For our purposes, hemp is the plant called `cannabis sativa.’ There are other plants that are called hemp, but cannabis hemp is the most useful of these plants. In fact, `cannabis sativa’ means `useful (sativa) hemp (cannabis)’.
‘Hemp’ is any durable plant that has been used since pre-history for many purposes. Fiber is the most well known product, and the word `hemp’ can mean the rope or twine which is made from the hemp plant, as well as just the stalk of the plant which produced it.
Industrial hemp is the non-psychoactive, low-THC, oilseed and fiber varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp has absolutely no use as a recreational drug.
Nineteen states–California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia—currently have laws to provide for hemp pilot studies and/or for production as described by the Farm Bill stipulations.
Eight of these states—California, Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia—sponsored hemp resolutions and have laws to promote the growth and marketing of industrial hemp.
Market research obtained by the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), collected by the market research firm SPINS, was obtained from natural and conventional food retailers, excluding Whole Foods Market and certain other establishments, who do not provide sales data — and thus underestimates actual sales by a factor of at least three. According to the SPINS data, combined U.S. hemp food and body care sales grew in the sampled stores by 7.3%, or $2.98 million, over the previous year ending December 26, 2011 to a total of $43.5 million.
Hemp seed protein closely resembles protein as it is found in the human blood. It is fantastically easy to digest, and many patients who have trouble digesting food are given hemp seed by their doctors. Hemp seed was once called `edestine’ and was used by scientists as the model for vegetable protein.
Hemp seed oil provides the human body with essential fatty acids. Hemp seed is the only seed which contains these oils with almost no saturated fat. As a supplement to the diet, these oils can reduce the risk of heart disease. It is because of these oils that birds will live much longer if they eat hemp seed.
With hemp seed, a vegan or vegetarian can survive and eat virtually no saturated fats. One handful of hemp seed per day will supply adequate protein and essential oils for an adult.
Using less fertilizer and agricultural chemicals is good for two reasons. First, it costs less and requires less effort. Second, many agricultural chemicals are dangerous and contaminate the environment — the less we have to use, the better.
Hemp has been used to `bail out’ many populations in time of famine. Unfortunately, because of various political factors, starving people in today’s underdeveloped countries are not taking advantage of this crop. In some places, this is because government officials would call it `marijuana’ and pull up the crop. In other countries, it is because the farmers are busy growing coca and poppies to produce cocaine and heroin for the local Drug Lord. This is truly a sad state of affairs. Hopefully someday the Peace Corps will be able to teach modern hemp seed farming techniques and end the world’s protein shortage.
Here is how hemp is harvested for fiber: A field of closely spaced hemp is allowed to grow until the leaves fall off. The hemp is then cut down and it lies in the field for some time washed by the rain. It is turned over once to expose both sides of the stalk evenly. During this time, the hurd softens up and many minerals are returned to the soil. This is called `retting,’ and after this step is complete, the stalks are brought to a machine which separates the bast and the hurd. We are lucky to have machines today — men used to do this last part by hand with hours of back-breaking labor.
The problem with today’s paper is that so many chemicals are used to make it. High strength acids are needed to make quality (smooth, strong, and white) paper out of trees. These acids produce chemicals which are very dangerous to the environment. Paper companies do their best to clean these chemicals up (we hope.) Hemp offers us an opportunity to make affordable and environmentally safe paper for all of our needs, since it does not need much chemical treatment. It is up to consumers, though, to make the right choice — these dangerous chemicals can also be used on hemp to make a slightly more attractive product. Instead of buying the whiter, brighter role of toilet paper, we will need to think about what we are doing to the planet.
Because of the chemicals in today’s paper, it will turn yellow and fall apart as acids eat away at the pulp. This takes several decades, but because of this publishers, libraries and archives have to order specially processed acid free paper, which is much more expensive, in order to keep records. Paper made naturally from hemp is acid free and will last for centuries.
Another advantage over fossil fuels is that biomass fuels can be made right here in the United States, instead of buying them from other countries. Instead of paying oil drillers, super-tanker captains, and soldiers to get our fuel to us, we could pay local farmers and delivery drivers instead. Of course, it is possible to chop down trees and use them as biomass. This would not be as beneficial to the environment as using hemp, especially since trees that are cut down for burning are `whole tree harvested.’ This means the entire tree is ripped up and burned, not just the wood. Since most of the minerals which trees use are in the leaves, this practice could ruin the soil where the trees are grown. In several places in the United States, power companies are starting to do this — burning the trees in order to produce electricity, because that is cheaper than using coal. They should be using hemp, like researchers in Australia started doing a few years ago. (Besides, hemp provides a higher quality and quantity of biomass than trees do.)
Using hemp to build is by no means a new idea. French archeologists have discovered bridges built with a process that mineralizes hemp stalks into a long-lasting cement. The process involves no synthetic chemicals and produces a material which works as a filler in building construction. Called Isochanvre, it is gaining popularity in France. Isochanvre can be used as drywall, insulates against heat and noise, and is very long lasting.
`Bio-plastics’ are not a new idea, either — way back in the 1930’s Henry Ford had already made a whole car body out of them — but the processes for making them do need more research and development. Bio-plastics can be made without much pollution. Unfortunately, companies are not likely to explore bio-plastics if they have to either import the raw materials or break the law. (Not to mention compete with the already established petrochemical products.)
Hemp And Iowa
In 1917, domestic production of industrial hemp totaled 41,200 acres in response to fiber shortages during WWI. Due to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, hemp production was essentially closed off across the Midwest until 1942. When Philippines fell to Japanese forces in 1942 in World War II, the Department of Agriculture and the US Army urged farmers to grow hemp fiber cultivars. Tax stamps for cultivation of fiber hemp began to be issued to farmers. Without any change in the Marijuana Tax Act, 400,000 acres (1,600 km2) were cultivated with hemp between 1942 and 1945. In 1943, Iowa grew nearly 48,000 acres of industrial hemp fiber cultivars. To this day, feral hemp (“ditch weed”) is descendant of these government-issued genetics. The last commercial hemp fields were planted in Wisconsin in 1957.