Hemp is one of the most versatile plants on earth, with a long history of human cultivation and use dating back thousands of years. After being prohibited alongside its cannabis cousin marijuana during the “war on drugs” era, hemp is now experiencing a resurgence as attitudes and laws change. From textiles to construction materials to food and medicine, hemp offers eco-friendly and health-supporting properties that make it an ideal crop for the 21st century. As hemp emerges from the legal haze that has obscured it for decades, it is now poised to make its way into our homes in a variety of innovative ways.
A Brief History of Hemp
- Hemp has been cultivated for over 10,000 years, with the earliest evidence of its use coming from ancient China. It was grown extensively throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe up until the 20th century.
- Hemp fiber was used to make paper, rope, sails, and clothing. The word “canvas” actually derives from the Greek word for cannabis. Hemp seed and oil were also important sources of food and medicine.
- In colonial America, growing hemp was considered a patriotic duty to provide essential materials for the nascent country. Presidents Washington and Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.
- Hemp was a major American crop and industry up until 1937, when the Marihuana Tax Act basically prohibited all cultivation through excessive regulation and taxation.
- During World War 2, American farmers were again encouraged to grow hemp for cordage and parachutes as part of the “Hemp for Victory” campaign.
- In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified all varieties of Cannabis sativa as Schedule 1 controlled substances, effectively banning hemp alongside psychoactive marijuana. This was despite the fact that hemp contains little to no THC.
The Hemp Plant
- Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that contains very low levels of THC (the psychoactive compound that produces the marijuana “high”) and higher levels of CBD.
- Hemp has been bred over many generations to maximize production of long, strong fibers in the stalk and minimize THC production.
- Hemp is genetically distinct from marijuana varieties grown for high THC content. It will not produce significant amounts of THC or exhibit drug-like properties.
- Hemp is naturally pest-resistant and requires less water and fewerchemical inputs than many other crops. It enriches soils and helps remove toxins.
- The hemp plant can be used in its entirety. The stalks and fibers are used for textiles, construction materials, paper, and biofuels. The seeds and flowers are used for food, supplements, oils, and medicines.
- Hemp fiber is one of the strongest, longest, and most durable of all natural fibers. It does not require pesticides or herbicides to produce.
- Hemp fiber can be used to create textiles such as apparel, towels, blankets, and upholstery. It is more water absorbent and mildew-resistant than cotton.
- Companies like Patagonia and Levi’s now incorporate hemp into their clothing lines.
- Hemp fiber can also be blended with lime to create strong, lightweight “hempcrete” for construction, replacing energy-intensive concrete.
- Hemp fiber is also used to produce high-quality paper products, eliminating the need to cut down forests.
Hemp Seeds and Oil
- Hemp seeds are highly nutritious, containing all essential amino acids and essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6. They are a great source of plant-based protein.
- Shelled hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, can be consumed raw, cooked, blended into smoothies or with cereal and yogurt, or used to bake protein-rich breads and bars.
- Hemp seed oil has a light, nutty flavor. It makes a great dressing for salads and vegetables or a dipping oil for bread. It should not be used for cooking at high heats.
- Hemp seeds and oil offer anti-inflammatory benefits and can improve cardiovascular health. They may also help with brain function, skin conditions, PMS symptoms, and more.
Hemp Extracts and CBD Oil
- Hemp flowers and leaves can be processed to extract non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD (cannabidiol), which has shown promise for reducing anxiety, pain, inflammation, seizures, and more.
- Full-spectrum hemp extracts contain CBD along with other beneficial cannabinoids, terpenes, and nutrients found in the hemp plant without any THC.
- CBD hemp extracts are available as oils, tinctures, capsules, and topicals and can be added to foods, beverages, and skincare products.
- CBD derived from hemp is legal under federal law as long as it contains 0.3% or less THC. However, some state laws still prohibit CBD sales, so check your local laws.
- While CBD shows great potential, consumers should be aware that the CBD industry is still unregulated and quality/safety standards vary greatly between brands. Only purchase from reputable companies that provide third-party lab test results.
Hemp for Sustainable Homes
- Hempcrete is a lightweight, breathable material made from the inner fibers of the hemp stalk mixed with a lime binder. It can be used for insulation, walls, flooring, and roofing.
- Hempcrete regulates humidity, resists mold and pests, and remains stable over time. It provides excellent insulation and energy efficiency compared to conventional building materials.
- Hemp bio-composites can form strong, lightweight planks and panels for constructing furniture, cabinetry, and other interior elements of a home. They require less energy to produce than wood, metal, concrete, or plastics.
- Hemp insulation outperforms fiberglass batts by providing higher R-values, moisture regulation, and air circulation while being free of irritating fibers.
- Hemp homes have a negative carbon footprint, since hemp actually absorbs CO2 as it grows. Hempcrete can sequester up to 2 pounds of CO2 per square foot.
Environmental and Sustainability Benefits
- Hemp requires much less water, pesticides, and fertilizer to grow than cotton or wood. It enriches soil quality rather than depleting nutrients.
- Hemp absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows and produces oxygen. One acre of hemp can absorb 22 tons of CO2 per year.
- Nearly every part of the hemp plant can be utilized for food, textiles, paper, cosmetics, paints, biofuels, medicines, and more. There is virtually no waste.
- Hemp products are biodegradable. They break down faster than synthetic materials when discarded and cause less pollution.
- Transitioning to hemp could greatly reduce deforestation, habitat destruction, and the energy-intensive processing methods of conventional textile and paper manufacturing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is hemp the same as marijuana?
No. While hemp and marijuana both come from Cannabis sativa, hemp contains very low levels of THC (0.3% or less), the compound responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects. Hemp will not make you high.
Is hemp legal in the US?
Yes. The 2018 Farm Bill officially reclassified hemp as an agricultural commodity and legalized its cultivation under federal law as long as it contains no more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. However, some states still prohibit hemp farming, so check your state laws.
Can hemp get you high?
No. Hemp varieties contain non-detectable or very low levels of THC, below 0.3%. Consuming hemp seeds, oil, or CBD extracts will not cause intoxication.
Is hemp good for the environment?
Yes. Hemp requires few pesticides and fertilizers. It enriches soil, absorbs carbon dioxide, produces oxygen, and can remediate toxins in the ground. Hemp farming uses less water than cotton or corn and provides numerous sustainable products.
Is hemp safe for human consumption?
Yes. Hemp seeds, oil, and CBD extracts have GRAS status in the United States, meaning they are Generally Recognized as Safe for human consumption. Hemp-derived CBD is not addictive and has no serious side effects. However, pregnant women should avoid CBD.
Can hemp be used to build homes?
Yes. Hempcrete made from hemp fibers and lime binders can be used for insulation, walls, floors, and roofing. Hemp bio-composites can form structural panels and interior elements like cabinets. Hemp homes are energy-efficient, non-toxic, mold-resistant, and sustainable.
After decades trapped unjustly in marijuana’s Schedule 1 designation, versatile and eco-friendly hemp is emerging as a promising crop and supplement for the 21st century. Ancient hemp is new again, and this time it’s here to stay as we find more applications for its uses. From hemp textiles that clean up the fashion industry to hemp extracts that clean up our health, it’s clear this ancient plant’s time has come—out of the haze and into our homes. With proper education, advocacy, and innovation, hemp just may help lead to a greener, brighter future for us all.