Hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise.
Cannabis, while most often associated with its psychoactive effects, is a dynamic plant. You may be surprised to learn that while the stigma around the plant is undoubtedly a hotly political one, the benefits of the plant are difficult to ignore. Truth is, it seems like the hate toward hemp is purely based on opinion – not fact or science. But to get to this point, it all starts with a better understanding of what cannabis is.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis exists in three strains: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis. Although some people refer to cannabis as “hemp”, this term is one loosely used with several different species of plants, and mainly refers to plants of strong fiber. As Peter Reynolds, leader of the Legalize Cannabis Alliance, notes, “They’re all cannabis…but the constituents of each plant is different.” And he couldn’t be more right.
First: It’s true, cannabis can get you high, and quite a lot of people spend their time and money with this only in mind. Be it for medicinal or recreational purposes, it’s not surprising to learn that millions of people around the world are attracted to the plant for stimulating appetite, reducing pain, or just feeling better. But we’re more interested in the industrial use of the plant.
For example, did you know that cannabis sports one of the strongest soft fibers on the planet? According to Oregon State University, cannabis serves a source for durable, strong plant fibers that works extremely well in a number of applications. Historically, it has been used for centuries. Be it for the sails or ropes for ships or the clothes on our ancestors, it’s undisputed that this plant played a major role in the progression of humankind.
So, think we’re ready to leave our preconceptions at the door a learn about how cannabis can save the planet?
Better for You, Better for the Planet, Better for Business
When it comes down to it, cannabis is better for you, the planet, and business. As a plant, Cannabis “grows rapidly, faster than weeds, and it has to date not been plagued by pests” according to the Stockholm Environment Institute. That means it requires low inputs, fewer agro-chemicals, and less maintenance. The benefits of this plant are so far reaching that – if you’re like us – you’ll be sitting here, scratching your head and asking yourself why we haven’t started cultivating this crop on a large scale. Of course, depending on its purpose, growing hemp can yield different pros and cons. Let’s take a look at a few:
Cannabis for Clothes
One use of cannabis to be considered is that for clothes. Cannabis is UV protective, antibacterial/antifungal, more flame retardant than cotton, and is argued to be three times stronger and four times warmer. So what about in the way of agriculture?
According to a 2005 report (PDF) by the Stockholm Environment Institute, hemp and cotton are battling it out for the title of more sustainable. While organic hemp requires slightly more energy to produce than organic cotton (it is much less intensive during growth, but more intensive during fiber production), it requires about half the land to do so. What’s more, cotton requires about 50 percent more water during the growing season. It would be interesting to see how well it would fare in cotton country – aka. Texas – which is facing a devastating drought.
When considering non-organic cotton and hemp, the picture is even more gleaming in favor of hemp. Cotton is already known as the “direst crop”, taking up 2.5 percent of our land but 16 percent of insecticides worldwide. The bleaching process for cotton is also environmental destructive. Cannabis, as mentioned above, grows faster, taller, and has escaped the plagues that many industrial plants face. Considering this, cannabis easily beats out cotton as a preferred fiber for clothes.
Cannabis for Food, Fuel
Cannabis also yields seeds (which are like achene, or a nut covered by a shell) that can be used for a number of products for humans (and animals). In the way of food, hemp seeds yield milk, oil, and other food products like hemp meal. You can even consume raw hemp seeds. These have been long hailed for their antioxidant properties in addition to their high levels of essential vitamins and minerals. Some even argue that hemp seeds “contain nearly every single vitamin and mineral needed by the body.”
In addition for fuel for our body, though, cannabis can also be used for fuel. As discussed by VoteHemp, “The hemp stalk can be converted into a charcoal-like substance through a process called pyrolysis, and used for power generation and to produce industrial feed stocks…[and] Hemp seed oil can also be refined to produce a type of biofuel.” Unlike corn, hemp biofuel would be less competitive with food supplies.
Cannabis for Paper
Perhaps one of the best uses for cannabis is for paper production. Paper and paperboard are made primarily from cellulose, a polysaccharide. As you likely know, woodpulp – or the use of trees in papermaking – is the most common resource used to make paper. The importance of paper is hard to overstate, and it’s unlikely that we’ll stop using it any time soon.
But trees are one of the poorest sources for cellulose. Trees are made up of about 30 percent cellulose, while hemp can be up to 85 percent cellulose. Plus, “1 acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4-10 acres of trees over a 20 year period,” because of cannabis’ quick maturing process, which can take as little as 4 months (compare that to 80 years for some trees).
When you consider that refining trees means using toxic chemicals to extract cellulose, the case becomes even clearer. But what brings the most weight to hemp is this: deforestation is the leading cause of climate change. The forests of the earth are the lungs of the earth, and we need to aggressively work toward preserving them. By replacing tree-based paper with that of hemp, we may be on the right track for reversing – or halting – the most prolific indicator of the health of our planet: the health of our forests.
Cannabis for Concrete
Hemp can even be used for building materials. Enter Hempcrete.
Hempcrete is exactly what is sounds like: concrete made from hemp. As explained in the film, “Analysis of Hemp and Its Medical Uses“:
The Hemp shiv, or also called the hurd, [sic] is the internal part of the plant. That’s mixed with a lime based binder. With that lime based binder and the hemp, we’ve got a negative carbon footprint. Now, the difference between lime and concrete is that lime you don’t have to heat this up as much. Concrete you have to heat up to almost 3000 degrees, which takes a lot of energy and does very poorly on the carbon footprint…The lime is trying to go back to being a rock – that means this wall is going to get harder and harder, and over time its going to petrify.
The film went on to explain that:
Hempcrete actually sequesters carbon…First of all, any cellulose material – wood, for example, or hemp – takes carbon in during its life cycle, and when it decays, it lets it back it the atmosphere. If you take that plant and put into a wall – like hempcrete – you can sequester carbon…It’s the best in term of building science…When humidity changes in the air outside, the wall can take on that extra humidity and hold it until the humidity drops outside then it will let it back out. In the meantime, because the lime is wrapped around the cellulose, the cellulose won’t rot.
Let’s Choose Cannabis
At this point, we’d like to open the floor for reflection. What were your first thoughts on cannabis? And have they been changed at all considering the industrial use of the plant? What’s more, do you think the beneficial nature of the plant can overcome the stigma of the drug?
To us, the choice is obvious: let’s choose cannabis for a healthier, greener, and more efficient future.
Special thanks to the creative, investigative minds at Blogtopus and their documentary “Analysis of Hemp and Its Medical Uses.” The film served as a great source, starting point, and tool for enlightenment!