What is hemp? Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is a dioecious plant that belongs to the Cannabaceae family – as an interesting fact, hops and celtis are also a part of the Cannabaceae family. Hemp/cannabis can be divided into three subspecies: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica & Cannabis ruderalis. Even though, that every subspecies has different growth properties, all of them contain similar or identical compounds.
Cannabis sativa & Cannabis indica are both photoperiodic subspecies of hemp/cannabis, which means, that their life cycle can be divided into two parts: growth and flowering. Because of that, they can grow much taller (up to 6 meters) than Cannabis ruderalis. Its (Ruderalis) life cycle can not be divided, as it starts its combined growth/flowering process as soon as seeds germinate. As a consequence, the plant is much smaller, as it can grow only a few decimeters in height.
Origin and history of hemp/cannabis
If we take historical records into account, it is written, that hemp/cannabis originates from Asia, more precisely, from the Himalayas. Although nobody is certainly sure, which tribes or people were the first to use hemp/cannabis, it is known, that they were using hemp/cannabis more than 10.000 years ago in the Taiwan area.
At first, hemp was used for pottery decoration, clothing (it is said, according to some sources, that hemp was the first dedicated crop for textile production), footwear, ropes, initial paper forms and as a food source. Hemp/cannabis was thought – by the majority of tribes – to be a gift from gods or a gods treasure and it was used in numerous rituals.
According to known records, hemp/cannabis was first used for its medicinal properties sometime between 2838 – 2698 B.C. in China. The medicinal properties were written down by the then reigning emperor – Shen Nung (The Red Emperor). They were primarily using hemp/cannabis for easing the pain – they were making oils and teas from it. For faster healing, fresh leaves were wrapped around combat wounds.
In approximately 400 A.D. the Yin Pang mummy was discovered in the area of China. This was an important discovery and it’s written in history books as the first discovery and use of hemp bio-plastic. Nowadays, hemp bio-plastic is used for manufacturing car parts, furniture and many other eco-friendly products.
The first printed book – the Gutenberg bible (it is said, that it is the most valuable book today) was printed on hemp paper. Interesting fact – the 1914 10$ bill was printed on hemp paper and the picture on the backside portrays farmers plowing hemp.
Between the 16th and 19th century, people could pay their taxes with hemp. Sometime between that era, it was illegal for farmers to not grow hemp – otherwise, they were sent to jail.
At the beginning of the development of the auto industry, refined hemp seed oil was used as a fuel source, until the oil industry and prohibition “eliminated” eco-friendly hemp. Interesting fact – Henry Ford invented those cars, and also made one from hemp-bioplastic.
Nowadays, hemp is rapidly gaining popularity between constructioneers. The main factors that contribute to the popularity of hemp are: isolation, lightweight material, stretchiness (suitable for earthquake-prone areas) and of course, availability. Hemp was used (around 500 A.D.) for isolation of walls, floors and ceiling in one of 34 caves, that are a part of Ellora caves complex. It is hard to say with certainty when hemp isolation was used for ships, but we can surely say, that it was B.C..
Advancement in technology brought us 3D printers, which can print the smallest imaginable figurines or even houses. Because hemp is considered to be very durable, its use in 3D printing is rapidly increasing.
Hemp/cannabis as a food source
One of the earliest uses of hemp was as a food source. At first it was used by the poor and as a livestock feed, but when people started to expand their knowledge, they found out that hemp/cannabis has numerous benefits to offer. That lead to, that not only poor people were using it, but upper classes started using it as a food supplement.
Hemp seed oil
Hemp seed oil is probably the most recognizable product, that is made from hemp plant. It is produced by cold pressing of hemp seeds, which contain an ideal ratio (for humans) of omega 3 & omega 6 essential fatty acids. They are also rich in proteins, soluble & insoluble fibers, vitamins and minerals.
Organic hemp seed oil can be used on its own, for salad dressing, pestos, shakes and other cold dishes, but it is not suitable for cooking, frying or anyhow exposing to high temperatures, as it has low smoke point.
Benefits of hemp seed oil:
- Reduces inflammation,
- improves heart health,
- reduces PMS symptoms,
- relieves menstrual cramps,
- improves digestion,
- prevents formation of varicose veins,
- eases diabetes symptoms,
- improves brain health,
- improves immune system functionality,
- treats numerous skin related problems,
- improves hair and scalp health,
Hemp seeds were mainly used as a food for the poor and animals. Because seeds can have many beneficial effects, rich people started consuming them. Nowadays, we can find hemp seeds in numerous households, restaurants and market shelves. Hemp seeds can be shelled or unshelled. Today, they are mainly used as an additive to various foods, flakes, salads, protein bars, smoothie-s, deserts, chocolates,… Hemp seeds can be roasted, germinated and eaten as fresh sprouts, or we can even prepare hemp milk from them.
Alike hemp oil, hemp seeds are rich in omega-fatty acids, proteins, dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins, and offer similar therapeutic potential.
Hemp flour and hemp proteins
Wholegrain hemp flour and hemp protein powder are both made from hemp seeds, more precisely, hemp seed cake – byproduct of cold pressing the hemp seeds for making oil. Hemp seed cake is packed with protein, dietary fibers, vitamins and minerals. Then, with further processing (sifting/sieving) of hemp seed cake we can make hemp flour. Hemp flour can be finely sieved/sifted, so the larger particles that contain mostly fibers, are separated. This leaves us a finely sieved hemp flour that is rich in protein – hemp protein powder.
Hemp flour and hemp proteins are both very similar products, with some differences. Flour is rich in dietary fibres (as they are present in larger particles), hemp protein powder, as the name says, it’s richer in protein (which is found in smallest particles of hemp seed cake).
Both products are vegan-friendly, don’t cause any allergies and are great sources of protein. It is also believed (because of their nutritional values) that they are one of the best vegetable flours/proteins that we can find on market.
Hemp and cannabis tea
Cannabis/hemp tea is mainly used for its beneficial effects and pleasant relaxation. You may not have known yet, but there are several types of cannabis/hemp tea that can be prepared from various cannabis/hemp parts. Perhaps the least known today, but used thousands of years ago, is cannabis/hemp tea made from roots. It was mainly used for post-natal bleeding, gout, ulcers, toothache and fever, but it proved to be effective in other areas as well. Tea from cannabis/hemp roots doesn’t contain cannabinoids but contains many other, useful chemical compounds.
There are other types of hemp and/or cannabis teas – young hemp tea, hemp tea made from mature plant (flowers/buds and leaves) and cannabis tea. With young hemp tea, we do not consume as many cannabinoids as with tea, prepared from mature hemp or cannabis, but we consume many more vitamins and chlorophyll, which also has beneficial effects. With young hemp tea, we can help detoxify the body, prevent the formation of kidney stones, improve digestion and many more. Cannabinoids, which can be consumed with cannabis tea or mature hemp tea (for the ingestion of cannabinoids, it is necessary to add a bit of fat to the tea, as cannabinoids bind to it), we can help to relieve and eliminate many problems (listed in the section Hemp as medicine).
Hemp in cosmetics
Hemp cosmetics is the most “Hot stuff” on the market like Donna Summer once sang (except in the countries where medical and/or recreational cannabis is legal). Even though most of hemp cosmetic products have added only hemp seed oil, CBD (or even better – full spectrum extract) is being added to numerous cosmetics. Why? Studies show huge potential of cannabinoids for easing many skin related problems.
Hemp seed oil also has numerous benefits and it can be used on its own (skincare, haircare and nail care) or it can be added to various products:
Cannabinoid receptors are spread throughout the whole body, including the skin. This receptors are “responsible” for effective absorption of cannabinoids that can be found in growing number of cosmetic products CBD balm, CBD face cream,…). When cannabinoids are absorbed, receptors then mediate information to the endocannabinoid system, which can help ease or even eliminate:
Using hemp-based cosmetics is one of the best ways to naturally relieve numerous dermatological related problems.
Hemp as medicine
As we mentioned earlier, hemp/cannabis is being used for its medicinal properties for almost 5000 years. Millennia ago, hemp/cannabis was used as an anaesthetic (Chinese word for anaesthesia – mázui (麻醉) in literal translation means hemp/cannabis poisoning), for removal of blood clots, tapeworm, treating haemorrhoids, eyeball pain, headaches, digestive issues, afterbirth pain,…
Throughout history, knowledge about cannabis and hemp was constantly enhanced. This had led to the fact, that those antiepileptic properties were already known in the middle ages. In addition, it was used as diuretic, antiemetic, antipyretic and also because of its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
In 1800s interest for hemp medicines went sky-high. In the early 1900’s numerous medicines included “secret ingredient” – cannabis. Some years later, the use of intravenous drugs and the invention of modern medicines have set cannabis aside (sadly). Prior to this (and cannabis prohibition), more than 2000 such medicines, made from approximately 300 manufacturers could be found on the shelves of pharmacies.
The isolation of individual cannabinoids and the subsequent discovery of the endocannabinoid system (its discovery is considered to be the second most important discovery in the history of medicine, immediately after the use of sterile technique) led to a renewed interest in cannabis. This led to numerous researches, which only confirmed many beneficial effects of hemp/cannabis, that it was used for millennia. Today’s technology had advanced to this extent, that we can selectively separate individual cannabinoids, which allows us easier “investigation” on their impact on the organism. For the majority of health problems that can be relieved by hemp/cannabis, it is recommended to use the whole (full) spectrum of cannabinoids as they work best in synergy (entourage effect).
With hemp and/or cannabis we can prevent the onset, relieve symptoms and even eliminate numerous problems:
- ADD and ADHD
- Antibiotic Resistance
- Digestive Issues
- Endocrine Disorders
- Epilepsy and Seizures
- Heart Disease
- Huntington’s Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Kidney Disease
- Liver Disease
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Mood Disorders
- Motion Sickness
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Chronic Pain
- Osteoporosis/Bone Health
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Prion/Mad Cow disease
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Skin Conditions
- Sleep Disorders
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Inflammatory Bowel Disorder
Despite the fact that many beneficial effects of cannabis have already been proven and people have known them for millennia, there are still prejudices about the use of cannabis for medical purposes. This is mainly due to long-lasting abuse of cannabis, as many people who hear the word cannabis, associate it with only beeing high. Second and most important factor (in my opinion) is, that pharmacy is afraid of losing its billion-dollar monopoly (at least in most of the countries). But because of growing pressure, it is necessary to search for solutions that will not have a major impact on their insatiable hunger for money.
Hemp, textile and fibers
Even though we can’t say that hemp fibres are the softest ones, we can surely agree that they are one of the strongest fibres that are also resistant to mold, salt and UV light. These properties led to the production of ropes and sailboats (in addition to clothing) for centuries. Because of hemp fibre strength, Chinese developed special techniques and started making hemp paper (it is much more durable than plain paper) hundreds of years ago. Famous painters, such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt, also used canvas made from cannabis/hemp fibres (the word canvas derives from the word cannabis).
As we mentioned earlier, it is said that hemp was the first intentionally grown crop for textile production. Due to the strong fibres and needs of the working class in quality and robust clothes, Levi Strauss made his first jeans from hemp fibre.
Hemp fibre gets slightly softened with each washing, however, majority of manufacturers decide to combine both hemp fibre and e.g. cotton. Interesting fact – hemp can produce up to 250% more fibre on the same area than cotton and up to 600% more than flax.
In addition to durability and resistance, hemp fibres and cultivation to acquire them, has numerous benefits and positive effects on the environment:
- Organic production
- Hemp does not require any pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers for growth. In addition, it cleans, diminishes and maintains soil moisture, which is a great prerequisite for cultivation, not only hemp but also other crops. It is considered to be an excellent renewable resource, as the life cycle of cannabis lasts only a few months.
- Hemp fibres are hypoallergenic – they do not cause allergies and irritated skin (except with few individuals). It is also mentioned that hemp fibres could “kill” some bacteria (including Staphylococcus bacteria) when they come in contact with each other.
- Breathableness and protection
- An excellent choice during the summer, as hemp fibre breathes, absorbs moisture and protects us from UV rays.
Hemp in construction industry
As it is already known, hemp has tens of thousands of uses, and some of them are also in the construction industry. Bricks, blocks, concrete and insulation (hemp wool) can all be made from hemp.
By replacing conventional building materials with industrial hemp, we can also improve the quality of life. But how? Especially in a humid environment where mold often occurs and it can have a significant effect on respiratory system and health, the use of hemp construction material is more than welcome, as it is airy and mold-resistant. Hemp insulation is an excellent ecological substitute for glass and stone wool and has similar insulating properties as the latter.
Hemp vs Cannabis
The most obvious difference between hemp and cannabis is in its appearance. Hemp is usually higher in growth, has narrow leaves, few branches and small flowers. Cannabis varieties are usually bushy, with lots of branches, broader leaves and more compact buds/flowers.
Those characteristics represent an important factor in how cannabis is sown and grown. Hemp is almost always sown only a few 10 cm apart, while cannabis is usually planted up to few meters apart. Hemp usually has a longer life cycle (from about 100 to up to 150 days) than cannabis, whose life cycle is approximately 90 days (depending on the variety).
Second notable and likely the most important difference between hemp and cannabis is cannabinoid content. So, what exactly are cannabinoids? Cannabinoids are terpenophenolic chemical compounds that activate (or should I say bind to) cannabinoid receptors that are spread throughout the whole body.
Cannabinoids can be divided into three groups:
- Endocannabinoids – cannabinoids that are produced in our bodies
- Phytocannabinoids – plant-based cannabinoids that are found in hemp, cannabis and some other plants
- Synthetic cannabinoids – cannabinoids produced in laboratories
One of the major breakthroughs in understanding cannabinoids is definitely the clarification of the molecular structure of the two most abundant (and most important) cannabinoids THC & CBD. That happened in 1963-64 by an Israeli scientist, Raphael Mechoulam.
Most hemp strains don’t exceed 0,2% THC (which is the legal limit in most EU countries), while cannabis strains can have up to 30% of THC. Most cannabis strains don’t contain much CBD (usually even less than 1%), while hemp strains can contain up to 3% of Cannabidiol (CBD). Nowadays, numerous THC & CBD benefits are already known, which is reflected by an emerging number of medicinal strains that can have CBD:THC ratio from 30:1 to 1:30.
CBD and THC
Cannabis was all about being high and THC for decades, but this trend is rapidly changing, as people are becoming more educated/informed about other cannabis compounds, like CBD. Cannabidiol doesn’t have psychoactive properties – even better (for someone who doesn’t like to be “high”), it can counter psychoactive effects of THC (recent study said that in smaller quantities, CBD can enhance psychoactiveness, but in higher, it can counter/ease it). CBD can effectively deal with autoimmune diseases (greatest potential is in epilepsy treatment), inflammation, psoriasis and many of the problems listed above. CBD has enormous therapeutic potential, but we can say, that it has already become a fact that for the vast majority of problems it is recommended to use cannabis/hemp products with a full spectrum of cannabinoids.
Hemp & Cannabis in the future
Hemp has a huge potential for replacing numerous raw materials. The most obvious example is in the production of paper and textiles, as each year about 7 million hectares of forests are cut (also for other purposes). This figure could be much smaller, because, in contrast to trees, hemp grows very fast (it is an annual plant). Also, fibre and paper quality is much better. This is just one example of how we can make a better planet.
The greatest responsibility lies within us – we must educate ourselves, as we can improve quality of life, contribute to cleaner soil (hemp/cannabis proved to be very effective in removing heavy metals from the soil), reduce unnecessary environmentally unfriendly products (plastic bags, packaging, etc.) – all that with hemp. Very sad truth is, that many of those products land in the ocean – there is so large garbage island that it even has its own name, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is said, that it covers an area larger than 1.500.000 square kilometres – we could put 3 Spains in it, and there would still be some room left.
We should respect mother nature and try to give something back, otherwise, what kind of planet will we leave for future generations? Do we really have to say anything more?
Author: L. O.