Hemp is a commercial fibre crop, which is a variety of the plant species, cannabis sativa. Different strains of the plant have contrasting levels of the psychoactive drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp, the low-THC variety, contains less than 0.3% of the chemical. A smoker of hemp would not get 'high' and would more likely end up with a bad headache.
Hemp is annual herbaceous plant of the species, cannabis sativa meaning 'useful hemp'. It is a high yield commercial fibre crop, which flourishes in areas with temperate climates.
Every part of the plant can be used commercially. Its core, fibres, seeds and flowers serve as raw material for numerous products in a variety of sectors: food of varying descriptions, health products, clothing, fabrics, cosmetics, bags, paper, books, carpets, insulation materials, fibre-reinforced plastics, animal bedding, body-care products and aromatic essential oils are all produced from hemp.
Cannabis has high levels of THC in its flowers and leaves, a chemical, which is produced to protect its leaves from sunlight. Southern latitude strains, such as those from India and Africa, are high in THC whereas the northern latitude strains, from Europe and Russia, have a very low content. The low-THC strain (less than 0.3%) is known as hemp and the high-THC strain (more than 4.0%) is known as cannabis.
The blanket ban on the cannabis plant fifty years ago in U.S.A. in 1937 made no exception for hemp, as the two plants look virtually identical. However by the '70s, scientists had been able to isolate THC, which made it possible to prove beyond any doubt the difference between the hemp and cannabis strains.
Hemp was one of the ancient world's most important crops. Renowned for its properties in combating skin and respiratory diseases, it was also used in the manufacture of a wide range of fabrics.
Hemp is one of the world's oldest and most versatile plants. Its first recorded use dates back to the Egyptians in the 16th century B.C. and was domesticated from a wild plant by the Chinese who developed breeding, farming and processing techniques. The fibre was used for textiles and the seeds were used for both food and medicine.
Herodotus records that the Ancient Greeks used hemp to manufacture high quality fabrics and by the 9th century hemp was being used to make rope and textiles in Europe. In the following centuries, the seeds and resulting oil were used as a cure for skin and respiratory diseases, jaundice and colic.
When the art of papermaking arrived in Europe from China in the 14th century, hemp was used in the manufacture of paper during the heyday of European maritime expansion hemp fibre was of vital importance to both the British and Spanish fleets in the manufacture of ropes.
In the 18th century cotton displaced hemp from the textile market and paper was produced from cheaper fibres. Hempseeds, a by-product of the fibre, fell into oblivion along with the stalks. By the early 20th century, hemp had become a niche crop in most industrialised countries in the western world.
Hemp cultivation for food and fibre has more than doubled between 1990 and 1997. E.C. subsides for hemp cultivation were introduced in the early '90s with the first cultivation licenses being issued in Holland, Germany, Italy and the U.K. This re-emergence meets the rising demand from ethical and environmentally friendly consumers for hemp textiles, body-care and health products. Hemp is both biodegradable and non-toxic. A large proportion of world chemical production is used to grow cotton.
"Hemp produces a strong, clean yarn, with a structure that makes the cloth cool in summer, and warm and comfortable in winter." - Georgio Armani
"I believe that hemp is going to be the fibre of choice in both the home furnishing and fashion industries." - Calvin Klein
"Hemp is now the height of fashion." - New York Times
Hemp has been scientifically proven to be of benefit in the relief of medical conditions ranging from extreme skin disorders to cardiovascular disease. Hemp seeds provide the perfect balance of essential amino and fatty acids. These vital nutrients cannot be manufactured by the human body and must be present in our diet to ensure a healthy lifestyle.
Extensive studies have demonstrated that many common illnesses are related to deficiencies or imbalances of specific fatty acids in the body. Symptoms are often related to a lack of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids and their derivatives, and prostaglandin.
Hemp seed oil works by providing the body with high levels of the essential fatty acids alpha linoleic acid. The body to produce a multitude of positive effects on the body then converts these fatty acids. The oil when taken directly has a pleasant nutty flavour, unlike other edible oils. As a dietary supplement it is available in capsule form.
Hemp oil has been scientifically proven to be of benefit in the relief of medical conditions including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome, menopause, rheumatoid, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. In addition hemp oil can be used externally and has proven extremely beneficial to eczema, and psoriasis sufferers.
Hemp oil has also proved to have significant therapeutic benefit for multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer, chronic depression and attention deficit disorder.
Humans have used hemp oil as a beauty product since the beginning of recorded history. A wide range of body-care products containing hemp oil are now available, including soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hand creams, shower gels, massage oils, lip balms and moisturising body lotions.
More than 75% of the fatty acids in hemp oil are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), known for their excellent emollient and lubricating properties. Long-term usage has shown specifically that skin-care products containing hemp oil can reverse dry-skin problems.
Hemp seeds produce oil for cooking, lubrication, fuel, etc. Hemp seed is an excellent source of protein. It's leaves and flowers are also edible.
Hemp has long recognized medical benefits: relieving pain, stress, nausea, and treating illnesses such as glaucoma and asthma.
Cannabis flowers and leaves are also smoked or eaten for many therapeutic, religious and relaxation purposes.
Hemp roots play an important role: they anchor and invigorate the soil to control erosion and mudslides. Hemp can also save family farms, create jobs, reduce acid rain and chemical pollution, and reverse the Greenhouse effect.
Of dried stalk that remain are hurds 77% cellulose that can be made into: tree free, dioxin free paper; non toxic paints and sealants; industrial fabrication materials; construction materials; plastics; and much more! Hemp is the best source of plant pulp for biomass fuel to make gas, charcoal, methanol, gasoline or even produce electricity.
Strands are spun into thread, which is either made into rope or woven into durable, high quality textiles and made into clothing, sails, fine linens and fabrics of all types and textures.
Hemp is dried and broken down into two parts: threadlike fibres and bits of "hurd" or pulp. Each of these products has its own distinct applications
Hemp farmers do not need to use herbicides or pesticides. Hemp suppresses weeds and improves the soil for crop rotation and is therefore well suited for use in organic and sustainable farming. It is also a valuable renewable resource that can reduce our over reliance on cotton, soybeans, timber and petroleum.
Currently the majority of clothes and design fabrics are made from cotton. The mass introduction of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides has helped to keep the price of cotton and other fibre and oilseed crops low. However, as pests have become more resistant to these chemicals, larger quantities are required poisoning both land and water supply.
Hemp grows well without the use of herbicides or pesticides making it more environmentally sustainable than other fibre crops. It is planted so tightly together that no light is left for weed growth and pests are not attracted. A large percentage of the nutrients that hemp uses for growth are returned to the soil as the leaves fall so the need for fertilisers is reduced. It also fits well into an organic crop rotation where soil fertility must be maintained. Hemp's main competitors are cotton (paper and textiles), flax (fibre and oil), and evening primrose (health). All these are grown using large amounts of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. Hemp also provides a sustainable alternative to many oil-based products. These can be extremely damaging to the environment both in terms of waste from refining oil, spillage during transport and disposal of the end products, which are often not biodegradable.
Plastic, nylon, polyester, PVC, cellophane, fibreglass resins and many other common every day products are usually petroleum-based. Hemp is now being used to make plastics.