Before there was plastic and aluminum, or even paper, there was hemp. It is one of the strongest, most versatile and relatively inexpensive natural materials on the planet. Humans have been cultivating hemp longer than almost any other crop, and we discover new uses for hemp even today.
Unfortunately, federal prohibition of cannabis means hemp’s miniscule amount of THC is considered dangerous by the U.S. government, and it is listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. America imports about half a billion dollars worth of hemp products each year, a crop that can be easily grown in many agricultural zones all over the country. “We are the only industrialized nations not to allow it,” said Joseph Yost of the Virginia state legislature and a supporter of legalizing industrial hemp.
With more states supporting cannabis legalization, there could be room for hemp in the nation’s economy. The environmental benefits of using hemp in place of other materials cannot be ignored, nor can the health benefits of the plant.
CBD and beyond
While natural hemp has a very low amount of THC, it does contain cannabidiol (CBD), which is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is sought after by medical cannabis patients. While many strains of cannabis contain more concentrated amounts of both THC and CBD, hemp is a cheaper source of CBD due to its hardiness as a crop.
By moving away using wood for paper products and building materials, hemp could slow down or possibly stop deforestation, a direct threat to the environment. Trees used for lumber and paper products take a lifetime to mature, but hemp needs four months in order to be ready for harvest and put to industrial use. Within a 20-year time period, an acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4-10 acres of trees. Hemp is also particularly suited to thrive on carbon dioxide, and
Major advances in mixing hemp with other substances has led to the creation of a sustainable building material that also acts as an insulator. While not as strong as concrete, “hempcrete” is already being used in buildings in Europe as a construction material for applications like flooring, interior walls and insulation. Being able to use hempcrete and hemp-based building materials to replace other products like concrete, fiberglass insulation, and drywall would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry. Hempcrete is also one of the few industrial materials that is carbon negative.
Hemp is one of the easiest crops to grow on an industrial and agricultural scale. It requires almost no pesticides, minimal water, and is adaptable to changing weather and climates. Soy is one of the most commonly grown crops in the U.S., but it can typically fetch $71 per acre. By comparison, industrial hemp nets roughly $250 per acre, and is a less-costly crop to grow. Farmers have been pressuring lawmakers to ease restrictions on growing industrial hemp, and they have an unlikely ally in Senator Mitch McConnell, who helped sponsor a farm bill in 2014 that allowed more states to grow hemp legally.
But there are still plenty of restrictions on growing hemp in the United States, which has kept hemp from contributing to the nation’s economy. Perhaps cannabis legalization will help make hemp free and legal, benefiting several industries as well as our plan