Now that hemp can be grown and sold across state lines, its wide-ranging benefits are being rediscovered. While legalization of marijuana may still be a divisive topic, legalization and promotion of hemp agriculture should not be.
Hemp, like marijuana, is a species of cannabis. Unlike marijuana, it has only trace amounts of the psychoactive substance THC. Hemp will not get you high, unless perhaps you smoked an entire bale of it.
Hemp is one of the earliest crops domesticated by humans. For over 10,000 years it has been valued for its solid fibers, nourishing seeds and medicinal properties. Then in the 1920s in the US, as cannabis became popular, especially with black and Hispanic populations, the Puritan lobby (which had failed to maintain its alcohol prohibition) launched campaigns to demonize the plant.
There was a brief hiatus in the demonization of hemp during World War II, when farmers were encouraged to grow as much as possible in order to create ropes for the US Navy. After the war hemp again became illegal to grow.
Hemp’s status as an illegal drug benefited the cotton and petroleum industries. When hemp was lumped with the fear intentionally stirred up around marijuana use, these industries saw decreased competition for their products.
Hemp is a good source of fabric, using less water to grow than cotton and holding up and breathing better. The biodegradable hemp plant makes a more eco-friendly plastic compared to the petroleum-based plastics that are so harmful to the planet. Hemp can be used to form a kind of concrete for wall construction that’s mold-resistant and works as an insulator. And hemp is full of vitamin E and vitamin A, making it a great base for soap that doesn’t dry out the skin.
As a crop, hemp is excellent at trapping carbon in the soil - helping regenerate the soil and cutting down on erosion.
Hemp is currently best known as the source of cannabidiol oil (CBD), a natural remedy with tremendous health benefits, now legal in most states. It is commonly used to reduce anxiety. CBD helps with sleep difficulties, both falling asleep and staying asleep. A study suggests that it might lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. The strongest scientific evidence is for its benefits in treating serious childhood epilepsy syndromes.
We need to get serious about distinguishing hemp-based CBD from marijuana-based CBD in order to more quickly gather high-quality data about the benefits of this important plant. We need to understand more about the range of its substantial benefits and how to dose it properly. Right now it is an unregulated supplement, which makes it difficult to know what you are actually buying.
Since the 1990s, Europe and Canada have revived hemp as a major crop. Until a few years ago, US manufacturers imported hemp from other countries. As U.S. farmers faced going out of business because of declining agricultural prices, they missed out on the opportunity to benefit from growing this sturdy, pest-resistant, and profitable crop.
Hemp was removed from the federal controlled substance list in 2018. Let’s clear up the confusion about this plant and help create easy access for farmers to grow a lucrative and environmentally-friendly crop. My home state of New York just recently took a step in the right direction. In June of this year, a bill was passed which would enable New York farmers to apply for licenses to grow hemp, enabling them to diversify and take advantage of the expanding hemp market, especially for the increasingly popular CBD.
Hemp is an important example of how fear and negative associations can lead to misunderstanding and missed opportunities. This wonder plant has the potential to heal people and the environment, provide eco-friendly alternatives, and create jobs and meaningful work.
For more information, here is a wonderful video put out by Patagonia that is well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy3HFRj1GOM