While psychoactive cannabis, also known as marijuana, and hemp are both the same species (cannabis), the differences in their economic, medicinal, and utilitarian impacts is vast.
Cannabis, when applied to medical patients and recreational consumers, is a substance with two relatively specific purposes: Fighting disease/improving health and psychoactive euphoria/anxiety relief. Hemp, on the contrary, offers its use for more than 5,000 substances and applications. While cannabis provides medicinal and lifestyle benefits mostly via its flowers (although whole plant therapy is becoming more popular), it is the seeds and stalk fiber of hemp that are of value.
To qualify as hemp in the United States and Canada, a specific strain of cannabis must contain no more than 0.3 percent of the most commonly known psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Many European nations further limit the THC content of hemp to only 0.2 percent. These standards, while completely arbitrary, illustrate the stigma associated with the psychoactive effect provided by THC, especially among conservative policymakers.
Food, Fiber, and Foundations
Hemp, which has natural anti-bacterial characteristics, is a valuable resource because it features long, very strong fibers that can be processed into a variety of materials, from clothing and canvas to drapes, foundation blocks, and furniture. In fact, the term “canvas” was derived from “cannabis.”
In terms of food, there are many forms of hemp that add considerable nutritional value to the diet of humans. Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are considered “superfoods” because they feature an almost perfect ratio of the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 and contain all important amino acids (which form proteins and serve other critical functions). Like all plant-based food, hemp and hemp seed oil are easier to digest than animal proteins.
It should be noted that consuming foods rich in hemp or hemp seed oil won’t cause one to fail a drug test. Because hemp contains almost no THC, those who consume large quantities will never test positive for cannabis — unless they have been consuming medicinal or recreational marijuana that contains larger amounts of this psychoactive molecule.
Hemp, when used for clothing, is superior to cotton in many ways. From the cultivation of hemp and cotton to the quality and durability of the clothing derived from them, hemp is better than cotton in nearly every way. First, cotton, which has been used to create clothing for at least 7,000 years, demands large amounts of pesticides that have a detrimental effect on the environment and raise the cost of products derived from the plant. Hemp, on the contrary, requires only half the land to grow the same tonnage of finished textile and considerably less water than cotton.
In addition, one must consider the value that is derived from clothing produced from both plants. Hemp clothing is more durable and wears out more slowly than cotton, meaning that consumers spend less in the long run because their shirts and jeans simply last longer. In addition, hemp maintains its strength after it becomes wet, making it better than cotton for industrial and commercial applications, including use as tarps, rope, or sails.
Hemp is also used to create building materials. Because of its natural anti-bacterial properties and its ability to regulate both temperature and humidity, compressed hemp can be used to create foundation timbers. One product that is gaining popularity is Hempcrete, a building material derived from the woody interior of industrial hemp. When mixed with lime and water, the hemp produces a strong, resilient, and relatively weather-proof building material. Hempcrete is superior to wood because it does not fall prey to common issues of decay.
Hempcrete is also fireproof and immune to the threat of termites. It is quickly gaining popularity throughout Europe and the United States as a viable, long-term building material for both commercial and residential developments that offers many environmental advantages over traditional materials like wood, concrete, and steel.
Hemp for All Plastics
Hemp plastics might sound new age, but have existed for nearly a century. In fact, in 1941, Henry Ford used hemp-and-sisal cellulose plastic to create automotive body panels (doors and fenders). Twenty years earlier, Ford had also wanted to fuel his vehicles with hemp oil, but Rockefeller ensured that gasoline and diesel fuel derived from petroleum became the fuel of choice for a mobile America. Major advantages of hemp plastics include the fact that they are biodegradable and also much stronger than steel panels.
This brings up an entirely unique use for hemp: Fuel. Although it isn’t explored in this article, the use of the hemp stalk and seed oil for both nutrition and fuel is significant and, if embraced by companies and governments, would be a true game changer. In a nutshell, two types of fuel can be derived from hemp: Biodiesel, made from hemp seed oil, and ethanol/methanol, created from the fermented stalk. Enough hemp production could, theoretically, fuel the entire heating and transportation needs of the nation.
The vast majority of plastics manufactured today are derived from petroleum, which are not biodegradable. However, instead of drilling for oil, all plastics could be derived from the hemp plant. These bio-based plastics, which are made from the stalk of the herb and involve none of the oil or seeds, are competitive with similar plastic products created from petroleum due to their rigidity and high heat tolerance. Most hemp plastics are naturally flame retardant and can be five times stiffer and nearly three times stronger than polypropylene.
Readers learned above why hemp is superior to cotton for textiles and clothing. About 39 percent of all clothing in the world is made from cotton, while the vast majority, 58 percent, is manufactured with synthetic materials like polyester and rayon, all of which are derived from petroleum and are basically non-rigid plastics in which humans cloak themselves daily.
Limited hemp use has begun by major manufacturers. Automakers such as Audi, General Motors, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, and Honda have utilized compressed hemp door panels, dashboards, trunks, and headliners, among other auto parts. Readers may have hemp door panels sitting in their driveway and simply not know it. This is just one example of an industry that is experimenting with or beginning to adopt processed hemp in manufacturing.
Teens Will Get High on Hemp
Those who oppose hemp gardens or farms in their community because they fear adventurous teenagers will sneak into the fields to smoke it are grossly mistaken. Because hemp must be grown from a strain of cannabis that necessarily yields less than 0.3 percent THC, intelligent humans will know — and those foolish enough to experiment will quickly learn — that hemp provides zero psychoactive effect or euphoria.
A rebellious teen could smoke an acre of hemp and never get “high,” instead developing only a headache. The molecule that causes that high, THC, simply is not present. Teens, arguably more social and networked than adults, would naturally avoid hemp fields, instead seeking THC-rich strains of cannabis from their friends or the black market.
Hemp Farmers Will Hide Cannabis
Another myth that violates the laws of biology and science is that hemp farmers will go rogue and hide regular cannabis plants within their hemp fields, far from the eyes of law enforcement. The reality is that the pollen from hemp would wreck the medical efficacy and psychoactive effect of commercial cannabis. Rather than embracing cannabis, hemp farmers want strains containing more than the legal limit for hemp nowhere near their fields. Similarly, outdoor cannabis cultivators have a healthy disdain for fields of hemp, which threaten to pollinate their high-THC cannabis, severely reducing its psychoactive content and destroying its commercial value.
More Research is Necessary
Nearly 80 years of cannabis and hemp prohibition has prevented research into the medical, nutritional, environmental, and economic benefits of hemp as compared to traditional plants like cotton and wood and synthetic products derived from petroleum. Until help farming is allowed nationwide and the plant is respected for the tremendous resource that it is, society will continue to leverage less efficient and environmentally damaging plants and substances.