What is Hemp Anyway?
What is hemp? For those who don’t know the difference between hemp and marijuana, you’re not alone. Much information surrounding the distinct characteristics of the two is vast and can be confusing when understanding chemical makeup, cultivation and hemp’s various uses.
Cultivation of Cannabis
Hemp and marijuana are one in the same. They both come from Cannabis sativa L., yet are distinguished as different parts of the plant. They are genetically distinct and are both used for different purposes. Hemp is the term used to describe the food and fiber characteristics of the plant, whereas marijuana is the cannabis grown with the intention of increasing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency for the “high” feeling.
The cultivation of Cannabis sativa L. determines if the plant becomes hemp or marijuana. Canadian researcher Ernest Small wrote a book in 1979 titled “The Species Problem in Cannabis” that outlined the cultivation difference between hemp and marijuana. He stated that if a plant had less than 0.3% THC, it is considered hemp. Anything above that percentage is labeled as cannabis. The government adopted his claim and it became law.
Male and Female
How cannabis is grown determines whether the plant will be hemp or marijuana and much depends on the anatomy. Cannabis sativa L. grows male and female plants. The flowering top of a female plant is what holds most of the THC. Marijuana is harvested to grow many buds in order to gain a higher profit from a single plant. Fertilization reduces THC content, so when marijuana is grown, the male plant is removed in order for the female plant to yield more buds. When hemp is grown, male and female plants are sewn together in a field where seeds can germinate, creating a stronger, more naturally enhanced crop. The healthier and stronger the stalk, the better hemp is for use as fiber and food.
While marijuana is grown for its THC content and potency, with a higher demand for psychoactive cannabis, hemp is more grown as an alternative resource to oils, ointments, fiber, clothing, construction and much more.
Hemp is the only plant that can be used to completely sustain human life. In replacing cotton and paper, on acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as 2-3 acres of cotton and is stronger, softer, lasts twice as long and does not mold. One acre of hemp can also produce as much paper as 2-4 acres of trees. This includes all types of paper, from writing paper to toilet paper. Hemp also harvests only 120 days after it is planted, whereas trees take years to fully mature.
Hemp seeds have a protein that is more efficient than soybean protein and can be a better alternative to foods that may already contain soybean, such as butter, cheese, salad oils, milk, etc. The hemp seed can also be ground into flour for making pasta, breads and baked goods.
In terms of household items and other life-sustaining necessities, hemp can be used as ethanol, non-toxic diesel fuel, paint, varnish, detergent, ink and various types of oil.
The question arises, if hemp can be an inexpensive, sustainable substitute for harmful synthetics we already use, why aren’t we harvesting hemp everywhere? The answer lies in legality. Since America’s independence up until the late 1930s, hemp was used everywhere. Hemp first came into Colonial America by the British in order to provide fiber for the lines, sails and caulking of British ships.
Hemp continued to be used up until WWI. After the media gained traction with the hit film Reefer Madness (1936), The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 basically put a stop to all things cannabis. The act aimed its political missiles at the narcotic value of marijuana and turned over regulation of hemp to the Department of Revenue, who in turn became responsible for industrial hemp licenses to be given to select hemp farmers.
Though the act was a heavy blow to the hemp industry, what really effected the farmers was the availability of cheap synthetic fibers in the 1950s. The convenient production of cheaper fiber pushed hemp into the dark.
If that wasn’t enough, twenty years later, under the presidency of a man who deemed drugs to be the number one evil of this great country, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 ultimately destroyed the hemp industry. The act classified all forms of cannabis as a Schedule I drug, the most damaging, most addicting drugs, siding marijuana next to heroin and cocaine making cannabis more dangerous, by this classification, than morphine, oxycodone and meth.
This Schedule I title makes hemp illegal to grow in the United States. Currently, products that are on the market today that contain hemp, i.e., less than 0.3% THC, are imported from foreign countries.
We’re quickly picking ourselves up, however, and launching into a neo-progressive era of opening our eyes to the truth about cannabis. Fourteen states now have authorization to legally grow hemp for research and/or commercial purposes. Maybe one day soon we will realize what our ancestors had known for decades, that hemp is a benefit for all.