Written by Nick Olson, ESLLC 2016-2017
What’s poppin’ ESLLC? I figured I’d start out my first blog post of the year by writing about something that I care a lot about, and I’ve experienced is very misunderstood: hemp. Yes, hemp, and I’m not talking about weed, that’s a completely different topic. Hemp is a member of the Cannabis Sativa plant species that causes no psychoactive effects. The fiber has proven to be extremely valuable in the past, but because of poorly thought out regulations (and the resulting stigma), the US has been set back in industry, health and economics, and remains the only industrialized nation to not take advantage of it. In this post, I’ll be (strongly projecting my opinions) going through a brief history of hemp, some health benefits, and practical uses the US could capitalize on.
Hemp before regulation was actually a huge industry in Europe and the early colonies. Hemp was originally grown by the British for its fibers, that would then be used for rope, clothes, canvas, and paper. Some farmers were actually required to grow hemp because the fiber was in such high demand. The industry continued to grow up until the 1930’s when the first round of regulations came around. The Marijuana Tax Act grouped hemp with weed, which is really the birth of the stigma that hemp is a drug. The act also had to pay a tax on the hemp they were growing, allowing big cotton to grow, and eventually (essentially) monopolize the textiles industry (I’ll go over later why this is a bad thing). In 1970, further regulation ensued when the Controlled substances act was passed, labeling hemp as a schedule 1 drug, among the likes of Heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy. Today, industrialized hemp is still technically illegal, although some states allow limited growth for research pilot programs through the Agricultural Act of 2014. The stigma is still there though, so I’m going to attempt to dissolve some of that with health benefits.
Despite the fact that hemp is placed on the schedule 1 list, hemp seeds and hearts are actually very healthy. Hemp contains Omega-6 fatty acids that stimulate skin and hair growth, bone health, and also regulates metabolism. Another element the seeds contain is Omega-3. Omega-3 is not found in many other plants, but has proven to lower blood pressure and your risk of cardiovascular disease (it’s also thought to ward off Alzheimer’s). Among these 2, seeds also contain essential amino acids which improve muscle control, mental function, and cell maintenance.
Among these health benefits, there are many things that the US could take advantage of from this plant. Every year the US imports over $500,000,000 worth of hemp products, but it still remains illegal in most states. To put this into perspective, Canadian hemp farmers are making $250 an acre, whereas South Dakotan soy farmers are only making $71. Looking at the textile industry from afar, we can see a large inefficiency at large. Hemp purifies the soil warding off any weeds naturally, preventing the need for added chemicals. Cotton uses 25% of the world’s insecticides, and 10% of the world’s pesticides. Hemp requires half the amount of water that cotton does, and produces 250% more fiber on the same plot of land. Hemp clothing possesses all the same properties as cotton clothing, and also contains anti-bacterial properties that makes it naturally resistant to mold and odors. Let’s look at another large industry: paper. Tree pulp based paper is quick to break down, but hemp has been used in books for ages. Hemp paper lasts hundreds of years without degrading (which is why books that are from the 1600’s are still legible), and can be recycled five times more than tree-based papers. Hemp paper doesn’t use toxic bleaches in the process, doesn’t yellow, and still remains stronger than its competitor. Hemp is very quick at growing (12-14 weeks), breathes about 4X the amount of CO2 that trees do, and produces 4X the amount of (paper) yield on the same plot of land. This isn’t all hemp is good for either, it’s been used in: biofuels (like corn and algae), vegan soaps, recyclable/biodegradable plastics, and even BMWs (ask me about it!).
So take away the stigma surrounding hemp, and we see it as a viable health food, paper replacement, and a green textile alternative. Think of the global impact if we took all of the cotton and tree-pulp farms and replaced them with hemp, breathing 4X the CO2, producing 4X the (paper) yield, using half the water, and shunning pesticides/insecticides and bleaches. It’s a stigma we’re fighting, and the first step is education. Only through knowing, can we progress as a country to join all other industrialized nations in hemp cultivation. You can consider yourself in-the-know now, and I’d encourage you to tell everyone else so we can move forward together!