I suppose I should have put this out on Tuesday, but I was busy getting vaccinated and didn’t think about it.
Besides, I’m not talking about marijuana. I’m talking about its cousin, hemp.
Hemp is Cannabis sativa L. and because of the close connection, you need a license to grow it. It’s not even legal at all in Idaho, South Dakota, and Mississippi.
And this is bad. Let’s go into a few reasons why we should be growing more hemp. Quite a lot more hemp.
People tend to think CBD oil comes from marijuana. In most cases, it comes from hemp.
There are two really significant chemicals in marijuana. One of them is tetrahydrocannabinol, usually called THC. This is the chemical that gets you high. Then there’s cannabinol, which does not get you high, but does have some (but not all) of the health benefits.
While for some medical purposes (such as increasing the appetite of cancer patients on chemotherapy) you do need THC (Why, yes, it does work by giving you the munchies), for others you don’t.
And in order to keep THC levels low, CBD is normally obtained from hemp, which doesn’t produce nearly as much THC.
All These Wonderful Substitutions
Let’s set CBD oil, which is incredibly useful for many people and animals, aside, though, and talk about the real reason we need hemp:
It can replace so many other things. Here’s a (not conclusive) list:
- Cotton. Look, we all love and adore cotton. But cotton has a problem: It’s an extremely thirsty plant. Extremely thirsty. Cotton can only grow well in very wet, humid climates. And then in many cases it’s taking water away from people. Hemp, on the other hand, while it still needs water, it doesn’t need water like that. It used to be that you couldn’t make hemp soft enough to compete with cotton, and it’s still the case that it’s currently more expensive. But if you’re willing to pay a bit more, then you can get hemp jeans, socks, t-shirts, even underwear.
- Wood. We cut down too many trees, but hemp can produce almost everything a tree can. Certainly, hemp fiber produces good quality paper, and replacing trees for that purpose alone would be good. But you can even get hemp lumber now, a wood substitute put together out of hemp fibers. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have wooden buildings at all, but hemp could reduce the amount of tree harvesting and allow us to plant slower growing native trees in areas that are now being plantationed with fast growing conifers.
- Concrete. Uh, yes. Seriously. You can mix the woody core of the plant with a lime-based binder. It’s stronger and lighter than concrete, it stores heat better (great for cold climates) and has a negative carbon footprint. Of course, right now, it’s more expensive and not everyone knows how to build with it properly.
- Milk. Hemp seed milk and hemp seed butter make good dairy substitutes, especially for people who have issues with nuts and/or soy.
- Meat. I’m not a vegan, but hemp protein is one of the best plant-based proteins out there. You can use it to make tofu instead of soy, which for people with a soy allergy is fantastic.
- Petroleum. Hemp is absolutely great for producing biofuels and fueling biomass power plants. Hemp biodiesel can be used without any alteration. And unlike making it from corn, you aren’t using a food crop in the same way.
- Plastic. And finally, hemp is so versatile, it can be used to make a wide variety of bioplastics. It’s used primarily with other bioplastics to make strong, durable multi-use plastics But one of the best potential uses is to make drinking straws that feel just like plastic straws, but biodegrade in 120 days. Hey, let’s solve that straw problem once and for all!
Hemp and Soil Health
Finally, there’s another reason to grow hemp.
It’s a great rotation crop. Hemp actively improves the health of degraded soil. It can even improve the health of polluted soil through bioremediation (although hemp grown on polluted soil becomes kind of toxic).
By rotating in hemp, farmers can get significant soil health benefits from what is also a useful cash crop. And in most cases any bits of the plant that can’t be used can be plowed in before the next rotation is planted.
Oh, and as a side note? Hemp flowers late, and guess who likes it for their end of season stocking up on high protein pollen?
Our friends the bees. Hemp’s wind pollinated, but bees still like to visit to snag some pollen. And don’t worry, bees can’t get high.
So, yes, we should be growing more hemp. It’s not a miracle plant that could save the planet, but I wouldn’t mind if my next pair of jeans was made out of it.