Blog Education Featured

The Importance of the Hemp Plant

“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”

Thomas Jefferson


The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill, excluded hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. By removing hemp from the statutory definition of marijuana, hemp products are now allowed to be transferred across state lines when purchased in a state where it was lawfully produced. The majority of cannabidiol (CBD) products that are available to purchase, are hemp-derived. This means that the CBD oil is produced from a hemp plant rather than a marijuana plant. The difference between the two will be discussed here, but first, what is hemp?


Hemp is of the Cannabis genus, specifically the Cannabis Sativa species. Its uses date back for over 10,000 years across many different cultures for purposes ranging from pottery making to medicinal and food sources. The reason why this Farm Bill was needed in the United States was because industrial hemp became looped in as a part of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, strictly regulating the cultivation, production, and sales of all forms of cannabis. Although hemp has low quantities of the intoxicating cannabinoid, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the industrial crop became criminalized. There are theories that hemp was included in this ban so those in positions of power could protect their own interests in the synthetic fiber and tree-made paper industry. The 1937 Act eventually led to the hemp farm ban in 1970 along with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act to label hemp as a Schedule 1 drug. To date, while hemp has been removed by the 2018 Farm Bill, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. 


For decades, advocates and activists have been championing the benefits of hemp for its multitude of uses. From Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes published in 1985 to Charlotte Figi’s remarkable story presented in Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentary, Weed, in 2013; the capabilities of the plant are becoming more widely known. 


From the long history of uses across several cultures, here are just eight of the facts we would like to share with you about hemp: 


  1. Hemp played a prominent role in United States history


Hemp arrived in Colonial America along with the Puritans. The seeds were stored with the intention of planting, and the ropes and sails of the Mayflower were made with hemp fiber. Once they arrived in America, the colonies were required by British law to grow hemp and it soon became a staple in the expanding economy. The first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp on their farms. Hemp played an important role up until the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, where heavy taxes were imposed on farmers, physicians, and pharmacists for growing, prescribing, and selling cannabis products.  


During World War II there was a “Hemp for Victory” campaign due to a shortage of fibers necessary to make ropes, shoelaces, and parachute webbing. Although hemp was illegal in America at this time, a propaganda film was made to persuade farmers to grow hemp instead of maize for the war efforts. Hemp was once again prohibited with the end of the war.


  1. Hemp seeds are a superfood


One might say that hemp seeds have the ability to offer total nutrition for the body. They contain high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and are a great source of protein in that they provide all nine essential amino acids. Hemp seeds also have an assortment of minerals and vitamins such as magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamin B, and the well-researched antioxidant – vitamin E.  It also has something else that sets it apart from most superfoods we know of today. One of those omega-6 fatty acids hemp seeds contain is known as gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is also found in breast milk. This vast nutritional profile may benefit as a neuroprotectant, anti-inflammatory, and immune and heart health regulator.


Hemp seeds can also be made into flour, oil, or milk. The many capabilities of the seed arguably gives it potential to address malnutrition and food shortages in the world. 


  1. Hemp may improve the environment it is grown in


The hemp plant is able to consume four times as much CO2 as trees do from the environment, in the process known as carbon sequestration. The root has a lot to offer as well. The deep root allows the plant to reach nutrients left behind by previous plants as well as find deep water sources. This ability of the roots not only benefits the plant but the surrounding soil. It loosens the soil, therefore encouraging plant growth afterward, as well as holds the soil together to reduce erosion. 


The potential of hemp plants to remove toxins from the soil where it is being grown is being studied as well. In fact, hemp is being grown in the surrounding areas of Chernobyl to assist in removing caesium (a radio-nuclide left over from the devastating 1986 explosion) from the soil. This process is called phytoremediation, where plants may be used to decontaminate soil of high concentrations of contaminants, such as heavy metals, by the plants’ ability to accumulate them in their plant tissue. Although there are many plant species with this ability, hemp has an advantage due to its superior tolerance, root system, and biomass. 


  1. Hemp could easily replace what trees produce


On average, the amount of paper produced by 2-4 acres of trees in a year can be accomplished in one acre of hemp. The paper manufactured from hemp pulp is able to be recycled several more times than paper manufactured from wood pulp, and the fiberboard that can be produced from hemp is reportedly stronger and lighter than wood. 

As documented in 2012, about 521 million acres are reserved in the United States for timber harvesting, which will primarily produce wood for lumber and construction materials. Harvesting takes place when the tree reaches a large enough diameter. This process can take, on average, 10-20 years depending on the tree species. In contrast, hemp plants for pulp and fiber are ready for harvest in 60-120 days. 


  1. Growing hemp requires a lot less resources than growing cotton


The water footprint to produce one pound of cotton is approximately 1,320 gallons whereas the water footprint required to produce one pound of usable hemp fiber is about 255 gallons. Considering that it only takes low to moderate amounts of water to effectively grow hemp plants, it is able to be successfully grown in all 50 states and across many climates. 


Just as with trees, utilizing hemp plants may save on acreage as well. Case studies show that while about 1,190 pounds of cotton fiber can be produced per acre; 2,645 pounds of hemp fiber can be produced per acre. While cotton fabric may be softer (due to the fibers quickly and easily breaking down), hemp fabric tends to be stronger, longer lasting (due to the fibers taking longer to break down), and more insulating. 


  1. Protein from hemp seeds is more nutritious than most protein sources


In our second point, we discussed hemp seeds as a great source of protein, however there is more to add to this point! Hemp seed protein can be used to produce milk, butter, cheese, salad dressings, tofu, veggie burgers, ice cream, and more. Hemp flour can make pasta, bread, and other baked goods. 


While in comparison to other foods that are high in protein, it may seem that hemp seeds are not that superior at about 10 grams of protein per 3 tablespoons. However, what sets them apart is the lack of trypsin inhibitors. Trypsin is a digestive enzyme, which breaks down proteins we ingest within the small intestine, making the amino acids and other nutrients available to the body. Trypsin inhibitors block this function. Meaning, if you are eating a high protein food that contains them, not all of that protein is being broken down and digested. The fact that hemp seeds do not contain these inhibitors, means that all of the protein taken in becomes available to the body. Soybeans and legumes are among the several protein-rich foods that contain trypsin inhibitors, although the amount is able to be reduced by means of heating. 


  1. Hemp and marijuana are not the same


Hemp belongs to the Cannabis Sativa species only. Marijuana, on the other hand, can be of either the Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica species. The most basic of differences between the two is that hemp will contain less than 0.3% THC. Marijuana is typically grown to encourage the development of trichomes, which are glands on the flowers of the plant where THC is concentrated. These female plants are kept separate from the male plants to avoid fertilization, as fertilized cannabis flowers may produce lower THC. 


CBD can come from hemp or marijuana plants – regardless of the plant, the compound that is CBD remains the same in molecular structure. All hemp-derived CBD products are what will be available to purchase over the counter or be shipped state to state and to most countries. Marijuana-derived CBD will only be available to purchase in a state that supports recreational use or a medical marijuana program, as it will contain more than 0.3% THC.  


If what you are looking for is a federally legal product that contains low THC, high CBD, and is full-spectrum, in that it contains all of the natural cannabinoids of the plant, a hemp-derived CBD product would be the way to go. 


  1. Hemp is a versatile natural resource, with more to offer than almost any other


In addition to the capability of being a source of fiber for ropes, nutrition, paper, and a cotton replacement, hemp seed oil could be used to produce fuel, laundry detergent, natural wood finish, and much more. For example, hemp cellulose may be used to produce hemp durable and biodegradable plastic. In 1941 Henry Ford famously showcased a car made from soybean and hemp plastics, gloating that it was lighter than steel and could withstand ten times the impact. 


How is that possible; that hemp fibers are stronger than steel? It comes down to tensile strength and compression strength. Hemp fibers have greater tensile strength, meaning it may handle more tension before it is permanently deformed. For example: the weight endurance a rope can hold before it tears. The weakest hemp fiber needs more pressure to break than the weakest variation of steel. Hemp has the capacity to hold double the weight. Compression strength is how much damage an object can endure before it loses the capacity to mend itself. Hemp has six times the ability of steel to not bend with pressure.


For these very good reasons, we celebrate the wrongly criminalized hemp plant. It has the potential to play many important roles, thus education and awareness of its capabilities is paramount. If you have any questions about what was discussed here, or wish to find out more, refer to the Hemp Week educational campaign or contact a Realm of Caring Care Specialist at