While the name hemp conjures images of marijuana and ‘weed’ in general, it is a highly diversified and versatile plant with plenty of uses and applications. Biologically classified as cannabis, hemp is a viable commodity that serves purpose as a food source, a supplement, and even materials.
With its trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive that creates the intoxicating feeling of being ‘high’, hemp can be used safely in a variety of ways. We delve into what hemp and how you can use it daily.
The Brilliant Hemp Plant
Part of the cannabis family, the hemp plant contains very little THC, the chemical that gives marijuana the power to make you feel ‘high’ or slightly euphoric. Widely available in the United States, the 2018 Farm Bill defined hemp as part of the Cannabis sativa L. plant.
What differentiates it, according to the Farm Bill, is that it has a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. People sometimes use the term hemp and weed interchangeably but, while they are from the same plant species, they are strikingly different.
Hemp is an industrial variant of the Cannabis sativa plant that it cultivated for its seeds, fibre, and hurd. Some argue that the plant even has natural healing compounds in its leaves. A compound that has plenty of potential, hemp is growing in popularity just like CBD oil.
As we have mentioned previously, hemp is from the Cannabis plant but it must contain 0.3% or less THC content by dry weight. In the book ‘The Species Problem in Cannabis: Science & Semantics’ by Ernest Small, he proposed that this definition should be used for hemp.
Though, it should be noted that Ernest Small believes that it is difficult to distinguish between hemp and cannabis because there is no taxonomic difference between the two. So, Small proposed the 0.3% rule as a solution even though he recognised that the number itself was arbitrary.
Using Small’s book as inspiration, the number 0.3% was used as the legal definition of hemp and has been part of the Agricultural Act of the United States. Hemp is unable to act like marijuana as its THC level is so low, it won’t be able to get you ‘high’.
A Short History of Hemp
While you may consider the use of hemp as a modern invention, hemp has been cultivated in major societies for thousands of years. The oldest documented evidence of this cultivation was found in the current Czech Republic. Archaeological evidence shows that this hemp had been used to create rope.
Another area that made rapid use of hemp in history was China. Found to have been used there from around 10,000 BCE, it was used to make rope, paper, and even clothing. Historically, much has been preserved around the use of hemp in China with the Yang Shao people, who lived there around 5,000 BCE. wove hemp and pressed it into their pottery for aesthetic reasons. It was also used in Japan as fibre and paper from 5,000 to 300 BCE.
Two societies that have also been held with much reverence is that of Grecian-Roman cultures. The cannabis plant was used regularly in this society as medicine, fibre, and even as a recreational drug. In the ruins of Pompeii, cannabis seeds were found with the Roman author Pliny the Elder making reference to cannabis root decoction as a treatment for gout and joint pain in the first century BCE.
The origin of hemp in the Americas is widely debated by historians. Some hold fast to it being introduced by Christopher Columbus while others claim that it predated his arrival, being used by Indigenous Americans for centuries before. In ‘Prehistoric Textile Art of Eastern United States’ by William Henry Holmes, he claims that hemp was being used by the Native American tribes of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley in 1896.
There is an argument that hemp products could have been brought to the New World Via the Vikings. They used the plant for making rope and sails, and it would make sense that they would bring this plant to maintain the integrity of their goods.
Right through colonial America, hemp was used to make rope and paper, as well as other fibre based products. Even the US Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it. A prominent crop in the United States until 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was introduced and essentially eradicated the hemp industry.
During World War II, hemp saw a resurgence in popularity as it was used to make many military items such as canvas, uniforms, and rope. This was short lived as Nixon introduced the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which ensured that industrial production was null and void. It is only in the 21st Century that we are seeing it rebuild in strength again in the form of CBD products and CBD oils.
What Hemp is Used For
Hemp has a myriad of uses from food to material, and is becoming a natural alternative to polyethylene. Due to its properties, it is considered by many to be a good source of fibre serving dietary purposes and being present in many food supplements. Here are just some of the parts of hemp and what they can be used for.
Used in a variety of dietary supplements and products, hemp seeds are hulled and can be eaten raw, ground into meals protein powder, and are now even being used as an alternative milk source. Another popular method of consuming hemp is through hemp oil. The seeds can be pressed and made into an oil to use as salad dressings, paint, cooking oil, and even in beauty products.
With over 84,000 acres of licensed land, Canada is the world’s largest producer of hemp seeds. Most of the strains grown in Canada are called Finola. This is used due to its abundant seed production but they have incredibly short stalks, meaning their uses are limited outside of seed production. Farmers are beginning to experiment with different varieties to encourage greater use of both seeds and stalks.
The Bast or Fibre
Hemp is used widely, particularly in the past to make items like rope, and the fibre used for that is found in the stalk. Slice a stalk in half and you’ll see a long, string-like band inside a hollow tube. This is the bast fibre that, when harvested well, can be stronger than steel. It is used in a myriad of ways from construction materials and paper to clothes.
In a 1938 article by the magazine ‘Popular Mechanics’, hemp was unveiled as a wonder material due to its incredibly strong fibres. This magazine claimed to have found over 25,000 uses for the material including making things like canvas, carpet, rope, and other clothing materials. China is currently the biggest producer of hemp stalks with an industry estimated at $200 million dollars.
The Shiv or Hurd
The hemp hurd or shive is the soft inner core of a hemp plant stem. With super absorbent and thermal properties, it is rich in cellulose and is usually used in two different fashions: in chunks or as a pulp.
When it is used in untreated chunks, it is used in many industrial products like insulation, paper, and even cement. Being used as cement or concrete has become particularly popular, as it could be a natural substitute to concrete that isn’t great for the environment. Known as hempcrete, it is windproof, can provide strong insulation, as well as having a low carbon footprint.
When used as a pulp, it can be used to make biodegradable plastics that are easy to recycle. It is a popular alternative for animal bedding as well as biodegradable garden mulch.
Are Hemp and Marijuana the Same?
While hemp does produce a range of cannabinoids, it produces much less tetrahydrocannabinol or THC than its counterpart, marijuana which is rich in it. This means that, while THC is present in hemp, it can’t inebriate people or give them the sensation of feeling ‘high’.
Despite not producing much THC, it can produce ample amounts of cannabinoid cannabidiol or CBD.. Hemp-derived CBD is becoming one of the most popular forms of the cannabinoid available to consumers, with its myriad of health benefits being purported by users.
One thing to note about hemp and marijuana being differentiated is that every country has different rules and regulations. For example, the United States demands that industrial hemp cannot contain more than 0.3% THC. The European Union has their limit at 0.2% while the UK prohibits it at all. The only way you can grow industrial hemp with a concentration of 0.2% is if you have a cultivation license.
Hemp in Daily Life
With its myriad of uses, hemp is becoming a popular food supplement as well as being used for clothing and other materials. With its versatile nature and continuing research into its health benefits, it will be exciting to see this sector develop.