In an unstable world, we are surrounded by an onslaught of both environmental and social problems. And often, there seem to be more problems than solutions. However, we have one very good solution growing freely throughout much of the world. Hemp, a close relative of marijuana but by no means the same plant (it contains less than 1% THC, meaning there is no way to become high from it), Hemp has been used consistently throughout the ages for everything from food to medicine to textiles and everything in between, as it still is today in various countries. The U.S. however, for various reasons, has chosen to outlaw hemp.
But first a bit of history. Hemp fiber has been discovered in archeological sights all over the world. One of the oldest archaeological relics in existence is a piece of hemp cloth from the Mesopotamia area.(2) The printing of the first book, Dharani, a collection of prayers from ancient China was made entirely from hemp.(2) Guttenburgs bible was printed on hemp, as were many other major printings of the bible. Artists during the Renaissance painted on hemp canvases.(3) The ships Columbus used for his 1492 expedition were fitted with hemp sails and riggings, as was the Mayflower. The first currency of the Americas was printed on hemp. The drafts of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, and Washington and Jefferson were both hemp farmers, Jefferson even stating that "Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country".(2) Many of the first American flags were sown from hemp cloth. Henry Ford built and powered a car with hemp.(2) Americans were encouraged to grow hemp to support both the WWI and WWII war efforts, known as the "Hemp for Victory" campaign.
One of the most beneficial uses for hemp would be as an alternative to tree-based paper. This of course means less logging which would mean less habitat destruction for plants and animals (over 27,000 species go extinct every year,(2) and deforestation is the biggest contributor), a possible end to old-growth logging, less mudslides and fires, both caused by over-logging, a reduction in greenhouse-gases, and in general a vast reduction of the ecological destruction going on in forests all over the country. 40% of trees logged become paper, and hemp because it has a higher yield, roughly four times more fiber per acre,(2) and grows more quickly, could virtually end logging.
Hemp offers and alternative to the other major use of lumber, wood for building homes, etc., as well. Hemp fiber, when combined with resin can be made into composite boards. Composite boards made from hemp are much stronger than boards made from trees since tree fiber is at most ¾ of an inch long where as hemp fibers can run up to fifteen feet long.(2) Hemp boards are also stronger because we have depleted almost all of our old-growth trees (which are the strongest) relying instead on younger, thinner, trees, which make sub-par boards. Hemp is also resistant to fire, fungus, rodents, and insects including termites. The other major uses for wood, pulp, fiberboard, wood chips, planting substrate, and animal bedding, can all be replaced by the part of the hemp plant known as the hurd, the woody inner core of the plant. Hurds are 50 percent more absorbent than wood chips, and the degrade faster in a compost heap. Hurds can also be used for feedstock for chemical products and in many other industrial products.(2)
Hemp also has the potential to produce more than 25,000 environmentally friendly products.(4) Rope, cloth (clothing made from hemp is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter), fuel, furniture, shoes, paints and sealants, makeup, lotion, soap, plastics, inks, insulation in housing, just to name a few. Basically anything that can be made from wood, cotton, or petroleum can be made from hemp. But unlike wood you dont have to chop it dont and do irreversible harm to forests, and unlike petroleum it doesnt have to be pumped or mined out of the ground and shipped by boat and since it can grow in most climates, its not as limited as in geography as oil, combined with other alternative energies hemp could end our reliance on foreign oil.
Hemp also has a higher yield per crop than cotton. Cotton has many natural enemies, hemp has few, which means no pesticides, which means no runoff pollution, toxins in water or soil, and contamination of wilderness areas and other crops. Hemp biodegrades faster than other crops so waste is less of a problem, its also known as a "low maintenance" crop requiring relatively little fertilizer, and acts as its own mulch, meaning it grows very tall very fast and provides its own shade to keep weeds away, eliminating the need for herbicides. Plus, after harvesting the field is left virtually weed free, all of this could save farmers a huge amount of money. Hemp has a deep root system which means no erosion and not only does it not deplete the soil of nutrients like many other crops, but it has the ability to clean contaminants from soil. Because it grows so tall and can be and has a higher yield than most crops and forests, hemp takes less land to grow, meaning less deforestation. And unlike crops like cotton, nearly every part of the hemp plant is usable. It can also grow in most climates.(2)
As a means of alternative energy, hemp (as well as all plants) contain almost no sulfur and other contaminants found in petroleum, so when burned they cause a small fraction of the pollution of fossils fuels. Due to photosynthesis hemp can recycle the CO2 that is puts out, (plant-based fuels use the CO2 emitted when burned in their photosynthetic process).(2) Less pollution, of course, means less of the gases causing global warming are emitted into the atmosphere. And unlike fossil fuels, hemp is renewable.
As a protein source, hemp seeds are outdone only by soy beans. But is does have all the essential amino and fatty acids, or EFAs. Unlike, most nutrients, humans do not produce EFAs by themselves and therefore must rely solely on food to get it. EFAs are only available in a few food sources, fish oil, flax, borage, primose, and of course, in the seed and oil of hemp, at 81% the richest source of polyunsaturated EFAs. It is one of the most complete food sources on the planet, containing high amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium vitamin A, and gama linoleic acid, a vary rare nutrient. A 1992 scientific study found that a diet of hemp seed causes the levels of total cholesterol and blood pressure to drop dramatically.(1) Hemp can be made into many different food stuffs, just as many as soy beans, yet hemp is easier to digest.
Hemp has been historically used very often as a medicine. Over the centuries it has been used to treat such ailments and asmtha, digestive disorders, neuralgia, insomnia, depression, migraines, inflammation, and to facilitate childbirth, stimulate lactation and relieve menstrual cramps.(2) And while not all of these benefits of hemp have been scientifically proven, there is no doubt in scientific communities about its possible use to treat various disorders. For instance when combined with herbs, hemp seed oil can be highly effective in treating cuts, infections, rashes, and insect bites.(1) There are many studies being conducted to examine the medicinal uses of hemp. For example, its being studied as a treatment to boost immune system in HIV/AIDS, and cancer patients. A very commonly cited fact about its benefit as a medicine is how safe it is. It has a 40,000 to 1 lethal to effective does ration as opposed to something like Tylenol, which has only a ten to one ratio.(2)
In many countries, fortunately, hemp is legal. Hemp is currently being harvested in over 30 nations including Canada, Japan and the European Union. It is also legally recognized as a commercial crop by NAFTA and GATT. U.S. businesses and manufactures import over 1.9 million pounds of hemp fiber, 450,000 pounds of hemp seeds, and 331 pounds of hempseed oil per year.(4) There is a budding movement for the full legalization of hemp in this country. For the past ten years or so, many state have been passing or trying to pass legislation making it legal for farmers and scientists to grow hemp, either for research purposes or for industrial. Currently, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia all have laws allowing for the cultivation of hemp. Unfortunately, even in states where growing hemp is legally sanctioned it is still necessary to get approval from the DEA, which has continued to turn down nearly every request for the growth of hemp, as well as doing everything in their power to block legislation permitting it.(4) A common argument used by government organizations to justify this is that it would be very easy for a farmer to grow marijuana alongside hemp plants since there is no way to tell them apart by sight. This argument has no merit, however, since hemp being the stronger of the two plants, would cross-pollinate with marijuana, and engulf it, making it impossible for marijuana to be grown anywhere in the vicinity.(3)
So what can you do to help legalize hemp? Because there is so much false propaganda and mis-information about hemp, educating yourself and others is one of the most important things. Supporting the small but budding hemp industry is important too. Most natural food stores carry hemp foods and many natural clothing stores and other retail stores are carrying more and more hemp merchandise. And while these products can often be expensive the only way they will ever go down is when there is more demand, therefore more suppliers. There are many on-line stores selling hemp merchandise: www.dashhemp.com, www.thevegetariansite.com, www.hempplanet.com, www.internatural.com , www.abundantearth.com, www.hempfair.safeshopper.com (sells paper, clothes, beauty products, etc.). One very good organizations working towards legalizing hemp is NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) at www.norml.org. A good website with links to many pro-hemp organizations is
www. http://www.artistictreasure.com/hemp_organizations.html. A very comprehensive website on hemp is www.greeninformation.com/hempindex.htm.