Exploring the Pros and Cons of Hemp Products
Hemp, a plant with a long and storied history, is making a comeback in various industries. Kind of like cauliflower. This segway back into the public eye is due to its unrivaled sustainability, environmental impact, versatility, strength and durability, and health and nutrition benefits.
However, like any other substance, hemp is not without its challenges and misconceptions, chiefly revolving around legal and regulatory issues. Let’s take a dive-
The Pros of Hemp
Hemp is often hailed as one of the most sustainable crops on the planet. Being a naturally resilient plant, hemp requires little water and has built in defense mechanisms which curb the need for herbicides and pesticides. Unlike cotton, hemp doesn't deplete the soil of essential nutrients and, in fact, can improve soil health over time.
Hemp's sustainability is rooted in its ability to thrive in various climates, which means it can be grown in many regions, reducing the need for long-distance transportation. This is especially beneficial to regions facing water scarcity and food insecurity.
Hemp cultivation has a significantly lower environmental impact compared to many other crops. Studies show that hemp plants absorb more carbon dioxide than most trees, making it an excellent carbon sequester. Carbon sequesters are critical as their CO2 absorption can help slow down climate change (yes, it’s real).
Other plants that produce textile fibers are often grown as ‘monoculture’ crops meaning that specific crop is the only plant grown in an area. Studies on monoculture crops show that they can lead to the degradation of soil creating an increased need for herbicides and pesticides as well as fertilizers as the soil becomes depleted of its nutrients.
Hemp on the other hand, can be used in phytoremediation, a process where it's planted in contaminated soil to remove toxins and pollutants, further enhancing its environmental benefits. In short, hemp is like a big ass Biorè strip.
Versatility and Ranges of Uses
Hemp is one of the most versatile plants on the planet, with a wide range of applications. Since it first dropped circa 3000 B.C., people have been using hemp in a multitude of ways. Some uses have included: including fabric, paper, biofuels, cosmetics and biodegradable plastics to name just a few.
- Cosmetics like the e.l.f. 'Cannabis Sativa' line
- Hemp printing and rolling papers like those by RAW Organic
- Biofuels derived from hemp seed oil
- Bioplastic containers designed to be biodegradable or compostable
Hemp seeds are a nutrient dense source of food and can be processed into oil, flour, and protein powder, making it so vegans everywhere can get just as buff as the carnivores. Vegans aside, given that water and food scarcity often go hand in hand, hemp seeds can provide a source of fatty acids and essential amino acids.
Strength and Durability
Hemp fibers are known for their increased strength and durability, when compared to other common textiles fabrics like cotton. When used in textiles, hemp fabric creates long-lasting, robust products.
Have you heard of hempcrete? No, we didn't make it up. ‘Hempcrete’ is a biocomposite material composed of hemp stalks, lime and sand making for a unique, more sustainable alternative to traditional concrete. In addition to being a more earth-friendly building material, industrial hemp building materials are resistant to pests and mold and have excellent insulation properties.
Health and Nutrition Benefits
In addition to providing a nutrient dense, vegan friendly protein powder, hemp seeds are a nutritional powerhouse- not to be confused with the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. They are rich in essential fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, which are critical diet components for heart, brain and body. Hemp oil is known for its potential anti-inflammatory properties and can be used in cooking or as a dietary supplement.
CBD is another by product of hemp that is known for it's medicinal properties. CBD products can hemp with anxiety and lower blood pressure. The strain 'Charolettes Web' is probably the most recognized name people associate with CBD, largely due to the waves it made in 2013.
In a documentary called 'Weed', CNN featured a young girl named Charlotte that had Dravet Syndrome resulting in up to 300 seizures per a month. By treating their daughter with high CBD, low THC variety, they saw a drastic improvement in her health. Because it was the early 'aughts, Florida legislative bodies were slow to move on moving a bill to legalize low THC strains. Due to medical marijuana being legal in Colorado, the state became a haven for medical refugees seeking to treat debilitating conditions, often in children.
If you ever find yourself in the Colorado Springs area, we highly recommend Slice 420. Not only is the pizza the best in the city, when you chow down you are supporting their mission to "further efforts that would give all individuals the much-needed freedom of choice regarding medical treatments, specifically as it relates to alternative medicine for children." (Not an ad. We just really like their pizza and mission.)
The Cons of Hemp
Legal and Regulatory Challenges
Picture it- the United States, 1937. A bunch of rich, old white dudes are gathered around a table, brainstorming ways to make sure they stay rich. Next thing you know, we have the Marihuana Tax Act. This Act all but outlawed the cultivation of hemp. It's association with cannabis with THC led it be classified as a Schedule I controlled substance for decades, making its cultivation and use illegal. Thanks Drug Administration.
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production but imposed strict regulations and licensing requirements. The legal landscape for hemp varies greatly from one place to another, causing confusion and hindering its full potential. Hmm, crazy. Kind of like cannabis.
Misconceptions and Stigma
Did you know Reefer Madness contributed to the passing of the Marihuana Tax Act? Hysteria surrounding anything relating to the cannabis plant family has almost become a staple of American culture. That and preserving the interests of the elite.
Anyways, hemp has long suffered from a history of misconceptions and stigma, primarily due to its association with its cool cousin, marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana come from the Cannabis plant family, but they have vastly different chemical compositions. Hemp contains minimal THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound that differentiates itself from marijuana.
Nevertheless, hemp has been guilty by association for decades. Because of its criminalization, the uses for the plant have been less mainstream than other fibers and materials like cotton and plastic. Since monoculture crops (cotton) and synthetic materials (plastic) have become staples for most Americans, hemp is going up against long standing consumer staples.
Lack of Infrastructure and Investment
As a result of its criminalization in 1937, the hemp industry's growth was stunted. Still in its infancy compared to well-established industries like cotton or petroleum, hemp has struggled to make its way into the mainstream arena. Hemp lacks the infrastructure for processing and manufacturing hemp derived products to scale. Because of its salacious history and lingering misconceptions, the funding for research into hemp has also been slow to evolve.
Like we said above, hemp has long been assumed to be guilty by association given its close relationship to marijuana. Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level and investors still perceive there to be a substantial risk by being associated with anything in the cannabis plant family.
Challenges in Harvesting and Processing
While hemp is a robust plant, it requires specialized equipment for harvesting and processing. Because traditional farming equipment is not suitable for hemp cultivation, many farmers face significant financial hurdles when replacing other crops with hemp. We had never looked up the cost of farm equipment until right now and damn, John Deere must be loaded.
Compounded with the time and money needed to process hemp into usable materials, farmers face a unique set of hurdles if they want to transition to hemp cultivation. While some grant and loan funding has become available to aid in the production of hemp, the capital needed to farm hemp of a large scale remains lacking.
Market Competition and Pricing
Given its prohibition for the better part of 70 years, hemp faces stiff competition from other materials and crops in various industries as it tries to make a name for itself. The clothing and textile markets, for instance, are dominated by cotton, polyester, and nylon to name a few, all of which have become consumer staples.
In addition to consumer recognition, organic and synthetic textile materials are able to be produced at a fraction of the cost of hemp, imposing yet another barrier to its entry into the mainstream market. Unlike fast fashion, hemp clothing does not presently have a price tag that enables it to compete in the everyday market.
Much like us in elementary school, hemp has immense potential if we allow it to be unlocked. Offering numerous advantages ranging from sustainability and environmental impact to versatility, strength, and health benefits, hemp is the full package you’ve been hoping to find in a partner. Its versatility, specifically, is without rival, as it can be used in seemingly every industry in some way.
However, there are significant obstacles to overcome, including legal and regulatory challenges, misconceptions and stigma, a lack of infrastructure and investment, challenges in harvesting and processing, and market competition and pricing issues.
Evidence clearly supports the positive benefits of hemp but realizing its full potential requires a concerted effort from governments, businesses, and the public to address these challenges. Some steps that would need to be taken are-
- Reevaluation of legislation must be reevaluated to ensure hemp can be cultivated efficiently and on mass scale.
- Introduction of studies into educational campaigns to dispel myths and destigmatize hemp.
- Financial investment in research, development, and infrastructure to capitalize on the wide range of hemp uses.