Hemp – The Misunderstood Super Crop
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Sometimes, the whole family gets tainted because of a black sheep. This is exactly the case with the Cannabis Family where the black sheep is the drug ‘Marijuana’. Cannabis is a word that we have been using interchangeably with Marijuana creating a big misconception about Cannabis. It has also created a misconception about Hemp, a variety of the Cannabis pant.
Now it is time to break this myth and learn more about Hemp – the Super Crop from the Cannabis family.
What is Hemp?
Hemp is a non-psychoactive variety of Cannabis Sativa plant. Marijuana and Industrial Hemp (Hemp) are varieties from the species Cannabis Sativa. Hemp is grown for applications in textiles, food, building etc. Hemp contains very less THCs but very high concentrations of CBDs. Low amounts of THCs mean that its impossible to be used as a drug.
(So, you can’t get high just by using Hemp fabrics or consuming its seeds. 😉)
You may now wonder what are these THCs and CBDs? Both these are types of Cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant.
Of the more than 500 compounds found in the cannabis plant, two of the most important are THC and CBD.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - THC is the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychotic effects. In short this is the compound that can give you a high. An average batch of marijuana contains anywhere from 5-20% THC content. Legal hemp in USA, on the other hand, has a THC level of 0.3% or less, essentially making it impossible to get a ‘high’.
Cannabidiol (CBD) – CBD on the other hand has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties without any psychoactive effects. Thus, it has recently gained popularity as a medical supplement and is now the leading application of hemp in the U.S.
Difference between Hemp & Marijuana?
Why was Hemp banned?
Simple answer – Misconception & Vested interests. Misconception - since this crop is part of the family which includes Marijuana. Vested Interests - there were powerful people in USA with investments in Cotton & timber who had an incentive to get this crop banned.
In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed in the United States, levying a tax on anyone who dealt commercially in cannabis, hemp, or marijuana, thus killing the whole Hemp industry.
In 2018, Hemp was legalized to be grown in the United States under Federal Law.
What is the legal status of Hemp in India?
Currently, you can grow Hemp in two states, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Himachal Pradesh might be the third state to legalize this. Madhya Pradesh Government is also considering legalizing Hemp.
How & Where is it Grown?
China produces majority (around 70%) of Hemp followed by France. Only a small portion of the hemp produced in China is made into fabric; the vast majority is made into fuel, paper, or other industrial products.
Different strains of Hemp are used for different outputs. The plant that is grown for Fibre growth upto 4 metres without branching. Whereas the plant grown for Seeds may branch and can reach a height of 3 metres. Shorter plants make it easier for combing the seeds.
A Sustainable Alternative to Cotton
Hemp can be grown organically. Hemp is much more sustainable as a plant as compared to cotton. It requires 4 times less water to grow and little or no pesticides as compared to cotton. Hemp can give a yield of 1500 Pounds per acre as compared to just 500 pounds in case of Cotton. Hemp purifies soil as well as exterminates some types of weeds, thus enhancing the quality of soil.
What are the uses?
Hemp seeds are safe to consume and contain only low traces of THC.
Hemp Seeds are rich in protein, soluble and insoluble fiber, and healthy fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6. They are a great source of Iron. They have a very high anti-oxidant effect and are believed to improve heart health and reduce symptoms of ailments related to skin and joints.
They can be eaten raw, ground into hemp meal, sprouted or made into dried sprout powder.
Hemp oil (also called hemp seed oil) is harvested by cold-pressing the hemp seeds. Hemp oil has a lot of benefits – it is beneficial to the skin, it helps moisturizing the scalp, it can reduce blood pressure and boost immunity.
CBD oil contains a high concentration of cannabidiol which is extracted from hemp that is specifically cultivated to be high in CBD. Our body creates its own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, to help support our regulatory system. This central system helps to keep our bodies balanced day to day, including: anxiety, appetite, pain sensation, mood, memory, immune system functions, and inflammation control. CBD Oil helps to support the body’s central regulatory system.
CBD doesn’t give you a high. People who try CBD report feeling more relaxed and, often, more focused.
Hemp as a Fabric
For this segment, we had an opportunity to interact with Ms. Alisha Sachdev, Deputy Business Manager, B Label (BOHECOs apparel brand) who gave us amazing insights on Hemp.
Hemp is used in apparel as well as in Home linen.
Hemp, like linen, is a very breathable fabric with very high moisture wicking abilities. Hence, it is ideal for hot climates, especially Indian summers.
People often get mixed up between Hemp and Linen. Hemp has the look of linen but the feel of cotton. Unlike linen, hemp doesn’t crease as easily.
Hemp fabric is not susceptible to shrinkage, and it is highly resistant to pilling. Since fibers from this plant are long and sturdy, hemp fabric is very soft, but it is also highly durable. Ms. Sachdev says, “Much like wine, hemp ages very gracefully and gets softer after every wash”. She even recommends trying their 100% hemp white shirts (Velocity button-down shirt for men and Mist formal shirt for women), because one can actually see how the fabric evolves by wearing it often.
Garments made of hemp may last 2-3 times as compared to a cotton garment. Hemp is mould and mildew resistant.
Why is Hemp Fabric Expensive?
When we compare a Hemp garment to a similar one from Cotton, it comes at a significant premium. The primary reason is that the manufacturing process of Hemp is a labour-intensive process & large scale manufacturing of hemp has still not developed fully. Also, currently the demand for hemp is more than its very limited supply.
But as the number of people start adopting Hemp increases, the cost of manufacturing will also reduce. Only then will Hemp’s price point be comparable to other natural fabrics.
The woody core (Hurd) in the hemp stalk that is left after the removal of fibre also has multiple uses. This can be used in paper, insulation and also used to make biodegradable plastics.
The Future of Hemp
Due to misconceptions about Hemp & lack of awareness, Hemp has been neglected. But now, it is time that we remove the stigma associated with hemp and take advantage of its superpowers.
About the future of Hemp fabrics Ms. Sachdev says, “I believe that Hemp clothing definitely has a promising future in the next five years, especially because individuals are becoming about more conscious about the way they consume. Once someone understands the mammoth advantages about hemp – they don’t look back! Additionally, larger brands are also looking to adapt to more sustainable textiles. We hope to see these larger brands playing an important role in educating the world about sustainable fibres.”