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HEMP: ITS HISTORY AND BENEFITS

R4 CLOTHING LTD | July 2021 | 9 min read

SUMMARY:

Hemp is an underrated crop with such unlocked potential. In fact, the original Levi's jeans were made from hemp cloth...For years, it has been tarnished with a bad reputation due to its erroneous links to marijuana. Why, then, should you give hemp such ‘high’ appraisal?

This story provides a brief introduction to the history of hemp and how its textiles are produced before delving into its widespread benefits and the consequent inevitable growth in hemp usage.

HISTORY

With more than 50,000 different uses, ranging from textiles to building materials, hemp is a remarkable plant deriving from cannabis sativa. Did you know that in 2000-800 BC, hemp was considered a gift? Evidence shows that in Hindu religious documents, it was referred to as one of the five sacred plants of India. This notion continued well into 1533; King Henry VII prioritized hemp and fined the farmers who did not cultivate it. Similarly, in the 1700s, many of America's founding fathers advocated its benefits; they legally required American farmers to grow hemp as a staple crop.

 

This image of hemp as the holy grail, however, did not last forever and a major crisis against hemp arose in America during the 1930s. Negative propaganda from companies with vested interest in new petroleum based synthetic textiles became widespread – with many people voting in favour of its prohibition. For instance, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, told the public that cannabis was 'a devil drug' that 'turned men into wild beasts'. His scientific advisors, of course, were unable to find any valid evidence of cannabis being dangerous. So, despite the February 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics (written early 1937), that stated hemp was on the verge of becoming "the billion-dollar crop", these powerful groups - who saw hemp as a big threat to their businesses - proposed prohibitive tax laws and levied an occupational excise tax upon hemp dealers under the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. Indeed, whilst the cultivation of hemp in Europe was not banned, commercial cultivation stopped due to decreased demand compared to popular synthetic fibres. This is only the beginning of Hemp's haphazard history...

The tax on cultivation was lifted during WWII by the US government, who needed hemp to produce uniforms, canvas, ropes. To encourage farmers to grow hemp during the war period, the United States Department of Agriculture released the film "Hemp for Victory", which led to more than 150,000 acres of hemp produced. And after years of fluctuating public opinion, e.g., President Nixon having signed the Controlled Substances Act, listing cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, it was eventually removed from the controlled substance list as part of the Farm Bill Act of 2018. The Farm Bill legally separated hemp from marijuana and legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp for research purposes, allowing research institutions to start piloting hemp farming programs. Technically the two primary differences between hemp and marijuana centre around the amounts of two specific cannabinoids formulating these plants: delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). As hemp has a THC content level significantly less than 0.3%, it is recognised as not akin to marijuana.

 

In other words, whilst hemp does not get you 'high', its 'low' public perception is only just changing now...

HOW ARE HEMP TEXTILES MADE?

Whilst the invention of more effective modern equipment allows the turning- into-yarn process to be done in a much more efficient manner, it is still a labour-intensive process. In fact, the modern-day production methods of hemp are closely related to the traditional methods.

Below, I’ve broken it down with the core principles...

  1. It requires cultivation and harvesting.

  2. Then, it undergoes a unique process

    called retting, a fibre-separation technique. It requires bacteria and moisture on plants to dissolve or rot away much of the cellular tissues. Technique examples include soaking in water, or laying on the ground and allowing the dew to do the ‘retting’...

  3. Next, a repetitive action of ‘breaking’ and ‘scutching’ the stems, to further help separate the fibres from the hemp’s woody core.

  4. To remove unwanted particles, a method called ‘hackling’ is used and it involves the combing of the stems...

  5. Finally, a round of quality checks is put in place to ensure optimal strength (roving) and is spun to form a yarn (can be wet and dry spun).

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Natural resilience/ ability to improve soil quality: Hemp has an incredible natural resistance to most insects and kills weeds without chemicals. This means that fertilisers are not needed as the crop grows densely and regenerates quickly. Additionally, hemp can grow easily in a wide range of climates with few resources. Thus, its soil-saving benefits can be applied to many regions on a large scale.It may even have the power stimulate a decrease in global chemical use in agriculture!

Indeed, this plant returns up to 60% of the nutrients it takes from the soil when dried through a process of phytoremediation. In layman’s terms, it means that hemp can remove harmful contaminants to improve soil quality. Hemp converts large quantities of extracted nutrients into useful products due to its large root system protecting the plant from erosion.

 

Excellent at carbon sequestration: Did you know that for every tonne of hemp produced, 1.63 tonnes of CO2 are removed from the air? This is approximately equivalent to 34,496 miles travelled by an average car. Therefore, it is effective at capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As one of the fastest natural CO2 biomass conversion tools, it has the efficiency of a tropical rainforest. It can be argued that they are more effective than trees...

Reduces deforestation: Whilst growing trees take years to mature, hemp can be grown, and mass reproduce within months. Thus, one acre of hemp can produce as many papers annually as four acres of trees, cultivating hemp prevent deforestation can be seen as a great idea...

 

Saves water: There is great tension between crop production and available water supply – especially in high-risk areas (40% or more of their available supply is withdrawn every year). In fact, it takes over 5,000 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of cotton. To produce the same amount of hemp, it takes less than 700 gallons of water. Hemp, therefore, is the superior option considering the crop requires minimal irrigation in comparison to cotton.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS: BUILDING A NEW & SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY

Cost-effectiveness: Hemp cultivation cuts costs for businesses as it requires lower water usage. For example, whilst 5,000 gallons produces 2.2 pounds of cotton, only 700 gallons produces 2.2 pounds of hemp...

 

Employment opportunities: By 2018, the hemp industry boasted $1.1 billion in revenues. And currently, over 24 states in the United States possess legal hemp farming industries. Due to the plant’s versatility, the job demand is expected to double by 2022. The industry has a growing demand for accountants, lawyers, transporters, insurance experts and more to keep up. On a local scale, industrial hemp gives small farmers another opportunity to succeed...But to achieve this, policy must be reformed. Current UK legislation imposes outdated restrictions on farming. Legislation requires only 80% of the hemp plant to be destroyed, meaning farmers are unable to harvest, process, transport or extract cannabinoids from the flower and leaves of the hemp plant. Only the seeds and stalks of hemp can be used under current law, making it unviable for many potential growers. In other words, if all parts of the hemp plant were harvestable, there would be much greater economic and environmental benefits to growing hemp. For instance, Margent Farm, a 53-acre hemp farm in Cambridgeshire, had to throw away £100,000 from a crop on their farm. This was incredibly damaging to the pockets of hard- working farmers across the UK. Current law means the UK relies on importing CBD, even though it could easily be farmed within the UK. With Brexit, especially, creating huge uncertainties around the future of British imports...

HUMAN BENEFITS

Hemp seeds contain an array of vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, phosphorous and magnesium. It’s high % in magnesium is extremely beneficial as has a naturally calming effect on the body and relaxes muscles. According to Amy Shapiro, R.D., founder of Real Nutrition in Women’s Health, consuming a serving a few hours prior to bed, promotes good quality sleep. It sounds like something we all need!

 

Furthermore, hemp seeds contain almost as much protein as soybeans. In a ‘Medical News Today’ newsletter using USDA1 data, it states that in ‘every 30 grams (g) of seeds, or about 3 tablespoons, there are 9.46g of protein.’ are complete sources of. Therefore, this is great source of protein for vegetarians or vegans as few plant-based foods contain a high amount.

 

Hemp seeds are especially rich in an amino acid. Arginine, for instance, which has benefits for heart health. There is another amino acid that turns into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is essential for artery and vein dilation, and it helps keep blood vessel walls smooth and elastic. This ultimately helps lower blood pressure/ heart failure...