Whether you live in a state where cannabis is legal, or still remains illegal, you have probably heard the word hemp thrown around in conversation. The hemp plant has been in the news a lot lately, and with the federal government passing the 2018 Farm Bill in the last weeks of 2018, hemp is now legal to farm across the United States. For decades, this plant has been illegal to cultivate, but now that it’s not, another new industry is beginning to launch here in the U.S. Hemp is a truly incredible plant that has quite literally thousands of uses. Civilizations around the world have been using hemp to create paper, textiles, ropes, food and medicine, dating as far back as 10,000 years ago. For a deeper look into humanity and cannabis, check out our article, A Brief History of Cannabis in our Human Side of Cannabis section. It’s an exciting time as we get to move forward with cultivating what could become one of America’s most valuable, renewable resources. An article published in 2013 by Forbes stated that over 25,000 different products can be created using the hemp plant. It will be exciting to see all of the directions this fledgling industry will grow into in the years to come.
Despite hemp being legalized, there is still an incredible amount of misinformation surrounding this plant and what exactly this plant is. To put it very simply, hemp is merely a political definition that means a cannabis plant that has less than .3% THC by dry weight. To understand what this means, it is helpful to know a little bit about the history of cannabis, and how we got to where we are today. Cannabis has been used by mankind for thousands of years, but became popular on a global scale with the rise of Rock n Roll music and drug culture in the late 60s and early 70s. Cannabis became quite valuable and as the global demand began to increase, a black market formed, and many farmers around the world began to grow cannabis for export to the United States and Europe. While cannabis’ popularity was on the rise, groups of European farmers began to travel the world, collecting what we call the “landrace” strains (naturally occurring strains), which they brought back with them to Europe. Through generations of selective breeding, these European farmers laid down the foundation for many of the classic cannabis strains that we all know and love. At the time, THC was the cannabinoid everyone knew about, as it was the most desired, so they bred their plants to have high levels of THC. In 1996, when Prop 215 passed in California, much of the global cannabis breeding was moved to California where regulation permitted farmers to freely cultivate cannabis for medical use. Since 1996, the West Coast of the United States has been home to the vast majority of cannabis breeding that happens globally.
Knowing that selective breeding of cannabis is what brought us to where we are today, it’s easy to understand how we got to modern day hemp. As opposed to breeding for THC, breeders began to set their sights on high CBD strains, or creating strains with CBD:THC ratios. Many popular strains like Harlequin, Tora Bora and Cannatonic are all strains that are breed to have higher amounts of CBD. In 2019, we now have strains that almost only produce CBD and other minor cannabinoids. These are our “hemp” strains, which are now legal to cultivate through large scale agriculture in the U.S.
The hemp industry has the potential to be one of the largest cash crops the world has ever seen. The versatility of this plant and the products that you can make from it make the hemp plant one of our most valuable resources. One acre of hemp can make four times the amount of paper than one acre of trees. Hemp can be used to make textiles, ropes, food, fuel, plastics, construction materials and so much more. Hemp is also a very sustainable. The life span of the plant is only four months and it can be grown year round in many places in the United States. The hemp plant is also good for the earth. Studies have shown that hemp has the ability to soak up contaminants from the soil in a process scientists call “phytoremediation.” Hemp has been shown to rid soil of heavy metals like lead, cadmium and nickel and may even be effective in cleaning up industrial pollution as well a radioactive pollution. Time will tell just how well hemp will work for these environmental issues, but as of right now, the future is looking bright.
All in all, much like cannabis, hemp is here to stay. We are very excited about the potential that this plant has to both heal as well as create a multitude of sustainable products that hopefully can help us live a more sustainable lifestyle. We are also excited to see all of the ways that hemp can help heal humanity. With a large portion of the hemp biomass being grown in the U.S. going to CBD extraction, it will be interesting to see how these CBD products will be received by people. Hopefully, hemp will be the saving grace we have been waiting for.