Getting you high is just about the only thing hemp can’t do.
Hemp, species cannabis sativa, is marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin. It’s a fast-growing, stalky plant with no more than 0.3 percent THC, the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. It can be grown in just about any climate, and enriches the soil as it’s grown. Additionally, it’s naturally resistant to disease and doesn’t require any chemicals, from fertilizer to weed killer, to thrive.
And, like this plant’s rich history, which dates back millennia, its uses are equally vast. From food to building materials and technology to textiles, this versatile plant may be one of the most useful on the planet. A 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics claimed it could be used to produce more than 25,000 products.
Not only can it be grown domestically, utilizing processes that benefit our planet, it could provide an abundance of green, renewable resources. There are far too many positives to examine, but here are some of the biggest benefits of hemp:
“Cannabis hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life…”
Will Gaudet is a vegan, but his diet is packed full of protein thanks to the hemp seed.
“I use hemp every day,” he says. “It’s one of the best seeds we can incorporate into our diet.”
His favorite hemp snack is a powdered mix of hemp seeds and other protein supplements that he sprinkles on his food. From yogurts and puddings to salads and ice cream, he adds a little bit to top off most meals. In the afternoon it’s a hemp shake or a hemp bar, and in the evenings he’s even started putting his powdered mix on top of popcorn — basically, “you’re kicking ass in the protein department,” as Will says.
“Cannabis hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life,” Jack Herer wrote in The Emperor Wears No Clothes. “No other single plant source provides complete protein in such an easily digestible form, nor has the oils essential to life in as perfect a ratio for human health and vitality.”
Gaudet says it’s “one of our go-to products to keep us super strong.” And it’s not just for humans—it’s also perfect for livestock.
The seed itself has several different uses. The nut can be turned into flour for bread, or it can be used with granola or cereal; it can also be pressed for oil, and it can be brewed.
No, it won’t replace hops, Wendy Mosher, Chief Executive Officer of New West Genetics says, but since cannabis and hops are from the same family, hemp seeds can be used to make beer.
“That’s just going to be fun for beer drinkers,” she says.
Hops and hemp both have aroma molecules known as terpenes, or terpenoids. These terpenes are what make that drink particularly scrumptious, and the cause of that classic marijuana smell—which, incidentally, also makes for good beer.
Hempcrete is a mix of the inner core of the hemp stalk, called shiv or hurd, mixed with lime and water.
It’s a lightweight material used for insulating buildings, and it weighs about a seventh or an eighth of the weight of concrete, according to American Lime Technology, a distributor of sustainable construction materials such as hempcrete.
It’s not a structural material, as the name suggests, and it won’t replace concrete, but it has its own benefits: it’s resistant to pests, mold and fire. And it’s breathable, which is perfect for handling humidity, while also being air-tight.
Plus, it’s grown instead of mined, and it’s non-toxic. Hempcrete can also remove carbon from the atmosphere in a process called carbon sequestration.
Rolland Gregg sees a near future where everyone’s laptops, phones and even Tesla’s will be powered by hemp-based batteries.
These non-toxic, organic and sustainable batteries are currently being tested by Gregg’s company, Global Emergent Technologies.
“This is a game changer,” Gregg says. “The evolution of batteries will allow us to electrify our society.”
He said hemp batteries will allow humans to stop relying on fossil fuels, and will help stabilize the grid. He said they have the potential to act as power storage for things like solar or wind farms.
The hemp-based battery weighs half as much as a lithium ion battery, according to Gregg, and they work about twice as well.
They’re also cheaper. Gregg says it would cost about $300 per kilowatt hour, verses $60 per kilowatt hour for a hemp battery.
“Cars will drive farther,” he says. “Everything will last longer.”
Right now, he’s in talks for licensing with manufactures, and his company is waiting to hear back on environmental safety and performance testing results, which should confirm everything Gregg and his company claim about these batteries.
Imagine Gregg’s world, powered by hemp. Now add in hemp-based plastics. Those laptops could also be manufactured out of hemp, in addition to being powered by it.
“Hemp plastic is the number one material of the future,” according to the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam. “Door panels of certain series of BMW, Mercedes and Bugatti are manufactured using a hemp fibre basis.”
That’s the wonders of the hemp stalk, which is the part of the plant hemp plastics are made from.
“Once the fibres have been removed from the hemp stems, what remains is 77 percent cellulose: the building blocks of trees and plants and a source of plastic that is biodegradable,” according to the Museum.
Using hemp products reduces greenhouse gasses—this goes back to carbon sequestration—whereas other types of plastic cause high CO2 emissions, as well as toxic byproducts.
Using plant-based materials may be the way of the future, but it’s rooted in history. Cannabis sativa is no different.
For thousands of years, humans have been using the plant for fiber and fabric because of its durability, strength and water absorbency.
Historically, it’s been utilized for clothing and other textiles, providing fiber for nearly all ship sails and rigging up until the mid-to-late 19th century. Even the wagons that travelled west were covered with hemp canvas.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created an infomercial, of sorts, during WWII with the tagline “Hemp for Victory,” encouraging farmers to grow the plant to support the war effort. Indeed, farmers did grow the crop—more than 300,000 acres, in fact—to be used for military necessities like parachute webbing, ropes for marine rigging and towing and “thread for millions of soldiers.”
As more research comes in, and the role hemp has played in our past continues to be revealed, it’s clear using this plant is one opportunity humans can’t let go up in smoke.