothies, salads, cereal and yoghurt. They are also used in baking and in making hemp milk. Hemp leaves, though less nutritious can also be blended and added to smoothies or added to salads.
Hemp oil is extracted from the stalk of the hemp plant. CBD oil or hemp extract is derived from hemp seeds by pressing the seeds after they have been thoroughly cleaned. Hemp seeds have been shown to contain no THC, though the hemp extract may have a small amount of it as it may adhere to the seed. Hemp extract contains naturally occurring cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes and useful phytonutrients from the plant. The oil produced is then refined into a clear and colorless liquid and at this stage it is called hemp seed oil. The method of refining determines the amount or terpenes retained in the oil. Some people confuse hemp oil with cannabis oil, but the latter is produced from marijuana and contains a small amount of CBD and higher levels of THC. Cannabis oil is illegal in most states.
hemp plant. CBD oil or hemp extract is derived from hemp seeds by pressing the seeds after they have been thoroughly cleaned. Hemp seeds have been shown to contain no THC, though the hemp extract may have a small amount of it as it may adhere to the seed. Hemp extract contains naturally occurring cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes and useful phytonutrients from the plant. The oil produced is then refined into a clear and colorless liquid and at this stage it is called hemp seed oil. The method of refining determines the amount or terpenes retained in the oil. Some people confuse hemp oil with cannabis oil, but the latter is produced from marijuana and contains a small amount of CBD and higher levels of THC. Cannabis oil is illegal in most states.
Hemp oil has a long history of use in many Eastern cultures. Hemp oil is very useful in reducing anxiety and assisting with pain relief and insomnia. By reducing anxiety and insomnia, hemp oil can be useful in reducing depression symptoms and improving one’s mood. This is because hemp oil has essential fatty acids, which are vital in brain function. Fatty acids help the endocannabinoid system of the brain to regulate the release of neurotransmitters. Some of these neurotransmitters play a crucial role in conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression.
It acts as a superfood and has healing properties by combining essential fatty acids, antioxidants, healing terpenes and vitamins. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant qualities assist the body in healing. The terpenes in hemp oil assist the immune system by interacting with the cell receptors that regulate it. Its anti-oxidizing qualities protect your body from damage by free radicals and help the body move things across cell membranes. It also balances the flora in the intestines, which is important as this supports the function and response of the immune system. The pain relief quality is useful in pain management for those with chronic illnesses like cancer and diabetes.
Hemp oil helps the body balance its levels of omega-3 and omega-6 which has been proven to improve heart and cardiovascular health. This balance is also useful in helping the body balance its hormones, which is particularly useful for women as it has been shown to reduce pain and cramping during menstruation as well as reduce premenstrual stress symptoms. Hemp oil contains a fatty acid useful in brain growth and in strengthening the retina of the eye, especially in the first year of life. It is therefore a very useful supplement for pregnant mothers.
Hemp oil is also gaining popularity in the beauty industry. The anti-inflammatory qualities are useful in soothing inflammation and encouraging skin growth and regeneration. It also regulates oil production by the skin, therefore helping those with oily skin. Hemp oil also has anti-aging properties, therefore reducing fine lines and wrinkles on the skin. Furthermore, its rich omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids help in healing acne.
The many beneficial properties of hemp oil for people have assisted in the drive to legalize hemp. Hemp oil is sold on its own and also as capsules and supplements for consumption. It is also being incorporated into food and skin products. There are many more uses of hemp oil that are under research and more benefits are being uncovered on a regular basis.
Textile Making and Sustainable Fashion
Sustainable fashion is gaining traction because of the use of environmentally friendly and biodegradable materials. Hemp plants are considered sustainable because the plants contain 65% – 70% fiber and they grow very fast compared to other fiber sources like trees. After decortication, the bast fibers are spun together to make a thread which is then woven to make fabrics. Hemp fibers are useful in making shoes, clothes and jewelry. In the past canvas sails of ships were also made from hemp fibers. Hemp fibers have a few advantages listed below
- They are antimicrobial i.e. they kill and inhibit the growth of microbes
- The fabrics have a good heat capacity ratio and therefore can be worn in all weathers
- The materials don’t hold on to odors.
- The fabrics are strong and durable
- The fabrics merge easily with dyes
- The fabric can be blended with other types of fabric like cotton and silk to obtain specific textures
Hemp use in the fashion industry is gaining popularity due to a couple of reasons. There are many clothes discarded in landfills that are made from non-degradable materials and use of hemp fiber would reduce this. Furthermore, a lot of conventional fibers are grown using agrochemicals which degrade the air and land, whereas hemp plants are mainly grown organically. Moreover, hemp growth is economically friendly as hemp plants use less water, they grow very fast and they are grown close together which increases yields in small areas.
Papermaking and Printing.
The first type of paper made in China was made of hemp fiber, because it is high in cellulose and low in lignin. In the USA, the first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. Before it was banned, hemp paper was used in printing bank notes, pamphlets, bonds, stocks, watermarked paper etc. Hemp paper can be made from the long bast fiber or from the hurds and they have different characteristics. Papers made from the long bast fibers are thin, rough, tough and brittle while those from the short fibers are softer and thicker. The former makes very strong paper, but the latter, though not as strong, is preferable for day to day use. Hemp paper can also be blended with other materials to make cigarette papers and filter papers.
Hemp plant as a source of material for paper is more sustainable than trees because of their short growth span and because hemp stems have 4-5 times more fiber than wood pulp. But production is very expensive and therefore not economical in mass production of printing, packaging and writing paper. More innovation is therefore required.
Making Plastics with Hemp
A lot of plastics today are made from fossil fuels and are therefore not biodegradable, but traditionally, plastics used to be made from cellulose fibers obtained organically. Hemp contains a lot of fiber and can be used to make a range of plastics for example cellophane, celluloid and rayon. Few plastics today are made entirely from hemp, but it is being blended with fossil fuels and used to make composite bioplastic parts. Some parts of musical instruments, ships and cars are being made using these bioplastics.
With the current drive to end environmental pollution caused by non-degradable plastics, biodegradable plastics such as hemp plastics will begin to gain more popularity in the near future. There has also been a decline in fossil fuel production in recent years as it is nonrenewable energy which is getting depleted. This means that the use of bast fibers in the making of plastics is soon going to be a serious topic of discussion. Some companies like Legos, the building block toy making company, have plans to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the making of their plastic toys by 2030.
Hemp Use in Construction.
Hempcrete is an organic type of concrete made from hemp and lime. France was the first country to make it in the 1980’s as the cellulose in the hemp shives made it an ideal aggregate to mix with lime. It is made by mixing wet hemp shives with a lime binder and casting the mixture into molds. Hempcrete is not load bearing, but it has excellent heat and acoustic insulating properties and is used in insulating floors, walls, ceilings, roofs and floors. It creates a strong and breathable material and is therefore useful in protecting the building fabric which tends to be vapor permeable. Hempcrete also has the ability to absorb and emit moisture, therefore controlling internal humidity in a room and consequently reducing the growth of mold. A lot of research is, however, still ongoing in regards to the use of hemp in construction
Hemp Use in Agriculture
In the animal industry, hemp has two main uses, as bedding and as a supplement. Hemp shives are used as bedding for animals. This is because they are twice as absorbent as wood shavings and straw while providing insulation. Some people add hemp seeds to their animal feeds to reap some of the benefits it has. It has been shown to increase the amount of omega three in egg yolks and helps the animals balance the level of omega-3 and omega-6 in their bodies. CBD has also been shown to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties and it is therefore being made into supplements that the animals can eat to solve a myriad of health issues.
Hemp can be used as an alternative to herbicides by using it as a smoother crop and consequently killing weeds. It grows densely therefore preventing the growth of weed. This can help one gain organic certification while reaping the benefits of crop rotation. Hemp mulch has also shown to be a superior bedding material in horticulture, greenhouses, around fruit trees and vines and even in container mulching. Furthermore, it has been shown to help in reducing erosion. It is favorable for micro-organisms such as earthworms and provides good insulating properties for all seasons. Hemp mulch has been shown to absorb more than four times its weight in water, which reduces how often you have to water your plants saving you money and time.
Hemp Use as Biofuels
In the 20th century, Henry Ford made a vehicle that could use both gasoline and hemp-based oils as fuels. Around that time, fossil fuels were discovered when crude oil deposits were found and his idea was not explored any further. However, fossil fuel sources are being depleted and biofuels are going to get more attention. Biofuels are fuels that are derived from organic matter. There are two main sources of fuel in the hemp plant, the seed and the rest of the plant. Hemp seed oil extracted from hemp seeds has a very high conversion rate with biodiesel. The rest of the plant can be used to produce methanol and ethanol. Methanol is produced through dry distillation of the stalks’ woody pulp matter. Methanol extracted in this way is sometimes called hempoline or hempanol. Ethanol, on the other hand, is produced by fermenting and distilling the hemp plant. Biofuels are more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels and therefore support the sustainable development goals of most countries but they are expensive to produce. More infrastructure should be put in place if it is to become a good alternative fuel source.
Hemp and Bioremediation.
Bioremediation is the process of using biological matter in an attempt to remove contaminants from soil, water and air. Our soils have a lot of contaminants from years of using chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides especially those that contain fossil fuels. Hemp plants have been shown to pull these toxins out of the soil therefore restoring it. Hemp has also been used to remove radioactive isotopes from areas that have had radioactive disasters, for example, in Pripyat, Ukrainian SSR, the Soviet Union where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred. Hemp has also been used in bioremediation of polluted sewage water. Hemp used for the purposed of bioremediation cannot make products for consumption, but it can be used to make biofuels.