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Cannabis & Sustainability: Is Hemp the Key to a Sustainable Future?
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Cannabis & Sustainability: Is Hemp the Key to a Sustainable Future?

Cannabis has been around with us for centuries. There are two types of cannabis: marijuana and hemp. We are mostly familiar with marijuana but its cousin, hemp, its popularity has been steadily growing in recent years.

Many regard hemp as the magic plant of the 21st century. It is for a good reason. Over thousands of years, humans have discovered many great benefits from the hemp plants. It can easily be transformed into a wide variety of goods and products. Cannabis, hemp, CBD and its other derivatives have so many uses, that its often a mystery why it isnt more widely used. But thats

The plant stems are used for fiber production. It is known as hemp fiber. We use it to make paper, clothing, rope and building materials. Another important use of the hemp fiber is as a plastic replacement. This is called hemp bioplastic.

The hemp seeds can get turned into organic protein and flour. Its leaves and flowers are the main sources of hemp oil and CBD extract. The hemp-plant magic doesn’t just stop there. The whole plant can be used to feed livestock and make biofuel/bioethanol.

Hemp cultivation is now showing signs of proliferation as the world begins to recognize the myriad benefits from the hemp plant.

The growing call to protect our fragile environment has prompted many countries to explore for more benefits from the hemp plant.
Three areas have particularly seen a sharp rise in hemp research and development: North America (Canada and the United States), South Africa and Israel.

These countries embrace the change in policy that encourages more hemp farming and production by using the economically sustainable methods.

This article will explore the wide range of benefits from the hemp plant (and if even more curious, visit one of the many cannabis events around the world). We will also discuss the sustainability of hemp cultivation and production in all nations mentioned earlier. The key is to answer this simple question – Is hemp the key to sustainable future?

What Is Hemp?

Hemp (sometimes called industrial hemp) is a form of cannabis. It has been around for thousands of years. The hemp plant (Cannabis Sativa) was one of the fastest-growing plants as well as one of the first plants used to produce fiber since over 10,000 years ago. 

Some view it as a super-plant! All parts of the hemp plant can be transformed into household goods and products. It is also considered an amazing food source i.e. hemp protein and hemp flour.

Hemp fibers are used to produce textile, fabric, plastic, biodegradable plastics, building insulation, hempcrete (bio-composite material for concrete) and biofuel.

The hemp plant is also a great source for hemp oil and CBD oil. Both products have given way to the new frontier of hemp cultivation. It’s meant to satisfy a growing demand for both hemp oil and CBD worldwide. 

Hemp VS Marijuana

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis. By taxonomy, the cannabis is the genus (higher classification-hierarchy). The cannabis genus contains two species:

Species I = hemp

Species II = marijuana

Both species (hemp and marijuana) differ in their morphology, chemical makeup, and usage. Marijuana produces psychoactive side effects while hemp has no psychoactive properties.

What differentiates between the two is the amount of THC both species can yield. Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the intoxicating cannabinoid found in marijuana. This is the chemical that creates psychoactive side effects. Hence, this is why smoking marijuana gets you stoned and high.

Conversely, the hemp plant doesn’t produce a significant amount of THC. Not enough to get you high unlike when smoking or consuming marijuana.

The hemp plant is a great source of the non-intoxicating and medically-rich cannabidiol or commonly known as CBD.

Countries around the world differentiate hemp from marijuana by measuring the amount of THC-yield per weight of a dry cannabis plant (both hemp and marijuana plants).

In the United States, the industrial hemp plant must not contain more than 0.03% THC. The European Union limits to 0.2%. The U.K. put a threshold at zero unless growers have a cultivation license to grow industrial hemp with no more than 0.2% THC.

Hemp – the Magic Crop

Hemp is perhaps one of the most versatile plants on the planet. The prolific use of hemp and large scale cultivation of it began in China in a little more than 10,000 years ago.

Throughout history and well into the future, hemp has and will continue to surprise us with because of its wide range of benefits. Here is what hemp, the magic crop, can do:

Food Source

Hemp seed is a super-food. The hemp-seed extract is so nutritious and contains a high level of protein. They are used to make delicious food and other non-dairy products i.e. hemp-seed milk, cheese, bread, and dips.

The whole hemp seed can be used to feed livestock and is a great source of dietary fiber supplement for humans.

Hemp seed kernels are a great alternative to nut. This is an excellent solution for a person with a nut allergy.

Hemp Oil

Through extraction and cold-pressed, hemp seed can yield the highly nutritious hemp-seed oil. The unrefined hemp-seed oil contains a great source of essential fatty acids (EFAs).

Hemp-seed oil has a similar flavor and consistency to olive oil. It is a healthy and nutritious alternative to other types of cooking oil.

The hemp-seed meal is leftover after the oil has been extracted from the hemp seed. After the oil has been pressed from hemp seeds, the remaining seed meal is still packed with high nutritional value. That’s because it contains 25% protein by weight.

Seed meal can be used as animal feed, ground into flour or protein powder and is used in the brewing of hemp beer.

The essential fatty acids (EFAs) in hemp oil also provides many medical benefits. It is used to treat a variety of skin condition i.e. eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, etc.

The hemp oil can also help protect the brain against inflammation. Research has shown that hemp-seed oil contains a compound called polyphenol. It may play a significant role to protect the brain.

Hemp CBD

There is another important non-intoxicated medicinal compound found in the hemp plant. It is called cannabidiol or commonly known as CBD.  

Growers extract CBD oil from the stalks, leaves, and flowers of the hemp plant. These parts of the hemp plant have the highest concentration of CBD.

CBD oil doesn’t get you high unlike its cousin – THC.

It is known for CBD oil to be a good remedy for muscle tension, treating inflammation and pain management.

Because of myriad medical benefits from CBD, countries, and regions around the world have begun to ease the tight control over hemp cultivation.

Hemp CBD can be added to many food, beverage, beauty and wellness products. It is a new market niche that has the potential to explode very soon. In fact, Worldwide sales of cannabis-based products are expected to reach $32 billion by 2022.

Hemp Fiber

Hemp fiber has been around for thousands of years. It is used to produce textiles, rope, paper, building materials, and other industrial materials.

The growing environmental concern over the past few decades has influenced us to look for the replacement of plastic. Fortunately, the hemp fiber and hemp waste can now be transformed into biodegradable material – hemp bioplastic.

Hemp Bioplastic

Hemp bioplastic is a sustainable solution to the green packaging market. It is now a brilliant alternative to petroleum-based plastic.

Bioplastics, meaning any plastic that is plant-based, biodegradable, or both, replaces fossil-based carbon in plastic with carbon from renewable sources such as corn or hemp

Thanks to a confluence of consumer demand for more sustainable goods, corporate initiatives, and falling manufacturing costs, production of bioplastics is poised to take off. By 2020, bioplastics are predicted to control 5 percent of the plastics market, rising to 40 percent by 2030 globally.

Hemp Concrete

Hemp concrete (hempcrete) is a bio-composite made from the inner core of the hemp plant. It is an alternative to the traditional concrete but with a lighter weight and more environmentally  friendly.

Hempcrete is not used as a structural element but as an insulating fill in-between frames and outer structure. It is commonly used for small building construction.

Hemp Biofuel

There are many types of energy crops such as wheat, soybean, maize and sugarcane. Hemp is now being added to the list as well.

Two types of hemp biofuel are biodiesel and ethanol. Once the oil is extracted from hemp seeds, it then goes through further steps to create hemp biodiesel suitable for diesel-powered automobiles.

Hemp can also be turned into ethanol through various methods of fermentation. Hemp is a better, more viable choice for ethanol production than other energy crops. That is because hemp is not solely a food crop, unlike soybean, corn and sugarcane.

The Change in Attitude and Policy toward Cannabis

There has been the worldwide-growing acceptance of cannabis consumption in the past decades.

Countries such as Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, as well as some states in the U.S. have legalized cannabis in both medical and non-medical use.

The EU, UK, Australia, Thailand, and parts of South America have favored the legalization of cannabis consumption for medical use only. That means you will need a prescription to obtain medical cannabis.

The global acceptance of marijuana is still crawling but not for its cousin – hemp.

As the growing concern over our fragile environment begins to escalate, hemp is now seen as the viable crop of the future.

The rising global demand for CBD, bioplastic, and biofuel from hemp is a good indication that companies around the world will benefit from these multi-billion-dollar businesses.

Next, let’s have a look at the diverse views and policies on hemp in some cannabis-friendly nations.

North America (The United States and Canada)

The recent passage of the US Farm Bill in December 2018 made it legal for hemp cultivation in the United States. The marijuana, however, remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

In other words, hemp is now legal but marijuana remains illegal on the federal level in the United States.

Hemp CBD is legal as long as the amount of THC is lower than 0.03% in the US. For this reason, hemp cultivation is now seen as the newly-discovered gold mine for many US businesses.

In Canada, the passage of the Cannabis Act in 2018 has paved the way for large scale cultivation of industrial hemp.

The United States is the largest trading partner with Canada. It’s projected that CBD consumer sales in the US will likely rise to above $1.8 billion by 2022. For this reason, we can expect a massive influx of Canadian CBD-based products to the US market for more years to come.

On the environmental note, a projected increase in industrial hemp cultivation in both the U.S. and Canada will influence and accelerate R&D on hemp bioplastic and hemp biofuel.

Both countries have been looking for ways to get rid of fossil-fuel dependency. Industrial hemp is a new and promising frontier to achieve the ambitious goal.

Israel

Cannabis for medical use has been legally permitted in Israel since the 1990s. It wasn’t until 2018 for marijuana to be partially decriminalized  for non-medical purposes.

The decriminalization of cannabis has allowed hemp cultivation to come back to Israel for the first time in 75 years.

Hemp growth is allowed today in 32 states worldwide, especially in Canada and Europe. Following the restricting ease on medical cannabis in 2018, the Israeli Agriculture Ministry announced the one-year project aiming at the cannabis-cultivation experiment.

Its ultimate goal is to take part in the projected $50 billion global medical cannabis market. The cannabis plant will be tested for producing oil that serves as a food supplement and for medicinal purposes.

Israel’s temperate climate is proven suitable for hemp cultivation. As a small and independent nation, exportation brings in a significant amount of revenue to support its vibrant economy. That also goes for the cannabis export as well.

The country is poised to become one of the biggest medical-cannabis exporters in the world. Its biggest customers will be from the other side of the Atlantic: Canada and the United States.

South Africa

South Africa is on the same path as Israel to capture a slice of the global medical-cannabis market.

It is illegal to cultivate hemp in South Africa as of today. Hemp production is only allowed for research purposes under strict permission from the National Department of Health.

The South African government is currently developing a guideline aiming to establish the hemp industry in the country.  

Is Hemp the Key to Sustainable Future?

There is no doubt that hemp is the key to a sustainable future. The millennials generation will likely agree with the above statement.

The millennials are slowly becoming the world’s largest group of consumer. They are increasingly show signs of a steady growing income and spending power. Their major concerns are about the environment, sustainability, responsibility, and self-care. Hemp fits in so well to all these requirements.

Hemp has so many amazing benefits. Hemp bioplastic, and hemp concrete and hemp biofuel all have a promising future. They are good for the environment and has the potential to turn into the billion-dollar business globally.

Hemp is also an amazing food source. The hemp plant thrives in a harsh environment and therefore, there is no need for deforestation to pave way for hemp cultivation.

Hemp oil and CBD is also slowing making its way to the mainstream. We may eventually see hemp CBD acting as a secret ingredient in many brands of wellness food and beverage in every corner of the world.

There are more great benefits from hemp that are yet to be discovered. This magic crop has amazed us for generations and will certainly continue to remain that way well into the future.

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