I stumbled across an article in Environmental Health News on hemp by Katarina Maloney and decided to devote this month’s article to the neglected cousin of a notorious newshound, marijuana. The story of hemp is an amazing one, fraught with misconceptions on the part of the general public and baseless laws on the part of the government. How a world leader could distort and frame a poor plant to the degree that is has is, well, quite frankly astounding.
Back in the Jamestown colony days of our new nation, law mandated that all settlers grow hemp. George Washington grew it as one of his primary crops. Benjamin Franklin made his newspapers out of hemp and our Constitution was written on it. By 1850 medicinal preparations of cannabis became available in American pharmacies. In 1913, an amendment to the Poison Act made possessions of hemp or loco weed as it was known a misdemeanor. In 1931, 29 states had outlawed cannabis and from that time forward the drug war began with a vengeance with Ronald Reagan and George Bush enacting more restrictive laws. It wasn’t until 1996 and Proposition 215 that medicinal cannabis came back on the national landscape in the state of California. All the fuss was about the variety of Cannabis sativa L that produced a psychoactive state but what happened to its ugly duck sibling, the plant with the strong, woody stalks, lacking in pretty flower buds? Was it simply lost in all the notoriety over psychoactive marijuana? Or was there a political agenda that reared its ugly, greedy head? My guess is it was a combination of both. Remember that through an adage like “better living through chemistry” in the 1950s, profits were to be made by companies that were developing synthetics.
So what is the difference between marijuana and hemp? Marijuana has a high level of THC, the psychoactive compound, at anywhere from 3 to 22%. Hemp is cultivated for its oil, seeds and fiber and has a low THC content, less than one percent. The chief compound in hemp is cannabidiol, which blocks a psychoactive effect in the nervous system. In terms of “getting high,” marijuana is an agonist which fosters an effect; whereas, hemp is an antagonist, a blocker or inhibitor of such an effect.
So here is the amazing part: hemp is one versatile plant of blockbuster proportions. Not only can we eat the seeds, but we can utilize it for many important industrial processes. Ms. Maloney outlines four of them in her article and I will paraphrase here. First up is a real surprise. How many plants can fend off weeds? Not many, but hemp grows well without any pesticides or herbicides, eliminating the carcinogenic risk of those sprays and the relatively unknown risks of GMO crops. That is very impressive! Next, hemp can be used to make “hempcrete” an alternative form of concrete that reduces dependence on plastics and fiber glass that require higher energy costs. “Hempoline” is a biofuel and converts with a 97% efficiency rate and burns at a lower temperature than any other biofuel. Hemp can save the canopies of our forests and be recycled more than wood pulp. Hemp can control nematode and fungi growth in fields and fend off weed growth due to its large canopy, turning unproductive soils into verdant agriculture that can remain organic. Rotating wheat fields with hemp can increase the productive capacity by 10 to 20%.
Hemp oil in lotions and other products is just another use and in my guest bath, I have a bottle of Hemp with Argan Oil by Moist with Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil listed as an ingredient. Unfortunately, the list is replete with chemicals I try to avoid so I will not buy it again, but will look for a more natural product featuring hemp oil.
We need an effort to reclaim the use of this amazing plant in our country. Sometimes it’s difficult for us environmentally minded folks to understand that there are many agendas out there and utilizing natural products is not one of the more popular ones. However, the fact remains that hemp could preserve our economy, conserve resources and protect the health of the population against carcinogenic compounds that are in widespread use.
Environmental Health News