Thursday, July 17, 2014

Industrial Hemp - a natural treasure map


It was only a fleeting thought that got me (the author) hooked on the subject of the Cannabis plant, its infamous use as a drug, and whether there were actually mysteries to the infamous and controversial connotation. Within the following I was amazed at this ancient treasure trove of a plant, and ways in which could changes our lives, for the better surprisingly! There are endless possibilities regarding the use of Cannabis, including its pivotal use in medical sciences, very different from the commonly known use as a recreational psychoactive drug. Eventually, the interesting chapter of industrial hemp also came up, which ought to become more commonly known for the crucial role it can play, in the spheres of lifestyle and economy from various angles. Here is just a small glimpse of that knowledge:


What is Industrial Hemp?

Perhaps the most crucial thing one ought to ask, when getting to know, what really Industrial Hemp is. Like Cannabis (Marijuana) being used as a drug, the Industrial Hemp is a variant of the Cannabis plant family, more precisely the Cannabis Sativa L. It's primary use is derived from the main stem, which contains the cellulose fiber, which can then be used to make several industrial products such as clothing, fuel, paper, etc. Not just that, even the seeds of the plant can be used in many ways, including as a food supplement for protein and healthy unsaturated fats.  

The main differences between Industrial Hemp and Recreational Marijuana


The main difference as compared to the Marijuana variants include  the psychoactive component (THC i.e Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol) of the plant, other than it's primary use. While recreational Cannabis/ Marijuana contains THC ranging from 6% to 7%, or sometimes even high as 20%+ depending on the particular strain, Industrial Hemp is known to have THC levels as low as 0.3%, making it non-feasible for drug use. On the contrary, it makes Industrial hemp highly useful as a source of products, which by most reasonable means do not have toxic side effects as compared to it's other counterparts.

While recreational Cannabis/Marijuana remain less productive for industrial use, except for select pharmaceutical/medicinal purposes, industrial hemp on the other hand turns out rather useful for making several industrial grade products such as paper, clothing, medicine, bio-degradable plastics, building material, eco-friendly fuel, and a some more which perhaps shall be mentioned later.  Unlike recreational marijuana, industrial hemp has stronger fiber derivatives, which make highly suitable for numerous things. 

Delving deeper, the growth patterns of industrial hemp differ widely from recreational Cannabis/ high THC Cannabis. Unlike the the high THC variety, the industrial set is grown with the idea of having fleshier and longer stems, which in turn would make them more feasible as a cash crop, to derive various product and raw material from. On the other hand, high THC variety, is grown more for the size of its fruit/flower size, from which the drug is extracted from.

Due to nature of its breed, the recreational Cannabis plant is also different in terms of the farming/ environmental conditions. Recreational Cannabis needs a specific set of conditions to grow in; hot,humid, high exposure to light, and an equally supportive nutrient-rich soil. Industrial Hemp on the other hand, can be grown within a larger set of environmental conditions, provided they avail a proper water supply channel and the basic soil nutrients. According to some sources like Hempethics, a lot of the Saharan African arid land can be reclaimed as productive ones, if used for farming Industrial Hemp! This would look to improve soil quality in general, apart from the numerous economic benefits which come as a result of the farming.   





















Historical facts and figures about Hemp


* Hemp has been known to be one of the earliest known plants to be grown and used, in a domestic setup.

* Artifacts dating as far back as 5000 B.C., related to the Yangshao culture, included imprints of the hemp fiber. Some sources say that China has been using hemp since the Neolithic times. 

* Jew settlers from the 2nd century B.C. have been known as cultivators of hemp, the evidence of which can be found in the Mishna (Kil'ayim 2:5).

* During the later half of the middle ages, the Germans and Italians have been known to use hemp in cooked food, by making various Pies and Tortes. 


* The 1st U.S President, George Washington, had grown hemp in his estate himself, and also pushed for it's growth as a cash crop. There is supporting documentation, in the form of his personal diary (year 1765) where he makes notes about the plantation and harvesting cycles of the plant.

* Hemp became virtually illegal in the United States (followed by it's allies) during the 1937 introduction of the Marijuana Tax Act. Some scholarly sources also say, this step was taken due to the influence of business tycoons like Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family

* The Portuguese started using hemp since the 14th century, and during their imperial period, used colonies like Brazil as main production bases. 

*Archaeological evidence from Japan shows that hemp has been used as a food supplement by consuming the seeds directly. More so, hemp had been used as a cash crop for producing paper and clothing material in the country. 

Productive uses of Industrial Hemp

Fuel


The most common bio-fuels like bio-diesel and alcohol based fuels, can be derived from the Hemp plant from the vegetable and seed oils. In fact, the bio-diesel derived from the Hemp plant is also commonly called 'Hempoline'.
Though there have been experiments to use hemp as a source of fuel for vehicles, but hasn't been done on a commercial scale as yet. The bio-diesel and bio-gas for vehicles is made from animal waste, plant waste, kitchen waste, palm seeds, etc. 

Paper


Perhaps it is paper, that comes out as the most commonly used derivative of the Hemp plant. Ever since the art of paper making came into existence, during the days of early Western Han Dynasty in China, coarse hemp paper was in existence. This was however 200 years before Cai Lun is known to have reinvented the process. Cai Lun is known to have made paper making a cheaper process by using cheaper raw material which include hemp plant ends.      
In 1916, a couple of scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, namely Lyster Hoxie Dewey and Jason L. Merrill, also found through research, that hemp paper was more eco-friendly to produce as compared to wood pulp, because of less chemicals used in the process to remove the lignin. 

Clothing Fabric


Hemp has been used as a source of clothing fabric, across cultures and courses of history. Due to the robust tensile strength of the fabric, even boat sail canvases are known to be made from hemp fibers. Recent experiments have also proven, that apart from the commonly known linen-like texture of the fabric, there are far more possibilities now in terms of various other finishes of the cloth, which could also be seen as a substitute for various fabrics.

Building material


Everyone perhaps has heard of concrete, but what about 'Hempcrete'? Well, there have been documented use of hemp fabric construction in the western world, and it is there that the concept of Hempcrete came up, which is composite building material made of the Hemp fibers. On one hand there are concrete like blocks which are made using hemp, but supported by wood and steel, to a stronger structure. 
On the other hand, recent developments have put hemp fibers  at par with most building materials, whereby hempcrete houses are proving to be one of the most handy for the purpose. Evidence even shows that hempcrete depletes the carbon footprint of the building, and can hold a key to building material technology across the globe.
  
Chords and ropes

Industrial hemp was once a common raw material for making cordage which included those varieties, used on heavy ships. However, the use of industrial hemp to make these ropes and chords have decreased over time, because the hemp fabric needs tarring to prevent it from rot, considering the ability to hold water and liquid in the interior capillaries, making it appear dry from outside.  
Hence, for any activity like food storage, or baggage handling, where exposure to water and humidity may be limited, hemp ropes, and cordage could be an useful supplement.

Water and soil purification


Unknown to most, but industrial hemp fiber can be used as a water cleanser, especially where sewage and waste water polluted with toxic chemicals get accumulated. Though this discovery has been a relatively new one, Australian scientists are known to be working actively in the area, and also conducting an experiment at the ultra-toxic Chernobyl disaster site. The process is called phytoremediation, by which the radioactive isotopes can be cleared from air, water, and soil and industrial hemp could be the pivotal material used. 


Author's Note

There were a few ideas behind writing what I have; picking on a subject which may not yet be very popular, putting together an easy-to-understand note on the subject, and perhaps gain by having a new audience to read on the subject and spark some interest. At no point whatsoever, was this piece written from the point of view of being an expert on the subject, as what I have written is barely a tip of the hidden iceberg of the subject. While I wait for feedback on this, I do hope this piece doesn't become an outlet of frustrations, and a playground for grammar nazis.

 Sources: Agriculture Canada/ Hemp Ethics/ Vote HempWikipedia/ IlMMJ/ Consiouslifenews

2 comments:

Bushra Muzaffar said...

Wow! Complete story of hemp.

Wrik Sen said...

This is a story very close to my heart.. Been a passionate believer in the utility of the plant and what good it can do to our economy. The idea was to also bring to light how useful it can be to us, and for people to read it.. I hope it brings about change someday..