Whenever anyone says the word “Hemp”, most people immediately think of Bob Marley and hotboxing – and that might even be the reason you’re reading this article.
But that’s not the kind of ‘weed’ we want to talk about. We want to discuss hemp’s amazing properties that may help mitigate climate change and create a greener and more sustainable economy.
There are ongoing debates on whether hemp and marijuana should be fully legalised. The obvious question is, if hemp can be grown so easily and has so many amazing properties which benefit the planet, why did it become illegal to grow hemp in the first place?
Hemp was about to hit the mainstream in the 1930s but America banned it around that time and the rest of the world followed suit. According to a February 1938 issue of ‘Popular Mechanics’, hemp was about to become a billion-dollar crop before the ‘Marihuana Tax Act’ came into play. There is one theory that essentially blames Dupont for making sure that hemp was banned because they wanted to eliminate any competition for their newly launched synthetic fibres. And the rest is history. If hemp hadn’t been banned, how different might the world look today? This is an interesting thought, especially knowing what we know today about synthetic fibres and their impact on our planet.
Two-thirds of the world’s textiles are made from synthetic materials – mostly, petroleum-based polymers such as polyester, polyamide and acrylic. The average plastic conscious consumer is not aware that the clothes we wear essentially have the same qualities as plastic. Not only is synthetic fabric bad for the environment but it can also be damaging to human health.
Due to the fundamentally flawed business model of fast fashion, there are multiple reports of fast fashion companies exploiting workers. Activists and ‘slow fashion’ advocates have been rallying for better regulations to ensure that fast fashion companies move towards a more circular and compassionate business model.
There are a lot of circular solutions to this problem: re-wearing, repairing, reducing, recycling, thrifting and using regenerative fibres to name a few. Many fashion brands are already incorporating these solutions into their business models. But most solutions are only driven by consumer activism that only supports brands who are committing to a circular economy.
One solution to make fashion more circular is to use regenerative fibres like hemp; these fibres are circular in design and not wasteful in production. Hemp is a resource that a lot of slow fashion brands across the world are already embracing. It is currently expensive but a lot of designers feel that its properties justify the cost. I usually use the term ‘regenerative’ with caution, but hemp has some amazing qualities that the world needs to hear about. It’s a crop that is regenerative and even zero-waste; every part of the crop can be used to create something useful.
I met with Khun Arthit Ritrawee, the owner of Hempthai, to understand exactly how hemp is grown and learn a bit more about its benefits for human health and the planet. Unfortunately, I could not visit the farm because Thai law does not allow that. It’s frustrating that this amazing crop constantly suffers because it’s widely considered a drug. Khun Arthit and I had a long conversation about hemp and he showed me many different and innovative products they have produced with hemp.
“Is it safe to say that growing hemp is better than leaving the land empty?” I asked. He laughed and said:
“It depends on the exact context. Leaving a biodiverse forest as it is would probably be better, but there is a lot of agricultural land which is currently being used to grow unsustainable crops that require high pesticides and burning. It would definitely benefit the economy and the planet to convert them to crops which help mitigate climate change like hemp”.
At Hempthai, they have empowered an entire village with hemp farming. The whole process is completely organic and made by hand, making their products very sustainable. They have received many reputable awards for their innovation. I was particularly impressed with the bricks they make. The owner told me that he intends to build his house with hemp bricks. This could potentially change the construction industry as we know it.
Growing hemp paves the way for sustainable agriculture because it can be grown without fertilizer. It replenishes the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients, increases topsoil and restores the health and fertility of the soil. Hemp trees have long roots that firmly hold the soil which helps to control soil erosion. Due to its fast growth, it is extremely useful in carbon sequestration (absorbing carbon from the air) and returning it to the earth.
Thailand legalized hemp cultivation in March 2020, paving the way for this green cash crop. This move by the government represents an important attempt by the authorities to establish hemp as a futuristic cash crop that can have economic and environmental benefits. Hemp has a multitude of uses and the potential of generating high income for rural communities. Hemp can generate income for growers in five different industries: food & beverage, medicines, supplements, apparel and personal care products.
- One of the most common uses for hemp roots is medicinal. For many years, the roots of the hemp plant have been used for treating skin inflammation, skin burns, infections and fever. The pentacyclic triterpene ketones in cannabis roots are also thought to cause apoptosis, (programmed cell death) in cancer cells. Though the research is minimal, cannabis roots appear to possess effective cancer-fighting properties.
- Hemp stalks can be made into a wide range of products like rope, insulation, building materials, textiles, clothing, upholstery, construction materials, paper and plastics. The woody core of the stalk can be mixed with hydraulic lime to build walls and floors.
- The leaves and flowers are also used for medicinal products that range from topical applications to injections. It enhances cell growth, reduces cholesterol levels, and impedes cancer cells from metastasizing to other parts of the body. The leaves and flowers can also be used for making various beauty and cosmetic products like lotions, skincare serums, shampoos, conditioners etc.
- Hemp seeds have been recognised as a highly nutritious food that’s rich in healthy fats, protein and various minerals. It has a mild, nutty flavour and makes a great addition to meals. The seeds can be used to make various recipes, they can be added to cereals, smoothies, burger patties etc.
Currently, the hemp industry is still in its infancy, so research and development costs are high (excuse the pun), and profits remain difficult and slim. But with the right investment and enough scale, the hemp industry has huge potential.
The hemp fibre looks and feels similar to organic cotton or linen and is perfect for making clothes. However, it needs to be promoted and marketed well to replace its current associations, so I’ll leave you with this last note… Hemp fibre is:
- Breathable and Insulating
- Highly Durable
- Soft on the skin
- Odour Resistant
- Non-synthetic = no microplastics
- Naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal
- Fire resistant
- Resistant to mould and mildew
- Resistant to UV light
- Soil release properties
- Easy wash and care
- Retains its shape and won’t shrink
- Grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers
- Replenishes the soil
- Highly renewable
- Low water use
- Absorbs carbon dioxide
It’s high time hemp goes mainstream, don’t you agree?!