What's the first thing that springs to mind when someone says "hemp"? Is it woah, drugs?
Okay, let's talk about that.
Why The US Classes Hemp As A Controlled Substance
In the United States, it is illegal to grow hemp without a license from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). You'd be forgiven for assuming that this means hemp and marijuana are essentially the same thing, since they have identical substance classifications and they're from the same species of plant. You'd be forgiven for thinking they're both narcotics.
You'd be wrong.
Hemp is from the same species of plant, but not the same subspecies. This is the crux of hemp's legal problems, and the source of endless confusion, thanks to the muddled state of the plant's legal status.
Here's why that subspecies difference is such a critical distinction. The substances that give marijuana its intoxicating notoriety are called tetrahydrocannabinoids, shortened to THC. Marijuana is packed with them - usually around the 10% mark, but sometimes, to use the appropriate phrase, a lot higher. The THC is concentrated in resin found in the buds & flowers of the cannabis plant.
And hemp? It's a different beast, both in shape (it's cultivated to eliminate budding) and THC levels, offering a measly 0.5 - 1%. If you tried to smoke industrial hemp to get high, you'd make yourself really ill, as you'd need to smoke massive quantities of the stuff in record time. As an intoxicant, it's one big enormous fail. To compare with our favourite legal stimulant, it's like glugging gallons of coffee as fast as you can, just to get at the caffeine found in a single espresso. And if that wasn't enough of a deterrent, industrial hemp also contains a substance called cannabidiol (CBD) that actively inhibits the high-inducing effects of THC.
Move along, people, absolutely no buzz to be found here.
Cannabidiol doesn't get you high (ie. it's non-psychoactive) - it reduces pain and assists in the relief of a number of medical conditions. Amazing boon to society, right? Alas - CBD is also illegal in the US without a license from the DEA.
What's going on here then? Simple. The DEA has a zero-tolerence policy with the cannabis plant. It's probable that if a subspecies was developed that has absolutely zero THC or CBD, it still wouldn't be legalised. The dice are loaded against all varieties of this plant - even the ones with a proven benefit to society.
That's why hemp and CBD are prohibited substances - not because they're narcotic, but because this piece of legislation is crude and wrongheaded . . . and founded on prejudices that have no rational, scientific foundation.
Hemp Has Been Useful (And Used) For Thousands Of Years
So, enough about what hemp isn't.
Here's what hemp is: one of the most useful plants on our planet.
- Its seeds are a fantastic source of fatty acids, minerals and proteins - no wonder Oprah endorses them as a "superfood". Pictured above: a raw vegan chocolate & hemp seed pie, from Gorilla Food, Vancouver.
- Its oil, as well as being nutritious (and delicious), is non-toxic and therefore a terrific ingredient for soaps, skin creams and moisturisers.
- It makes an amazingly versatile textile - in fact, one of the world's most popular throughout human history. The word "canvas" is derived from the Latin for "made of hemp"; the first Levi's blue jeans were made from hemp fiber...on and on. We have history. Hemp cloth is tougher and longer-lasting than cotton, and growing it is far better for the environment, thanks to a reliance on no herbicides and few pesticides - contrast this with cotton, which uses 50% of all manufactured pesticides. (Cotton also damages the soil and requires liberal use of fertilizers - not so with hemp). Hemp makes terrific handbags, shoulder-bags, shirts, tops, shoes, pretty much any fashion item you care to think of - and it's also quick-drying, making it the perfect choice for these. Its versatility is almost absurd.
- It makes paper. According to the US Department of Agriculture, one acre of hemp makes 4 times the amount of paper derived from one acre of trees. Hemp also grows remarkably quickly, producing crops in less than half a year, compared with the decades required to harvest trees.
- It can be used to make ethanol, ie. biofuel. Hemp oil was used in lamps up to the late 19th Century.
We'll stop there, because this could become a very long list. So let's just finish off with a few choice quotes from America's Founding Fathers:
“Make the most of the Indian Hemp Seed and sow it everywhere!”
- George Washington
“We shall, by and by, want a world of hemp more for our own consumption.”
- John Adams
“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country.”
- Thomas Jefferson
Want to see how Eco Market is promoting the use of hemp? Check out this Love List!