What is industrial hemp?

Panorama of Hemp Field

Industrial hemp (also called simply “hemp”) are those varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant that have no or very little THC. These varieties do not cause intoxicating effects when consumed or used in any way. You simply cannot get “high” from hemp. Rather, hemp is grown as an agricultural crop, much like wheat and corn, for its nutritional grain, sturdy natural fibers, and also for hemp extract rich in CBD and other beneficial compounds. No where else in nature can one find a single plant that provides such a vast array of applications, including in surprising areas such as construction, bio-fuel, and even nanotechnology.

Besides being a useful crop, industrial hemp production can be sustainably scaled and even has beneficial effects on the environment. It requires less water to grow than cotton, grows a long taproot that naturally aerates soil, pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, and can even clean soil of toxic contaminants via phytoremediation.

Though illegal to grow in the U.S. since after WWII, Congress lifted prohibition via Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized states that have legalized hemp to grow, process, and market the crop via state-sponsored research pilot programs. The pilot programs are intended to investigate the viability of reintegrating industrial hemp into each state’s economy. With many states, including WA state in 2016, launching such programs with promising results, it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. joins Canada, China, and the EU in fully legalizing industrial hemp.

A young industrial hemp plant being cultivated on the Salt Creek Ranch by the Salt Creek Hemp Co.

Industrial hemp crops are thick forests of green. After the seed and fiber has been harvested, the leaves are left in the field to decompose and thus provide a nutrient boost for the next crop.

What is hemp grain?

The fruit of the Cannabis plant is a nut so nutritious that it is easily classified as a superfood, both for us humans as well as for many of the animals that we raise. Mostly the term “hemp seed” is used instead of hemp nuts or hemp grain, so we use it here, but all three refer to the same fruit. Once harvested, hemp seeds can be processed into one of several food products, including shelled seeds called “hemp hearts,” toasted hemp seeds, protein and fiber powders, as well as hemp seed oil. These can be eaten as is or added to a wide assortment of foods to enhance flavor and nutrition.

Hemp seed is comprised of roughly a third each of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Most of the carbs in hemp seed is insoluble fiber, which plays a critical role in healthy digestion, while the protein in hemp seed contains all of the essential amino acids needed for human health (low in only lysine), is high in the two healthful and easily digestible proteins albumin and edestine, and has been shown to lower the risk of kidney disease. Hemp seed oil contains nearly all omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the ideal 3:1 ratio for human health and is also high in tocopherols (Vitamin E), a potent anti-oxidant. Furthermore, hemp seed oil can be used in applications ranging from body care products such as soaps and lotions to premium wood sealer.

Besides providing healthy sources of the three macronutrients, hemp seed contains a long list of vitamin and mineral micronutrients, including folate, thiamine (Vitamin B6), niacin (Vitamin B3), riboflavin (Vitamin B12), magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc. Furthermore, hemp seed contains phytosterols, which compete with and thus lower the absorption of cholesterol.

Packed with nutrients and a low-glycemic index while free of gluten, lactose, trypsin inhibitors, oligosaccharides, and GMOs, it’s easy to see why hemp seed should be part of everyone’s diet.

What is hemp fiber?

The long bast fibers found in the stalk of the Cannabis plant are the strongest and most durable of all natural fibers. Hemp fiber is only outdone by synthetically manufactured fibers, which are petrochemical-based fibers that are toxic to produce and take a very long time to degrade. Processing hemp stalks for fiber entails separating the bast fibers from the rest of the stalk, which can be a challenging task even for modern equipment. Once the fiber has been produced, it can be made into textiles or rope. Hemp clothing is typically made with hemp fiber combined with organic cotton or recycled synthetic fibers to produce an eco-friendly fabric that is stronger, warmer, and more durable than other natural fabrics while also being resistant to stains, abrasions, and odor-causing microbes. Hemp fiber also gives clothing an aesthetic quality that cannot be mimicked by synthetics or other natural fibers.

The woody core of the Cannabis stalk, called the hurd, is comprised of shorter fibers and can be used in the construction industry by making plastic composites or hempcrete, the latter a combination of hemp hurd, lime, and water that is cheap and provides excellent insulation for homes. It can also be used to make paper, where the hurd’s high lignin content means fewer harsh chemicals are needed and less material is wasted. Hemp paper can be recycled many more times than paper made from wood pulp, further making it a superior material for this application.

Expansion in the worldwide supply of hemp fiber combined with a cultural shift toward sustainable consumerism is resulting in a steadily growing market for eco-friendly fiber products made from hemp and other natural fibers. It may only be a matter of time before most everyone can count at least one hemp t-shirt in their wardrobes. Why wait?

What is hemp extract?

The botanical extract of industrial hemp, also called “hemp extract,” contains a diverse collection of compounds that an increasing amount of scientific and anecdotal evidence is showing to have therapeutic benefits. The most well-known of these compounds is CBD (cannabidiol), but others include trace amounts of the other 80+ cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavanoids. Though CBD can be taken in isolated form, one study suggest that for medicinal purposes cannabis is most effective when taken in “whole-plant” form that contains the full spectrum of botanical compounds. Due to what is called the entourage (or ensemble) effect, the compounds found in cannabis work together synergistically to enhance their overall effects. Hemp extract is an oil that can be taken directly, in capsule form, or added to a wide variety of foods.

To learn more about the medicinal benefits of hemp extract, visit ProjectCBD.