Hemp is having a moment. With its recent legalization in the US and its popularity within the CBD industry – everyone is talking about it. Hemp isn’t anything new though; humans have cultivated hemp for ages. Ancient archaeological sites have shown evidence of our long relationship with the plant. Our ancestors relied on hemp as a sturdy fabric, as a useful paper product, and a sacred medicinal plant. The hemp revolution we are experiencing today is just a continuation of a long history of use from our 10,000 years of cultivation.
Hemp is a member of the cannabis family, differentiated from recreational or medicinal varieties by it’s THC content. Legally hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent THC, and instead of being flower focused, it is a fiber and stalk focused plant (a full explainer on the differences here). In fact, the word cannabis comes from the word canvas. In medieval Europe, hemp was a critical resource used for the sails of naval fleets.
But we’ve gone far beyond rough sandals, canvas sails, and fibrous paper in the development of hemp products. Today, the hemp industry is booming, thanks mainly to the rise of CBD products sourced from hemp as a cheaper alternative to cannabis products. Hemp isn’t just an industrial crop used for CBD content. It’s already making its way into building materials, plastic production, cosmetics, and superconductors.
8 Surprising Applications for Hemp
- Hemp as a Pollution-Solution (Phyto-remediator)
Hemp is known for its phytoremediation characteristics. As a phytoremediator, hemp can pull toxic chemicals from soils (it’s a reason for concern for many hemp sourced CBD products). Naturally, hemp produces extensive biomass within only a short period, due to its fast-growing root network. If agricultural scientists can harness hemp’s bioaccumulation powers, hemp could provide a handy form of natural pollution clean up of contaminated soils. There is already strong evidence it can clean up industrial heavy metals, like selenium, lead, nickel, cadmium.
- Hemp Plastics
We make conventional plastic from petroleum. It’s non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and currently filling our oceans and marine life with harmful waste. Petroleum contains a compound called cellulose, which is vital for the creation of plastics – but it isn’t the only cellulose-rich resource we have. Hemp is up to 85 percent cellulose. By switching from petroleum-based to hemp-based solutions, plastics automatically become non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and (depending on the formula) entirely biodegradable. Hemp plastics are quickly replacing one-time-use items like plastic plates, cutlery, and cups. The technology has reached a point where plastic producers can replicate anything made from conventional plastic with a hemp version.
- Hemp Wood
Hemp wood is a revolutionary renewable wood alternative, using the production techniques from the booming bamboo-composite industry. In a side-by-side comparison with oak hardwood floors, hemp wood is both harder and more stable. Hemp has an incredible time advantage over conventional hardwoods. Consider that a hemp crop takes only six months to reach harvest, and an oak tree 80 years. With the time advantage alone, it’s not hard to imagine a future where hemp furniture where residential flooring, cutting boards, are all hemp-based products.
- Hemp Woven Clothing
Perhaps hemp clothing isn’t that revolutionary, but the quality has drastically improved from the days of rough canvas sails. International brands, like Levi’s and Patagonia, are all now producing lines of hemp clothing. Through innovative processing techniques, hemp fibers become as soft as cotton but much more durable. Both hemp and cotton are renewable resources, but hemp has an additional advantage over traditional cotton production – it requires 25 percent less water and fewer pesticides than cotton plants.
Move over concrete, more eco-friendly building material is moving in. Hempcrete is a product combining the fibers from the core of the hemp stalk with a lime-based binder. It’s insulating, fireproof, and extremely lightweight. By some estimates, hempcrete is eight times lighter than conventional concrete. While it may not be able to carry the same load as traditional concrete, European builders have had success with hempcrete buildings reaching ten stories tall. Recently, concrete is making headlines for its environmental degradation on our planet, but hempcrete offers a unique sustainable alternative for many building applications.
- Hemp Biofuel
Hemp biodiesel and ethanol are sustainable, renewable plant-based fuels already powering engines around the world. One acre of hemp provides more biodiesel than soybeans, peanuts, rapeseed, and sunflower. Incredibly, hemp fuel is a certified carbon-neutral replacement for diesel. Under most circumstances, hemp-based fuels offer better fuel efficiency than petroleum and other plant fuels. Imagine a world where our entire transportation system ran on eco-friendly fuels produced from hemp!
- Hemp Television Screens and Solar Panels
Today, the vast majority of our energy storage devices, like superconductors, use a substance called graphene. According to a report by the BBC, graphene is 100 times stronger than steel and conducts energy better than copper. It’s made its way into solar panels, ultra-thin televisions, and other advanced technologies. The problem? It’s rare, extremely fragile, and super expensive to use Researchers out of the University of Alberta have found a graphene-like substitute – hemp. Hemp’s molecular structure is remarkably similar to graphene, and it’s possibly a better option in certain applications. Hemp also comes at a fraction of the cost of graphene. Researchers in Alberta are already testing the future of hemp superconductors, and others in the industry have suggested the plant’s possible use in new solar panels and ultrathin OLED televisions.
- Hemp Cosmetics
Hemp seed oil is nutrient dense, may have possible medicinal benefits when applied topically, and is safe to use from head to toe. Its popular and trending ingredient in cosmetic lines these days, with many toting its many “miracle benefits”. Miracle benefits aside, hemp oil is a safe, natural, and moisturizing oil suitable for many skin types. People are even making hemp and cannabis topicals at home. Hemp oil is popping up on the labels for body lotions, face serums, eye creams, lip balms and more. It’s high essential fatty acid content, and dense nutrient profile is something many cosmetic companies are taking advantage of. With more clinical study into the therapeutic potential of hemp, we may also find many of the “miracle benefits” have a grain of truth to them.
We are witnessing a unique period in the history of hemp. For the first time, hemp is colliding with advanced technologies. We are seeing the innovative results rolling out into our construction and transportation sectors, as well as into the cosmetic and wellness industries. From superconductors to face creams, the future is surely going to be filled hemp.