Industrial hemp, which means the non-psychoactive (less than 1% THC) varieties of Cannabis Sativa L., may just be the miracle plant that addresses our emerging health and global sustainability issues. The world is becoming increasingly aware of hemp’s medicinal benefits. But did you know that over 25,000 products can be made from hemp for modern uses? The chart below illustrates just how versatile the plant is and what it has to offer—that we know of, so far!
The world’s population and disposable income are projected to increase dramatically, and, therefore, demand for consumer goods will follow. And yet, we currently do not have the resources to sustain such a demand. In this article, we’ll look at some of the truly remarkable ways industrial hemp could change the world beyond its already well-established health benefits.
Hemp Clothing and Textiles
The hemp plant grows sustainably and has many natural properties that pass into the products that can be made from it. Here’s what the plant brings to clothing:
It doesn’t shed micro-plastics into our water supply.
It’s very durable and holds up to repeated washings.
It resists mold and mildew.
Hemp grows softer and softer, the more it’s washed and worn.
It’s naturally fire retardant.
One acre of hemp will produce as much as two to three acres of cotton. Hemp material keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the heat. Ecofibre, an Australian-based hemp company, is currently developing advanced hemp technologies, from which it’s creating “smart and functional performance apparel, footwear and fashion.” This includes radio signal blocking material, protective and connective intelligence, embedded sensor technology, and fabric morphing. Think products that could protect soldiers, minimize injuries in athletes, measure vital signs, or keep someone from accessing your credit card number through your purse.
Hemp as a Building Material: What is Hempcrete?
Hempcrete is one of the most amazing building products made from the industrial hemp plant. It simply consists of hemp hurds (the core of the stalks), water, and lime. Using hempcrete is environmentally advantageous. Today we build with materials that are either mined from the earth or harvested from centuries-old forests. Industrial hemp can be grown over and over again, every year. One acre of hemp provides as much paper as 4.1 acres of trees. That’s sustainability!
Some other advantages of hempcrete include:
There’s no off-gassing with hempcrete (Off–gassing (also known as out-gassing) refers to the release of airborne particulates or chemicals—volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—from common household products.)
It’s mold resistant
It has a high vapor permeability
It controls humidity
It’s fire and pest resistance
It passively self-regulates temperature and humidity
It’s a great insulator
Hempcrete has a real potential to create allergen and contaminant-free workspaces and homes for people.
Advantages of Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity
Brian Furnish, Director of Global Production of Ananda Hemp and eighth generation farmer, says that industrial hemp is a great crop for current farmers because they can make use of current equipment for production. Hemp grows well just about anywhere with fewer resources. To put that in perspective, hemp requires half the water of wheat and provides four times the income. Compared to cotton, which can take over 5,000 gallons to produce only 2.2 pounds, hemp takes less than 700 gallons to produce the same amount. It’s naturally pest and weed resistant, requiring less input from farmers while keeping the crop contaminant free. It makes an excellent rotational crop that takes anywhere from 70 to 140 days, growing at a rate of 4 inches a day in some cases. On top of all that, it’s fairly easy to process for the many products it can be used for.
In 2017, U.S. hemp imports—consisting of seeds and fibers for manufacturing—were $67.3 million. U.S. sales of hemp products were $700 million in 2016. You can imagine the benefits for farmers when industrial hemp becomes a regularly farmed crop in a country.
Hemp as a Toxic-Substance Vacuum
A student at Colorado State University has discovered that hemp is “super-tolerant” of selenium. So what does that mean? Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral in most of the U.S. but becomes a nasty environmental pollutant when agriculturally and industrially over-produced.
Gavin Stonehouse, a graduate student in plant biology, set out to see if hemp could handle the selenium. If the plants could thrive in the selenium-contaminated soil, it might prove claims that industrial hemp naturally cleans soils contaminated with toxic substances.
During the experiment, not one plant died, and only ones exposed to high levels of selenium showed signs of stress.
Claims of hemp’s power to clean up the environment come from several teams of scientists around the globe. In Chernobyl in the 1990s, scientists tested hemp’s ability to accumulate heavy metals in contaminated fields. German researchers confirmed these results in 2001, by showing that hemp was able to extract lead, cadmium, and nickel from a plot of land contaminated with sewage sludge.
The potential to clean up the environment and produce commercial products is just another reason to support that industrial hemp is a miraculous plant.
These are just a few of the ways that industrial hemp can help solve some of our most pressing global issues. Partner companies like Ecofibre and Ananda Hemp continue to research and develop products and technologies that harness the natural performance properties of industrial hemp. With all that it has to offer, industrial hemp really does seem like nature’s solution. And with the right approach, one that we could use to change the world.