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Hemp is a plant that has been cultivated in parts of the world for 10-12,000 years – possibly longer – and is estimated to have between 25,000 to 50,000 uses, with 5,000 uses in the textiles industry alone. Hemp has had a bad rap in the United States, supposedly thanks to the protectionist policies of a powerful few people in government and industry who had investments in key industries including pulp and paper. Hemp was lumped together marijuana usage, and used to pass the Marijuana Tax Act, partially by misinforming Congress and leveraging racial politics of the 1930s.
The hemp plant, originating in Asia, has the scientific name Cannabis Sativa L. (Linnaeus). There are three variants of the cannabis plant: cannabis sativa sativa, cannabis sativa indica, and cannabis sativa ruderalis. The first is what is used for industrial hemp; the second associated with marijuana production. Hemp comes from a strain of cannabis that is significantly lower in THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) than the strain we think of as the drug marijuana (cannabis sativa indica), and hence does not have the pyschoactive properties of the latter.
Industrial Hemp Crop Uses
Industrial hemp uses, as noted above, number as high as 50,000. A table of usage categories is shown below, taken from a document published by the University of Vermont Legislative Research Shop, as identified by the Canadian Department of Agriculture and Food in 2007. The table is split into three categories: hemp seed use, hemp oil use, hemp fibre use.
|Hemp Seed Product Uses||Hemp Oil Product Uses||Hemp Fibre Product Uses|
|Feed||Body Care Products||Paneling|
|Dietary Fibre||Fuel||Pulp and Paper|
|Non-dairy Milk and Cheese||Spreads||Automobile Parts|
|Baking||Paint||Animal Bedding and Mulch|
In addition to the table above, other uses of hemp include but are not limited to:
- Medicine: sedatives, analgesics
- Textiles, including sails for ships
- Food products: e.g. tea, snack bars, cereal, etc.
- Body care/ hygiene: e.g., creams, lotions, ointments, salves, tinctures, soap, shampoo
- Rope/ cordage
- Linoleum backing
- Artist’s canvas for painting. Historically, these were made from hemp. (“Canvas” is a word with French, Latin and Greek origins and means either cannabis/hemp or made with such.)
- Dynamite and TNT
- HempCrete (one of several building materials made from hemp)
- Livestock and pet feed: e.g., bird feed
- Oil for cooking
- Oil for lamps (sometimes in religious ceremonies)
This is a tiny list, and given just these uses, it’s easy to understand why the paper, fuel and other industries were afraid of hemp — especially if there really are as many as 50,000 uses. In the Jan 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics was an article about hemp being a future cash crop.
Some Health and Evironmental Benefits of Hemp
The U.S. is the only industrialized nation where there’s a ban on industrial hemp farming, despite the proven benefits, both in the U.S. in the past, and in other countries. Hemp is thought of by some as a superfood. In addition to the food and body care uses listed above, here are some noted health benefits. (This is not a claim of health benefits, only a summary of outcomes documented in both studies and historic use. Please consult your health care practitioner if you have any concerns.)
- Hemp is numerous medical uses, as historical use in other countries as well as in the U.S. show. For example, various hemp extracts in medicine include treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, epileptic fits and more.
- Once one of the largest agricultural crop in the world (including in the U.S.), until about 1883, hemp was used in the U.S. for a number of purposes, including fabrics, paper, fiber, lighting oil and medicine. In fact, according to the documentary movie “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High” (available on YouTube; see references), 50% of medicines “in the last half of the 19th century (in the U.S.) was made from cannabis.”
- Over 60 molecular compounds known as cannabinoids are only found in cannabis. One such compound, THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), is the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. Another is CBD (cannabidiol), is found in in hemp strains of cannabis. CBD is considered to be an anti-pyschoactive and has been used for medicinal/ healthcare uses, including reducing epileptic seizures, amongst other users.
- Hemp seeds have up to 24% protein, a handful of which satisfies an adult’s minimum daily requirement of protein.
- Hemp seeds have all the essential amino acids that human bodies need but cannot produce. These amino acids aid muscle control, brain function, and regular maintenance of body cells, tissues, muscles, and organs, and collectively help the body’s immune system.
- Hemp seeds have a 1:3 ratio of EFAs (essentially fatty acids) Omega-3 to Omega-6. This is thought to be an ideal ratio by some health and wellness professionals.
- Hemp also has Omega-9 and other EFAs. Collectively, EFAs in hemp are good for heart health, for various reasons, including dissolves plaque in arteries and reducing blood cholesterol. EFAs also have anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Omega-3, found particularly in hemp seeds, lowers blood pressure and reduces risk of cardiovascular disease. It potential delays or reduces the chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
- Omega-6 helps regulate metabolism, aids brain function, and stimulates growth of skin and hair, amongst other benefits.
- Hemp seeds contain a higher level of EFAs than any other known oil made from nuts or seeds.
- In addition to EFAs and amino acids, hemp seed oil has GLAs (gamma linoleic acids), polyunsaturated fatty acids and more — all of which are valuable to hair and skin care.
- Hemp seeds and protein powder can regulate blood sugar – due to the protein and fiber slowing digestion — and can make you feel fuller longer you feel fuller, especially when taken with breakfast.
- Smoking hemp cannot get you high as with marijuana, due to the extremely low THC levels. As well, CBD in hemp blocks the psychoactive properties of any negligible THC content that might be present. Marijuana strains of cannabis are harvested for the leaves and buds. Hemp strains are harvested for the stalk and seeds. Any attempt to extract THC from hemp plants would not be worthy the costly effort.
- Consuming hemp-based products will thus not negatively affect any drug tests for THC.
- Hemp oil can be used to produce non-toxic, biodegradable inks and paints.
- Using hemp for paper production takes less toll on the environment, which ultimately is beneficial for our health. For example, tree-based paper production generates “harmful dioxins, chloroform and over 2,000 chlorinated organic compounds,” which hemp does not. Hemp-based paper production also requires less chemicals.
- Hemp crops can be harvested around four months after seed is planted, compared to the decades or longer for trees (depending on their intended use). Thus hemp crops can help with the deforestation that ultimately affects animal and plant habitats, and the environment in general.
- Hemp fuel, turned into ethanol form, burns more cleanly than other fuels.
- Ethanol use produces energy, water vapor and carbon dioxide — the latter of which can be absorbed by plants, resulting in a sustainable cycle.
Facts and Statistics About Hemp
Here are is a relatively small list of general facts about hemp.
- Hemp is thought to be the first domestically-cultivated plant, with evidence of hemp fabric dating to 8,000 years ago found in Turkey (former-day Mesopotamia). Other evidence suggests cultivation further back by two or more thousands of years.
- The word hemp has been used in the past to Europe to describe other fiber plants, including sisal and jute.
- Beer hops (Humulus genus) are a close cousin of genus Cannabis, both of which fall under family Cannabaceae.
- Hemp products are now legal in the United States, although ingredients or end products are currently imported from other countries – particularly Canada.
- Hemp was not always treated as the same as marijuana by the U.S. government.
- The word “marihuana” (now marijuana) was coined in the 1890s, but not used until the 1930s by the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics (replaced by the DEA) to refer to all forms of cannabis.
- According to the documentary “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High” (available at YouTube), the first marijuana law in the United States was enacted in 1619, in Jamestown Colony, Virginia, and actually required farmers to grow hemp. Benjamin Franklin used hemp in his paper mill – one of the country’s first – and the first two copies of the Declaration of Independence were supposedly written on hemp paper.
- In parts of the Americas, hemp was legal tender and could be used to pay taxes.
- Hemp paper is stronger than wood-based paper, and can withstand more folding. In general, hemp has strongest natural fiber of any source.
- Hemp paper hundreds of years old (found in museums) has not yellowed, and is thus a high quality paper of archival quality.
- Marijuana plants cannot be hidden amongst hemp plants. The former grows wide and less tall (5-10 feet), whereas the latter is grown more densely and taller (10-15 feet), to produce maximum stalk fiber lengths.
- Hemp can grow nearly anywhere in the world, in many types of soil — even in short growing seasons or in dry regions — and helps purify soil as well as kills some types of weeds
- Hemp can grow without pesticides. The crop is also kills some weeds, purifies soil, and is suitable for rotation use, due not only to its short harvest cycle (120 days).
- Hemp is a high-yield crop. One acre of hemp produces twice as much oil as one acre of peanuts, and nearly four times as much fiber pulp (for paper) as an acre of trees.
- Hemp paper is naturally acid-free and does not yellow as quickly as tree pulp-based paper.
- Hemp has the strongest (and longest) plant fiber in the world, resistant to rot and abrasion, and was in long use before DuPont patented nylon in 1937. It was used for ship rigging, military uniforms, parachute webbing, baggage and more.
- Because of its strength, hemp fiber can be be used for composite materials that could be used to make anything from skateboard decks to car and stealth fighter bodies.
- A hemp composite material (with limestone and water) forms a type of concrete (hempcrete) that can be used for home building, at 1/9th the weight. It also acts as insulation and repels some vermin.
- Levi jeans were originally made from hemp sailcloth (and rivets), for goldminers in California, who would fill their pockets with gold.
- By the 1800s, the state of Kentucky produced about half of the industrial hemp in the U.S. The first hemp crop there was planted in Boyle County in 1775.
- Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, created a plastic car in 1941 which ran on hemp and other plant-based fuels, and whose fenders were made of hemp and other materials. Ford had a plan to “grow automobiles from the soil.” (Note: a company in France is experimenting with a similar vehicle in current day.)
- Despite the active Marijuana Tax Act and the official federal government stance on hemp and marijuana, the U.S. Army and the Dept of Agriculture jointly produced a 1942 film, “Hemp for Victory,” encouraging farmers to grow hemp for the country’s effort in World War II — particularly for textiles and rope, imports of which had been cut off by war. Over 100,000 acres of hemp was growing in the U.S., but all related permits were canceled when WW II ended.
The American Market for Hemp-Based Products
A February 1938 Popular Mechanics article (republished at Kannaway.com) titled “New Billion-Dollar Crop” was published around the same time that the Marijuana Tax Act took effect (Jan 1938), though it was prepared in 1937. The article referred to the potential for industrial hemp to be a billion dollar cash crop across numerous industries, with over 5,000 uses for the textile industry alone, as well as over 25,000 total uses including dynamite, Cellophane and more. At the time, hemp yield was about 3-6 tons per acre, and new machinery called a decorticator could harvest the crop more cheaply than ever — supposedly even more so than DuPont’s chemical process for harvesting trees for pulp and paper products. In 2014 dollars, the equivalent market potential would be nearly $17B. However, with a much larger populace now, the market could likely be much larger.
With industrial hemp crops still being illegal to grow in the United States, except in certain states, the market for hemp products here is at the billion-dollar level yet. However, hemp product use is legal and growing. The HIA (Hemp Industries Assocation) — which represents over “280 farmers, processors, manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers, researchers and publishers worldwide” — published their estimates in Feb 2014, for the U.S. hemp-based products market for 2013. Here are some of those statistics.
- $581M — The total value of hemp products sold in the United States in 2013.
- Items that are doing particularly well are in the hemp food and body care market, particularly “non-dairy milk, shelled seed, soaps and lotions.”
- The total for hemp foods and body care alone is under-reported, due to retailers that do not supply sales data. Based on available sales data, the total for these categories was over $61.4M, an increase of 24% ($11.89M) over 2012 (year end Dec 23).
Due to the growing American demand for hemp products, Canadian farmers are increasing acreage for hemp crops. “U.S. farmers’ frustration at being shut out of the lucrative worldwide hemp market is catalyzing real movement throughout all levels of government to legalize industrial hemp,” according to Eric Steenstra, Executive Director of the HIA.
A Farm Bill amendment was passed in early 2014 that allows states with their own passed hemp legislation to do industrial hemp research. Two more separate bills – the “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013” and a companion bill – were introduced in congress in Feb of 2013. Collectively the bills, if passed, would allow removing industrial hemp from the definition of “marihuana” (in the Controlled Substances Act) and “give states the exclusive authority to regulate the growing and processing of the (industrial hemp) crop under state law.” This refers to the “non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis.”
- As of the end of Feb 2014, 32 states had introduced pro-hemp legislation; 20 passed their legislation.
- 10 states have defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and thus allow the crop to be farmed: California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia.
- 3 states passed bills for “creating commissions or authorizing research”: Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland.
- 9 states passed resolutions: California, Colorado, Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Vermont, Virginia.
- 8 states passed study bills: Arkansas, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota and Vermont.
- 2+ states, including Kentucky and Colorado, have pilot programs for hemp research starting spring 2014.
As to why hemp became illegal in the United States in the 1930s, there is evidence that hemp was perceived to be a threat to a number of industries, including pulp and paper, oil, medicine and others, and that certain powerful people had personal stakes for preventing hemp’s success. If you’re interested in learning more, search for information on hemp and marijuana in relation to the following topics/ search terms:
- Andrew Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury for five presidents (Woodrow Wilson through Herbert Hoover), and head of Mellon Bank and other companies, who had invested money in a pulp and paper operation.
- Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
- Harry Anslinger, nephew-by-marriage to Mellon, and first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a branch of the Treasury Dept — previously a deputy commissioner of the Prohibition campaign. (Alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933, meaning that campaign staff likely needed new jobs.)
- William Randolph Hearst, owner of the newspaper and magazine publishing giant Hearst Corporation, who had also invested money in timber and wood paper mills, which would be using DuPont chemicals in the process.
- DuPont, a chemical company that had invested in a chemical process to cheaply produce pulp and paper, and who had patented nylon as a replacement material for rope / cordage and other products.
- Pharmaceutical companies, who were just starting to produce synthetic medicines to replace natural medicines.
- Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.