Industrial Hemp on the Rise: Here's What You Need to Know

Industrial hemp
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 Matt Anderson Photography, GettyImages

Hemp is a green plant with long, blade-like leaves that each have many small teeth on each side. Its stalk and seeds can be used to make paper, clothing, sweeteners, packaging material, and construction material. It just can’t get a person “high.” By 2016, the industry based on this multi-tool plant was worth roughly $700 billion. While much of the crops are presently imported from Canada or Europe, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress to legalize the cultivation of the plant.

If these laws are passed, the hemp industry will skyrocket.

Hemp’s Traits Compared to Marijuana

Marijuana and hemp are siblings, both species of Cannabis sativa. The part of marijuana that causes euphoria or a floating feeling is THC, Tetrahydrocannabinol. In short, hemp doesn’t have any significant amount of THC, only roughly 0.3 percent, not enough to cause a high. Instead, it consists of several components that are very useful commercially. 

Hemp, Broken Down

Marijuana is nicknamed “weed,” and its long leaves are the heart of the plant and how it is used. This is not the case with hemp. Hemp is valuable because of its seed and its stalk. The outer part of the seed is called the cake, and it is fibrous and starchy. Cake is now being used more and more as cattle feed.

From the seed is extracted oil, which like many oils, has a variety of uses, not only for fuel but in an array of products such as varnishes, paints, and inks.

Below, we’ll discuss CBD oil, which is very trendy now, and one reason for the growth of the hemp industry.

Another component is the nut, which is highly nutritious, rich in Omega-3’s. The nuts are now commercially sold and used in dessert products. In fact, the seed itself is sold, sometimes whole, and sometimes as ground meal.

Some people like to add hempseed meal to muffins and cookies or homemade trail mixes or energy bars

The stalk is the part of the plant that creates the kinds of products many people associate with hemp. The bast fiber of the stalk gets turned into industrial products such as clothing, bags, canvas, and rope.  Other elements of the stalk go to make paper products and cardboard—major uses of hemp—as well as ethanol.

Inside the stalk is thick, chalky substance called hurd. This dense material looks almost like drywall, and in fact, it is used in fiberboard, concrete, and insulation, as well as in animal bedding and mulch

Hemp in the Marketplace

The hemp industry is on the rise. Its reputation as well as its prospects have improved as the benefits of the plant become better known. More and more companies and people are recognizing how hemp is distinct from marijuana. Further, while most of the hemp has to be imported, it is now legal to grow for research purposes in some states, and some businesses are encouraged by the promise of full legalization

The biggest use of hemp (23 percent of hemp-related business in 2017) is the CBD (cannabidiol) oil extracted from it. CBD oil and products derived from it are used essentially as dietary supplements.

While they contain no THC and do not cause a high, they are useful in helping the regulatory system (appetite, sleep, etc.) They also have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The second biggest use in 2017 was personal care products (22 percent); next, industrial uses (18 percent).

Hemp’s Advantages

One reason that hemp is popular among farmers familiar with it is that it doesn’t need, comparatively, a lot of rain or wet soil to thrive. As one example, hemp needs much less water than cotton and gets a much higher yield, making it great for clothing. Hemp is pest-resistant, meaning it doesn’t require chemical pesticides. Further, the growth of hemp naturally aerates the soil with carbon-dioxide. 

However, hemp’s quality in industrial uses may be an even larger reason it is getting more popular.

It works as a nice alternative to plastics since it degrades much less slowly and doesn’t include leeching of chemicals. It is non-toxic and largely fireproof. 

Hemp is a farmer-friendly and relatively environmentally-friendly crop with an amazing variety of uses. Soon, it will be separated in the public’s mind from marijuana, and it will become a staple of American industries.