Cannabis advocates love to talk about the myriad of health benefits associated with consuming marijuana. They'll act like it's some kind of magical panacea that can cure just about any ailment. They'll preach about its use as a treatment for aches and pains, disease and mental anguish. It's exhausting. But one can forgive, considering the mountain of anecdotal and clinical evidence piling up that seems to be proving them right.
For the most part, we've been interested in marijuana's efficacy as a medicine or in its ability to get you high, so that's where all of our attention has gathered around. Growers break their backs trying to give their plants higher and higher concentrations of THC while researchers scramble to isolate cannabis' components and make sense out of the magic. But now that the 2018 Farm Bill has legalized hemp, we can go back to admiring the amazing physical traits of cannabis—which most of us have all but forgotten.
If someone discovered marijuana tomorrow, we'd lose our minds over its potential as a raw material. Forget what it does to people when they smoke it for just a moment, and wonder at the sheer weirdness of its usefulness as a resource.
According to Hemp Basics, a single acre of hemp will produce as much paper as two to four acres of trees. Hemp plants are ready for harvesting only 120 days after planting, compared to trees, which take years to grow. The quality of hemp paper stomps that of trees, too. It can reportedly last hundreds of years without degrading and be recycled many more times than tree-derived paper.
Cotton is the most highly used plant fiber in the world, despite the damage it does to soil through erosion and nutrient pollution. This damage means a farmer can only grow a viable cotton crop in the same spot a limited number of times. Hemp, on the other hand, is less harmful to the environment—since it requires less synthetic nutrients and much less water—and cheaper too. Hemp might actually improve the soil it’s grown in instead of ruining it. Hemp fibers are known for their tensile strength, and can be used to make all kinds of textiles.
Plastics derived from hemp are biodegradable and non-toxic, unlike those made from petroleum products. While the world's plastics probably can't be completely replaced by those made from hemp, even a small conversion could make a major dent in our carbon footprint. Hemp can be made into any kind of plastic.
Hemp seeds have become an accepted part of the dietary supplement market. Hemp seeds are known to be a source of concentrated omega-3 fatty acids and contain all 10 essential amino acids. They're also good sources of magnesium.
Research has shown that hemp could be a viable source of sustainable diesel fuel. In 2010, scientists at the University of Connecticut found that they were able to convert 97 percent of hemp oil into diesel fuel. The fuel even appeared to burn at a much lower temperature than any other diesel on the market, making it an especially attractive form of the fuel.
The majority of the hemp plant—about 70 percent of its total weight—is made up of the core of the stalk, known as the “hurd.” The hurd is made of a woody material that can be used to make a strong “hempcrete” that can be used in constructing buildings. Hemp fibers can also be used as an insulation substitution in the place of fiberglass or plastic foam. Hemp was even found to be a good conductor of electricity.