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Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
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Hemp is a botanical class of Cannabis sativa cultivars grown specifically for industrial or medicinal use. It is one of the oldest domesticated crops and is among the fastest-growing plants on earth.
Due to the similarities between hemp and marijuana, hemp production was prohibited in most countries — including the United States — wiping out centuries of learning.
When the 2018 Farm Bill passed, a lot changed for the hemp production industry. The legislation sought to decriminalize hemp and remove it as a controlled substance, provided it was grown by a licensed cultivator and contained less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the most intoxicating compound in the cannabis plant.
Previously, hemp was in the same category as heroin, cocaine, and other drugs that served “no safe medicinal value.” Now, the industrial hemp sector is growing faster than ever. Survey results from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service valued hemp production at $824 million in 2021.
From textiles and paper to healthy treats and medicine, hemp is a versatile natural product with a wide variety of uses. Due to its renewable and biodegradable nature, hemp production is generally environmentally friendly.
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What Is Hemp?
Hemp, or industrial hemp, is a variety of Cannabis sativa plant that grows tall and stocky and is cultivated for medicinal and industrial uses. Hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant with differing properties.
Unlike regular marijuana, the hemp plant contains minimal THC and high levels of CBD (cannabidiol). CBD doesn’t get you high like THC and has many health benefits, including pain relief.
Alongside bamboo, hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth. It was also one of the first crops made into fiber more than 50,000 years ago. Hemp archaeologically traces back to China, where it was used to make clothes, rope, and even shoes. Over time, it was used in cooking things like pies, torte cakes, and soups.
Hemp use in the United States may be attributed to George Washington, who pushed for growing hemp as a cash crop. In a 1765 diary entry, he recounted the October harvest and described sowing hemp seeds to create usable fibers.
Historically, hemp cultivation generated a significant source of revenue for places like pre-war Kentucky, where the weather, soil, and rain cycle are ideal for growing. The plants can then be harvested for plant fibers or hemp seeds.
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5 Different Ways to Use Hemp
1. Medicinal Purposes
One 2020 report found that CBD has anxiolytic properties, which help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Unlike other medications for anxiety that have negative side effects and can be addictive, CBD oil is safe and shows little potential for abuse.
CBD is also currently being used to produce Epidiolex, an FDA-approved medication that curbs seizures in people living with epilepsy. CBD is a known anticonvulsant, which may reduce the frequency of seizures.
Preliminary research suggests CBD may be an effective sleep aid. That’s because it lowers cortisol levels in the blood. Cortisol is a hormone that peaks in the morning, leading to wakefulness and alertness. Cortisol typically declines throughout the day, but people with insomnia tend to have higher cortisol levels at night, making it hard to fall asleep.
Many people found falling asleep easier after using CBD products. Higher doses of CBD (150 mg or more) may be required for the best effects.
2. Building Materials
Construction has a lot of negative implications for the environment. Cutting down trees for wood leaves an area bare, making it more susceptible to soil erosion. Deforestation displaces natural habitats critical to keeping our ecosystems balanced.
Construction also contributes to air pollution, contaminated water, and landfill waste. And with greenhouse gases increasing at an alarming rate, there is a need for this sector to embrace sustainability.
Industrial hemp can be used to make building materials, lending itself perfectly to this cause. Hemp can also be used for phytoremediation, a process where plants capture pollutants like heavy metals to prevent them from leaching into the environment. Here are some popular hemp products used as building materials:
- Hempcrete: This bio-composite material is made by mixing hemp hurds (the wooden core of hemp stalks) with lime and packing it into what resemble traditional concrete blocks. Hempcrete isn’t as strong as concrete and can only be used to build non-foundational or non-load-bearing walls. That said, it’s an excellent insulation material that is resistant to fire and mold. Hempcrete is also great at absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to reduce harmful greenhouse gases.
- Hemp wood: This material is used as an alternative to hardwoods like oak and teak. Hemp wood works perfectly for flooring and building furniture. It’s also ideal for making interior furnishings, such as cabinets, doors, and counters. Unlike other woods that take years to be ready for harvest, hemp can be harvested 120 days after planting.
- Hemp fiber: This flexible material can be bound into sheets and cut into semi-rigid insulation blankets. This makes it a great alternative to fiberglass and other materials commonly used to insulate buildings. Since hemp fiber is denser, it’s a much better insulation material that is perfect for all seasons.
3. Organic Clothing
Making clothes was one of the first things that hemp was used for. Hemp stalks are made up of long, strong fibers that are separated from the bark through a process called retting. The hemp fibers are then spun together into long threads that can be woven into fabric.
Hemp is breathable, durable, and more environmentally friendly than many other types of fabrics. For example, cotton uses 50% more water than hemp every growing season. Hemp also returns 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil and doesn’t require as many pesticides as other plants.
Due to its tough nature, hemp fabric is handy for making pants, jackets, folding chairs, waterproof sneakers, and canvas tarps. Hemp clothing is also comfortable due to its breathable nature and the plant’s ability to maintain body temperature through thermoregulation.
4. Food Products
Popular in cooking and baking, hemp seeds are essential by-products of hemp cultivation. These seeds are laden with nutrients, including protein, magnesium, healthy fats, calcium, iron, and fiber.
Hemp seeds can be used on their own to add a mild, nutty flavor to dishes or turned into hemp seed oil. This organic oil tastes great in salads and is also used to make hemp milk, a good dairy substitute for baking.
5. Beauty Products
Hemp oil cosmetics and hair products are all the rage right now. Because of the plant’s healing properties and wealth of fatty acids and vitamins, hemp beauty products are unlikely to irritate the skin. That said, try products out on a small skin patch first to ensure you’re not allergic.
Common hemp products include skin oils, lip balm, moisturizers, ointments, body butter, and hair masks. Because of the protein chains in hemp seed oil, hemp nail products are ideal for repairing cuticle damage and strengthening weak, brittle nails.
The Bottom Line
Hemp cultivation is becoming more widespread in the United States. Products like hemp oil have a range of potential benefits like reducing inflammation, alleviating stress, and preventing heart disease. While originating from the same plant, hemp differs from medical cannabis as its THC content is less than 0.3%.
There is an urgent need for greater action on climate change, environmental conservation, and sustainable living, and hemp may help. Hemp crops take about four months to mature and grow up to seven feet tall. Because the plant produces lots of fiber and pulp, it’s suitable for making hemp paper and many other wood-based products.
As we mentioned, industrial hemp makes sustainable building materials like hempcrete, hemp wood, and hemp fiber. These fibers can also be woven into reusable, biodegradable fabric that is much more durable than many other textiles. Is there anything hemp can’t do?
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does smoking hemp get you high?
Industrial hemp contains CBD and trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%). Because of its high CBD ratio, smoking hemp will not get you high like THC. Technically, CBD has psychoactive effects, but they aren’t intoxicating the way high concentrations of THC are.
Will hemp show up on a drug test?
Most drug tests don’t test for CBD as it’s non-intoxicating. Instead, they screen for THC. That said, if the drug test you take screens for CBD (which is very rare), the compound will be detected if you consume CBD products like hemp.
Is hemp considered an illegal drug?
By federal law, hemp is considered legal if it contains less than 0.3% THC. To be legal, it must also be produced in a manner that aligns with federal rules and regulations. This is different from medical cannabis, which isn’t legal federally yet in the United States.