Rehabilitating Hemp: Green Industry Wonder

Throughout history, hemp has been a major industrial resource in several civilizations, including China, where the plant is believed to have been domesticated for several millennia. It has been out of favor for almost a century, however, in part due to its identification with the drug marijuana.

Now, campaigners are racing for people to recognize the plant’s many industrial uses, most of which are much kinder to the environment than the resources that hemp can replace, are trying to correct the misconceptions.

Hemp Versus Marijuana

Hemp and marijuana are two different variants of the same plant: cannabis. Hemp is the species farmed domestically and later industrially for its fibers, seeds, oil or hurds: the pithy substance between stem fibers.

Marijuana and its myriad nicknames refer to the psychotropic drug: smoking or eating the flowers produces a mental “high”. This can range from mild, giggly intoxication to obsessive focus on external stimuli or an internal monologue.

In some young people, research has shown, it may even trigger schizophrenia or psychosis later in life. However, these effects are linked to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound found at concentrations of 20% or more in some modern marijuana.

Hemp, by definition, contains less than 0.3% THC. It is useless as a recreational drug because it won’t get anyone high; it just puts them to sleep.

Hemp In History

For thousands of years, hemp was one of humanity’s primary sources of cloth, paper, and especially rope. Hemp provided the cables, twine, caulking and cordage, and was an important supplementary fiber in the sailcloth, that powered mighty navies forging empires, be they Roman or British.

In Elizabethan England, landowners broke the law if they didn’t grow a specified acreage of hemp. Later in America, British colonists were also legally obliged to grow hemp, a practice that continued after the War of Independence, to build the US Navy.

The arrival of steam power in the 19th Century, long before the advent of New Zealand online Blackjack, followed by the arrival of wood-pulp paper, and eventually cheaper synthetic fibers from petroleum, all reduced hemp’s importance as an industrial crop. Anti-drug initiatives in the 20th Century drove the final nail into the coffin; most countries banned all forms of cannabis, whatever their THC content.

Sustainable Modern Resource

Fossil fuels and deforestation have since gone out of fashion, whereas the 50,000-plus industrial uses for hemp look highly attractive again, given that it has much lower environmental costs than forestry or oil drilling. Hemp gives a bigger, faster yield per acre for papermaking than trees do, and it can replace cotton or petroleum-based fibers in textiles, twine, rope, and cordage, or plastic and fiberglass in appliances, vehicles, and insulation.

Hemp seeds really hit the lottery in terms of multiple uses as they make nutritional animal fodder, and their oil can be used in human foodstuffs, cosmetics, and grooming products. The hurds make cheap animal bedding, add insulation to building materials and, processed with the oil, also produce fuels like methanol, ethanol, and methane.

As more people learn the difference between hemp and marijuana, and as the industry turns increasingly to sustainable resources, laws are being reconsidered around the world. We can expect this versatile plant to become a much more common, legal crop in the future.