What is Hemp?
Marijuana can contain up to 30% THC, while hemp contains less than 0.2% (per dry weight) THC. Hemp also contains more CBD, a non-intoxicating compound with medical applications, than marijuana.
What else can it do?
Hemp can be grown as a renewable source for raw materials that can be incorporated into thousands of products. Its seeds and flowers are used in health foods, organic body care, and other nutraceuticals.
Properties of hemp seed
The fibers and stalks are used in hemp clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuel, plastic composites, and more.
Properties of hemp stalk
Last year, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated the total retail value of all hemp products sold in the U.S. at $620 million. Sadly, all of the raw hemp materials were imported from other countries. (More on that later.) Hemp is an attractive rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil, providing valuable nutrients.
Hemp requires much less water to grow — and no pesticides — so it is much more environmentally friendly than traditional crops.
What can’t it do?
Hemp can do a lot, but it can’t get you “high.” Because hemp varieties contain virtually zero tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), your body processes it faster than you can smoke it. Trying to use hemp to put you on cloud nine will only put you in bed with a migraine
So, is it useful?
HEMP FOR PAPER
Hemp has a history of being used for paper stretching back at least 2,000 years. At the time of declining hemp cultivation and use in the UK, paper manufacturers, who had relied for centuries on the recycled hemp clothes, ropes and sails from the navy & other maritime vessels, found themselves losing their most available and suitable source of pulp.
Other fibres used in hemp’s place, including jute, were unsuitable and produced paper of such inferior quality that this process eventually shut down. In its place, paper manufacturers began to use wood pulp, following technological advancements in 1844 that allowed them to do so. Similar to the textile industry, hemp paper was consequently banished to the confines of niche paper markets, such as cigarette (Rober Fletcher) and bible paper, despite being a far more attractive source of pulp compared to wood.
HEMP FOR BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS
Much of the hemp grown in the UK in recent decades has been used in the building & construction industry as insulation and building-block material. The naturally insulating properties and astonishing strength of hemp -when processed using particular methods- make it a viable alternative, in terms of technical quality, to traditional materials. The added benefit of hemp being its strong environmental credentials.
HEMP FOR FUEL
In addition to being able to make paper, the cellulose in hemp can easily be converted into ethanol – a chemical substance used for antiseptics and fuel, among other applications. Political and environmental factors are responsible for increased interest in biofuels (and consequently: ethanol) and as such, there is real potential for hemp to contribute to this growing industry.
HEMP FOR TEXTILES
Despite the existing cultivation of some hemp in the UK, the fibres produced are not used in textiles. Instead, British and Irish firms tend to source hemp textiles from China, Eastern Europe and Nepal. The reason for this is that obtaining hemp fibres that are fine enough for producing fashion textiles (or even furnishing textiles) is difficult and often costly due to the processing methods needed. With that said, hemp textiles are superior to their cotton counterparts in terms of technical quality; some of the properties of the fabric and; the environmental impacts of production.
What’s Happening In America?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill in March 2018 to legalise industrial hemp as an agricultural product.
The Hemp Farming Act would remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances and allow it to be grown and sold as an agricultural product.
While hemp and its more famous cousin, marijuana, are both varieties of cannabis sativa, one of the three main subtypes of the cannabis plant, they’re different in a number of ways.
What’s Happening In the UK?
Frankly, not a lot.
Hemp is a controlled substance in the UK, only grown under a special license that is very expensive and difficult to procure.
This means a lot of hemp found in the UK comes from places like Spain.
What does this mean for the UK? – Well it means we do not have access to a great crop that is good for the environment. It
also means our farmers are missing out on a crop that could sustain their business.
Currently only the Home Office can grant licences to grow industrial hemp; and it’s becoming more apparent that
this is not the best way to govern the growth of this plant. – You can find lots of articles following this online.
The Heyday Of UK Hemp
The cultivation and use of hemp in the UK proliferated from the Elizabethan era (roughly 1550 AD – 1600 AD) onwards, right up to the mid-nineteenth century. This was due to hemp being used in a number of capacities; most notably on naval & commercial ships throughout this time period. These vessels saw the establishment of overseas trading posts and, later, the expansion of the British Empire which, at it’s peak, was the largest in the world. As the far-flung empire grew, its reliance & demand for hemp grew with it.
Hemp was used in many ways including the ships’ sails, rigging, ropes (cordage), sacks (for carrying cargo) and often even the sailors’ clothes & uniforms. At this point in time, hemp was so valuable, in terms of its contribution to the naval & trading successfulness of a nation, that wars were fought over it and, in some cases, pre-emptive strikes were staged on enemies to keep them from obtaining it. This enormous appetite for hemp fuelled many coastal economies and supported thousands of jobs.
Demand for hemp from the Royal Navy and trading companies alike meant hemp farming in Britain was commonplace. During the reign of Henry VIII, it was compulsory to grow a quarter acre of hemp for every 60 acres under cultivation. This was to ensure the supply remained steady and some claim these laws are actually still on the books today, although not enforced. Indeed, the crown also mandated Britain’s American colonies to grow hemp, which they ended up using for their own military and industrial growth against the British Empire.