My blog is dedicated to the exploration of industrial hemp in America including the rich history of all forms of cannabis, the evolving law and politics of hemp and marijuana, the many products made from cannabis and the capacity, real or imagined, of hemp to re-industrialize rural America and revitalize the American family farm.
To celebrate 2016’s Hemp History Week, we are going to dive into the world of industrial hemp. In the year 2000, the U.S. imported $1.4 million of legal hemp products, in 2011 that number jumped up to $11.5 million. This spike is a result of consumer demand for the nutritious hemp seed as well as an increase for the demand of cosmetics with a hemp oil base. Currently, France is the world-leader of hemp production, cultivating more than 70% of global output, with China coming in second producing about 25% of the world production.
Industrial hemp is one of the planet’s most versatile plants. Each day, all over the world, hemp is transformed into an astonishing variety of commercial and industrial products. And the most amazing part is that it’s one of the few plants with a negative carbon footprint. It turns out, industrial hemp may be our number one resource for reversing global warming. Hemp Global Solutions calculates that for each ton of hemp grown, 1.63 tons of CO2 is removed from the atmosphere so growing a mere 100 acres of hemp would be the equivalent of taking 196 cars off the road for a year. Since global warming is caused by an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere, hemp has the potential to be our biggest savior because of it’s ability to absorb CO2 from the air and disperse it into the soil.
On a similar note, industrial hemp has the impressive ability to clean up toxins, earning it the name of a “mop crop.” It is globally known as the best crop to absorb excess radiation, and it has actually been planted at the Chernobyl nuclear site to clean the slew of unstable radioactive contaminants that still remain to this day. Amazingly, it will also absorb sewage, excess phosphorous, and most unwanted substances from waste water, cleaning it of any impurities.
Planting industrial hemp not only remediates toxic land but farmers are finding it’s having doubtless positive impacts when incorporated into their crop rotation. Industrial hemp is a fast-growing crop that improves soil tilth and is fantastic at eliminating weeds.
So far we’ve only covered the benefits hemp provides while it is in the ground, however, it’s when we harvest hemp that the real productivity begins.
Industrial Hemp fibers.
Hemp produces extremely high yields of fiber. These fibers are stronger and more versatile than cotton without the need for chemical inputs, pesticides, or excessive watering. Hemp fiber is often considered the most valuable component of the plant. In fact, historically, hemp was used almost exclusively as a fiber crop in the 17th to mid-20th century United States. Two types of fibers can be collected from industrial hemp; the outer fibers, also called bast, are long, strong, and similar to softwood fibers — while the inner fibers, known as the core, are short and comparable to hardwood fibers.
Hemp manufacturers use long bast fibers to make textiles, rope, twine, and paper. When spun into fabric, the result is durable, breathable, mildew-resistant, hypoallergenic clothing that gets softer with every wash. Hemp rope was the standard for sailing ships up until the mid-20th century because its coarse fibers help knots stay secure (Fun fact, sails made from hemp fiber were used to bring Europeans over to America). Hemp twine is commonly used for jewelry and landscaping purposes because it is soft, knots easily, and is fully biodegradable. Lastly, bast fibers are great for pulping into papers of all kinds such as rolling papers, tea bags, money, and of course writing paper. Hemp produces strong, quality paper that is highly recyclable.
The core fibers of the hemp plant are most commonly used in new age building materials such as hempcrete. One of the amazing things about hemp is that it never stops absorbing CO2 once harvested — building materials made out of hemp continue absorbing atmospheric CO2. Hempcrete is a near-perfect building material not only because it does its part in reducing global warming, but it is also fire-resistant, low-cost and has amazing thermal qualities. These characteristics are also why hemp fibers produce great insulation. Hemp building materials are the most environmentally and economically efficient options on the market.
Hemp is not only a carbon-negative crop that can provide the world with sustainable, organic clothing, paper, rope and buildings but it is also a nutritious and delicious superfood. Hemp seeds can provide 64% of the Daily Value of protein per 100-gram serving while also providing a full day’s boost of omegas, B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Hemp seeds are also cold-pressed to create hempseed oil which is high in all eight essential fatty acids and is a balanced source of Omega-3s and Omega-6s. More and more researchers are claiming that hemp is one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods in the world because it has the highest levels of essential fatty acids out of any plant and it is one of the only plants that provides all nine of the essential amino acids (protein) that our body requires.
Last but certainly not least, is the ability to use hemp as fuel. As if all the other usages of hemp weren’t enough, incredibly, hemp produces a clean-burning, energy-efficient and low-cost gasoline alternative. When fermented with ethanol, hemp turns into a biofuel that can be used to power diesel engines. Petroleum, our current source of gasoline, is dangerous to handle and store, contributes to global warming due to its high CO2 emissions, contributes to sulfur pollution (acid rain), pollutes the local environment and is toxic to animals and humans. Hemp, on the other hand, is a renewable resource that is biodegradable, it can be grown domestically to create a highly profitable industry for American businesses (including farmers). The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy have both stated that in order to help the environment and sustain our way of life, we must seriously consider a transition to biofuel.
Even with the myriad of beneficial applications and the lack of psychoactive properties, hemp was grouped into the Control Substance Act of 1970 because it is technically still the same species as medical marijuana (Cannabis Sativa) making it a felony to grow or cultivate hemp in the United States. Slowly states are opening their eyes to this profitable crop and passing hemp cultivation laws. Currently, Kentucky, North Carolina, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, Nebraska, Indiana and Tennessee have allowed hemp research in accordance with section 7607 of the Farm Bill. Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont are the only three states with licensed hemp farming under state law. The hemp market is booming right now, we are importing $11.5 million of hemp a year from France, China, and Canada when we, the U.S., could be cultivating that $11.5 million and the thousands of jobs that come along with domestic hemp production.
Fun facts about Industrial Hemp:
Hemp was the first plant cultivated domestically.
Thomas Jefferson drafted both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution on hemp paper.
The first Bibles, maps, charts, and Betsy Ross’s flag were made from hemp.
Over 25,000 products can be made from hemp.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding fathers grew hemp.
Henry Ford’s first model-T was called the car he “grew from the soil,” it was hemp-ethanol fueled with a hemp-resin body.
You could pay your taxes with hemp throughout America for over 200 years.
Up to 90% of the world’s paper manufactured before 1883 was made from cannabis hemp.
The paintings of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gainsborough, and most historically significant artists were primarily painted on hemp canvas. The word canvas actually derives from cannabis.
Hemp was legal money in most of the Americas from 1631 until the 1800s.
If there was a hemp shortage in America during the 1700’s, you could be jailed for not growing hemp.
Christopher Columbus’ ships sails were made of hemp and stocked with hemp rope.
The oldest relic of human history is hemp fabric that dates back to 8,000 B.C. from ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Turkey).
Hemp is anti-microbial, anti-mildew, and naturally UV resistant.
Ben Franklin owned a paper mill that produced hemp paper.
All schoolbooks were made from hemp or flax paper until the 1880s.
In 1916, the U.S. Government predicted that by the 1940s all paper would come from hemp and that no more trees need to be cut down. Government studies report that 1 acre of hemp equals 4.1 acres of trees.
Hemp produces four times the raw material than trees for paper making. Hemp can be planted between one to three times per season, depending on location, and can be recycled up to 10 times, compared to three or four with wood pulp paper.
Bronner, whose company has used hemp oil in its Dr. Bronner products for over a decade, was arrested in Washington, DC for planting hemp on the DEA front lawn. He said he’d rather buy his hemp from U.S. farmers instead of importing it, and “save on both import and freight charges.”