October 8, 2009 – If Hemp was discovered today it would be hailed a miracle for mankind as there are so many environmentally friendly products the plant and its byproducts can provide. If consumers want to contribute to a better planet, they need look no further than to choose products made with hemp. This post explores the huge potential impact of hemp – if only it were legal for farmers to grow and process in the United States.
Hunger and Starvation
The world is going through great suffering at present, with millions of people starving and millions more struggling to cope with the high cost of living. Most of these problems can be traced back to agriculture and oil. Current unnatural farming methods require large amounts of money to be spent on pesticides and herbicides, making farming practices economically and environmentally unsustainable.
At the same time, the world’s population is increasing and the global community is desperate for a solution to meet the food requirements of all countries. Fortunately, there is a solution available – Hemp. Growing the hemp plant and using it to create thousands of products ranging from food, textiles, building materials, plastics etc. is a highly sustainable way to address hunger and a myriad of economic and social issues our world currently faces. (A more comprehensive discussion of this potential can be found here: Hemp: Africa’s Solution to Hunger and Poverty )
70 Years of Propaganda
The media portrayal of marijuana and drugs is largely responsible for the negative perception of hemp, but most people fail to realize that commercial hemp is actually unfit for use as an intoxicant. THC, the active ingredient of regular cannabis responsible for producing the ‘high’ effect in drug users, is typically found in quantities of up to 20% or more. Industrial hemp on the other hand, generally contains less than 0.3% THC content, which is not enough to cause any physical or psychological effects. Smoking industrial hemp to get high is akin to trying to get drunk from non-alcoholic beer.
Hemp has a lengthy history of being a productive crop, even in the USA. Early presidents Washington and Jefferson used to grow the crop personally, and during a few different periods Americans were actually legally bound to grow hemp. The US government even produced a short movie in 1942 entitled Hemp for Victory to help encourage farmers to grow hemp.
Big Business Bans Hemp
Hemp was effectively banned with the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, but a chronic oil and material shortage during the Second World War meant the government desperately needed hemp again. It was re-legalized in 1942 and promoted with the Hemp for Victory movie. The original ban was at the request of big industry and after the shortages subsided it didn’t take long before they once again made sure that hemp wasn’t able to compete with their business interests.
The problem is that hemp is a naturally occurring solution to many of the world’s problems, and therefore can’t be patented and controlled by individuals. DuPont was one of the main companies behind the ban of hemp, which they pushed for shortly after patenting a nylon rope made from synthetic petrochemicals. In addition to the petrochemical industries, it also threatened the cotton, oil and timber industries, who formed an alliance to make sure hemp was outlawed.
Simply the Best
As well as being one of the earliest known domesticated plants, hemp is one of the fastest growing bio-masses known. The bark of the stalk contains possibly the longest natural soft fibers in the world. These two properties provide tremendous advantages over other crops in terms of practicality and uses.
Hemp is also very environmentally friendly. It grows well in a number of different soil types and climates, and is naturally resilient to weeds and pests. Some farmers even use it as a natural weed suppressor. The use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides and are widely unnecessary, with the plant rarely being attacked and strong enough to ward off the few pests which are attracted to it. They don’t call it ‘Weed’ without a reason, as it is able to grow strong like a weed without any assistance.
Wide Variety of Uses
The practical uses for hemp never seem to end, ranging from replacements for many of our current energy, clothing and building material sources to more simple uses such as fishing bait, cooking products and paints.
Hemp seeds are possibly the most easily digestible source of complete proteins; contain high levels of dietary fiber and B-vitamins, as well as containing all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids in the most appropriate ratios for human consumption. Their profile is so complete that if a human was to eat one thing for the rest of their life, they would live the longest on hemp seeds. Since they can be eaten raw, ground, sprouted or made into milk; hemp seeds can be used as a replacement for flour, butter, protein powder, milk and ice-cream. By the way, the seed is not psychoactive and will not act as a drug.
Fuel and Plastics
Biofuels such as biodiesel can be produced from the oil in hemp seeds and stalks. The fermentation of the whole plant can also produce alcohol fuel. Hemp can produce ten times more methanol than is possible from corn and seems an ideal substitute for the massive amounts corn crops around the world planted to provide fuel for vehicles. The hemp fibers are perfect for producing plastic moulded products, rather than relying on oil for their production. They are also well suited for the creation of biodegradable plastic products.
Similar to the way ancient cultures added straw to clay to reinforce bricks, hemp fibers added to concrete increase tensile strength, as well as reducing shrinkage and cracking. It can also be mixed with gypsum to produce light panels, or lime to make plaster. A combination mixture can be used for foundations, walls and ceilings, which is lighter than cement and has better sound and heat insulating properties. There has even been a ceramic tile equivalent produced. The quality of building materials is such that whole houses have been made based on hemp fiber.
The actual building structure is not the only thing that can benefit from hemp’s insulating properties. The production of thermal insulation products is one of the most important sectors of the hemp industry. Hemp hurds are perfect to use due to their high silica content, and can be mixed with lime to produce a material which can be blown into areas requiring insulation. Since it is naturally renewable, it is better for the environment and can help to reduce heating costs for existing households.
Hemp is a major competitor to the cotton industry. It produces 250% more fibers than cotton and doesn’t require the same cocktail of chemicals cotton needs to grow successfully. It is said that around half of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton crops. Hemp is also far stronger, durable, absorbent, insulative and resistant to UV light and mold than cotton. Although it is generally coarse, advancements in processing have enabled a softening of hemp fibers to a comfortable level. Apart from shoes and clothing, hemp can also be used to produce coarse textiles such as upholstery and carpets.
The United States Constitution was drafted on hemp paper. Hemp can produce more than four times the dry weight of fiber in comparison to the average forest on the same size land. Additionally, trees will take approximately twenty years to regrow, where hemp can reach maturity in around four months. Apart from being far more practical to produce paper in terms of growth times and production levels, hemp paper is of a far superior quality to tree paper. Wood pulp paper may be lucky to last 50 years, whereas hemp pulp paper has been known to last centuries or even millennia. It can also be recycled many more times than traditional paper.
Personal Care Products
Hempseed oil has a wide variety of uses, especially in the personal care product range. It is widely used in creams as a moisturizing agent and is excellent for skin care. It is also present in a number of leading brand’s lotions, moisturizers, lip balms and perfumes. Bathroom products containing hemp are also popular, with soaps, shampoos and bubble baths being sold having a hemp component.
Today, many car parts are manufactured using hemp products. Their history dates back to 1941, where Henry Ford produced a car with a plastic body which was made from approximately 70% hemp fibers. Although the idea came about partly due to a steel shortage, tremendous benefits were revealed. The car could withstand blows ten times greater than steel without denting. It was so powerful that Ford used to swing an axe at the vehicle to show it would not be damaged. Unfortunately, the Marijuana Tax Act made production unviable and although some car parts are produced today, the full potential of hemp cars has never been realized.
THE PERFECT SOLUTION
Never has a more perfect solution been available to solve so many of the world’s problems. But the sad fact is that unless we rise up as a people and demand a change, we are unlikely to ever see the full benefits of hemp around the globe. This is because there are so many well established interest groups in the many sectors of the economy where hemp can provide benefit – interest groups who do not want to see it succeed. The potential benefits to mankind though are just too large to ignore – and we must work together to see that hemp is once again returned to a revered status in our economy.
Please also see:
Hemp: Africa’s Solution to Hunger and Poverty
Canada – Hemp Bringing Highs to Farmers’ Lows