The hype around hemp is reaching a feverish frenzy — let’s see how it stacks up to reality. We’re going to look at what hemp is, what it’s used for, and whether this misunderstood plant could actually play a role in saving the planet.
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The History of Hemp
For starters, hemp has been with us for a long time. Like, a really long time. Archaeologists have found evidence of hemp manufacturing going back to 8000 B.C. when ancient Mesopotamians cultivated it for cloth. China cultivated hemp continuously for over 6,000 years.
What ancient people did with all this hemp is no mystery. We see evidence of hemp used in the world’s first paper, old rags, medicines, food, canvas (which came from the word cannabis), and much more. The incorrigible Henry VIII passed a law in 1535, making it mandatory for all landowners to plant a quarter of an acre of hemp, with violations punishable by fines. Most clothing was made of hemp right up until the 1920s.
Then the 1930s happened. In America, powerful companies with plenty of money and well-dressed lobbyists to throw around were keen to protect their interests in new synthetic fibers and lumber-based newspapers. Hemp was a formidable opponent, with Popular Mechanics writing in February 1938 that it was nearly a “billion-dollar crop.” And these companies were fighting hard to have the government remove it completely from the market. Plenty of anti-cannabis propaganda began circulating around this time, the most famous being the 1936 unintentional comedy, Reefer Madness.
In 1937, just as machinery was invented to mechanically separate hemp’s fiber from the rest of the plant — thus launching a golden new era for hemp production — the corporations succeeded. The United States government passed a tax law that made it financially prohibitive to be a hemp farmer or dealer. Several months later, they banned it altogether, lumping it with the marijuana plant as a drug and a threat. Canada soon followed and classified hemp under the Opium and Narcotics Act in 1938.
Is Hemp Marijuana?
Just as a violin is not a guitar, hemp is not marijuana. The two are types of cannabis plants, but hemp is the family-friendly, PG-rated do-gooder who really has never done anything bad to anyone.
Hemp looks an awful lot like marijuana, but anyone trying to get high on hemp would be sorely disappointed (actually they’d be pretty happy due to the CBD). Whereas the marijuana plant’s flowers can contain up to 30% THC by dry weight, the hemp plant has around 0.3% THC or less.
Instead, hemp gives us cannabidiol (CBD), which is a nonintoxicating compound that has tons of different benefits for our minds and bodies. CBD is very different from THC. It is a photosynthesizing philanthropist, a Bill Gates of the plant world. Its gifts are so inspiring they’ve just inspired a spontaneous verse:
CBD, please make me wiser what gifts spew from your molecular geyser? You’re a mood stabilizer, an anesthetizer you’re a skin clearer-upper, an anti-oxidizer you help me sleep like the gentlest tranquilizer
CBD, I love you so!
Luckily, hemp has recently become legalized across most of the U.S. This has allowed us to quickly rediscover all of its properties. Far beyond just being a producer of CBD, hemp is also ready to supply us with a seemingly endless array of products.
What Is Hemp Used for?
If hemp is truly the green savior we’ve all been waiting for, it had better do a lot of good things.
Well, guess what? It does. Hemp supplies raw materials for the following products:
- Cleaning agents
- Bioplastics (which can be biodegradable)
- Animal bedding
As you may have guessed by looking at some of these products, hemp can be used to make oil. This is a large part of its appeal from a climatological standpoint. Manufacturing oil from hemp — which captures greenhouse gases — could dramatically reduce the amount of damage we do with fossil fuel extraction and combustion.
What Is Hemp Oil?
Hemp oil comes from the seeds of the hemp plant. After undergoing oxidation, this oil takes on a solid consistency. Refined hemp seed oil, though, is a colorless, clear liquid with a mild flavor and tons of different uses.
It is produced industrially from different varieties of the cannabis plant, none of which contain more than trace amounts of THC. This THC isn’t actually present in the hemp seed itself, but may appear after the seeds are cleaned when plant matter sticks to the surface of the seed.
Hemp seed oil is fantastically healthy stuff. It sports a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are considered essential fatty acids. Hemp seed oil also contains polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and saturated fat, and provides roughly the same number of calories as other edible oils. However, its low smoke point makes it ill-suited for frying — it’s far better as a salad dressing or dietary supplement.
Hemp seed oil is gaining popularity and is a great way to add tons of healthy goodies to your diet. Additionally, it’s got tons of potential in creating the previously mentioned products like bioplastics, biofuel, and more.
Hemp May Just Be the Hero We Need
After being legally persecuted for so long, it’s awesome to see hemp making a rapid comeback. As the do-it-all plant, it may be able to fill many of the gaps in our global needs network. But if you’re just a foodie or a health nut, hemp is a godsend that will keep you chugging along with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, protein, fats, calcium, iron, and more.
So get more hemp in your diet and for the rest of your life as well — the planet is counting on you.