Hemp: The Ultimate Sustainable Resource

Posted by Bradley Wilkerson on

We live in an era of uncertainty, where money and greed run the world instead of logic and sustainability. Our present population is constantly consuming at an untenable rate, disregarding the fact that future generations will have to live with the world we leave for them. We continue to cut down, incinerate, and deplete our resources while there are energy sources more viable than oil currently available. You may be surprised to know that hemp could aid many of earth’s largest environmental issues.

But first, let’s back up. If hemp is soooo great, why isn’t it widely embraced today!?

The thing is, hemp and cannabis used to be both widely embraced in the United States. Believe it or not, U.S. Drugstores sold cannabis based medicines and oils well into the 20th century. Cannabis was legal for consumption everywhere in the country until 1911, when Massachusetts banned the plant. This set off a chain reaction, leading to the prohibition of cannabis in 26 states between 1914 and 1925.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that cannabis was completely prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act. This act made no effort to distinguish cannabis from hemp, prohibiting the production of hemp on American soil. Though America imports over $36 million dollars worth of hemp seeds and fibers a year for use in manufacturing, the federal government failed to recognize the different between industrial hemp and cannabis (Renée). The best recent example of this ignorance occurred in 2007, when the North Dakota Department of Agriculture requested to regulate industrial hemp farming within its state. The DEA denied this motion, referring to industrial hemp as “marijuana - the most widely abused controlled substance in the United States” (Rannazzisi).

Hemp and cannabis are two fundamentally different plants. The maximum tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of modern cannabis can reach up to 30% whereas hemp contains less than one percent of THC. Therefore, there are no psychoactive effects to hemp. Unlike cannabis, hemp has been cultivated for centuries to not flower. Hemp plants are also male. Therefore, hemp is solely used as a resource rather than a medicine.

So, what can hemp really do?

The hemp plant contains cellulose fibers that can be manipulated for use in textiles, construction, and paper. The fibers are significantly stronger than cotton, making hemp clothing and ropes far more durable than cotton materials. Clothes made completely from hemp are more absorbent, breathable, and cheaper than environmentally-destructive petrochemical synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon – and hemp is biodegradable (Herer).

Hemp can also be worked into a concrete substitute made from lime binder, water, and hempherds. Studies show hemp-crete walls are far more insulating, fire resistant, and even breathable than standard concrete. Concrete production is a leading producer of carbon dioxide, where hemp-crete actually locks carbon dioxide within the material. Hemp-crete could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by alleviating our reliance on concrete.

Hemp can even be worked into biodiesel— thus curving America’s addiction to fossil fuels. Before the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859, hemp seed oil was the most common oil used for lamps. Hemp can be worked into oil without taking environmental risks such as offshore drilling and fracking. Plus, unlike oil, a hemp oil spill couldn't possibly harm the environment as toxic chemicals are absent from hemp oil. Hemp prohibitionists that support environmentally friendly legislation may suggest corn as an alternative resource to fossil fuels, but hemp’s per-acre output of biomass is ten times that of corn. America could replace fossil fuels with hemp-based biodiesel using only six percent of our nation's acres (Herer). Hemp is a miracle plant for that reason alone!

If any fact within this blog post surprised you, spread the awareness! More people need to be knowledgeable about the sustainable properties of hemp.

Herer, Jack. "The Forgotten History Of Hemp." Earth Island Journal 5.4 (1990): 35. GreenFILE. Web.

Johnson, Renée. Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity. Rep. no. RL32725. Congressional Research Service, 2 Feb. 2015. Web.

Rannazzisi, Joseph. “Letter to Roger Johnson, Commissioner of North Dakota Department of Agriculture.” 27 March 2007. Letter. Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington, D.C.. Vote Hemp. Web.

Source for better understanding Hemp and its many uses:

Anne L. Ash. “Hemp: Production and Utilization”. Economic Botany 2.2 (1948): 158–169. Web.

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