WRITTEN BY AJ
What Is Hemp?
As the world goes crazy over the plant you probably once thought was a recreational drug, you may well be wondering what exactly is hemp? And can it really do all the things that people claim? To answer your second question first: it can probably do more.
Hemp is a hardy, quick growing plant from which humans can manufacture fabrics, food, beauty products, dietary supplements, sustainable building materials1 and much more. Should you desire, you can even buy a carbon negative hemp sports car2 that runs on biodiesel made from hemp fibre. The list of things this plant is capable of knows (almost) no bounds.
But before we proceed, I should clarify: hemp is not marijuana, and one thing it cannot do is get you high. Yes, both are varieties of the cannabis plant, but while marijuana contains enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the cannabinoid which produces a psychoactive effect – for its users to experience a high, hemp does not.3
Don’t feel bad if this is news to you. It’s a misunderstanding so deep-rooted that governments have prohibited or severely restricted the use of hemp for generations.
Recent efforts to refute this misconception have been key to unlocking the potential of hemp all over the world.
A Brief History Of Hemp
Of course hemp’s use was not always so impeded. The plant’s first application originates in Ancient China, around 8000 BCE, where pottery and food were produced from hemp seed and hemp oil.4 It was one of several materials first used to make paper, once again in China,5 and was key to the production of everyday essentials such as clothes, shoes and rope for thousands of years.
In the modern era, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both famously grew hemp. More recently, the US Department of Agriculture launched a “Hemp for Victory” campaign during WWII, encouraging farmers to grow the plant to help the war effort.6
Cannabis arrived in Australia aboard the First Fleet in 1788, and was one of our main crops until the 1925 Geneva Convention made it illegal; the plant was a last-minute inclusion in a ruling designed to control dangerous and addictive substances such as opium and cocaine.7
But now the world and, more importantly, lawmakers are re-awakening to the benefits of cannabis. Amidst growing appreciation of its medical advantages, Australia joined the 20 other countries which had already fully or partially legalised the drug in 2017.8 And with increased acceptance of cannabinoid-based drugs came an even easier case for loosening the restrictions on hemp. In November that same year we amended our Food Standards Code to allow the sale of low-THC hemp seed for food use.9
How Hemp Can Save The Planet
Thanks to the sustainable nature of hemp farming, you can now do loads to make your lifestyle greener simply by choosing some of the many new hemp products over traditional alternatives. But why is growing hemp is so good for our planet in the first place?
To start with, hemp plants are largely impervious to pests, so require a fraction (if any) of the pesticides and herbicides of plants such as cotton or flax. By opting for hemp instead, we reduce our planet’s exposure to poisons and toxins.10
Hemp also absorbs toxins and lethal metals from the soil in which it grows, meaning that the production of industrial hemp cleans contaminated soil. As such, it is revered in the field of bioremediation – a process where living things are used to heal and reclaim polluted land. In fact hemp is so effective that it can be used to remove radioactive elements from soil and water, and has been planted around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to do just that!11
What Hemp Products Can Do For You!
Well now you know what hemp is, where it came from, that it’s making a comeback and that its comeback might just save the planet, but what’s in it for you? Well, I’d kinda hope the planet thing, but if that isn’t enough then fear not. There are huge benefits to be had from introducing a little hemp into your life.
Hemp Oil Products Will Change Your World
The more you learn about hemp oil, the more it sounds like some kind of magic elixir. Its incredible reserve of essential fatty acids, plant cholesterol, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals12 make it the perfect base for lotions, hair care products and dietary supplements that will protect and repair your skin, beautify you and even make you healthier. It can do so much that hemp oil is an incredible product all on its own. But why is it so good?
How Hemp Oil Can Make You Healthier
Essential Fatty Acids
Firstly, the essential fatty acids (EFAs) in hemp oil – most notably Omega 3, 6 and 9 – make it an effective anti-inflammatory. Its 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is perfect for the body’s absorption process, making it a more effective anti-inflammatory than many other sources of EFAs, and both ingesting and directly applying the oil can significantly ease the pain associated with conditions like arthritis
Fish oils are a popular alternative source of these EFAs, but they often contain high levels of contaminants13 as a result of our polluted oceans, while studies show that current demand for fish oils cannot be met sustainably14, necessitating a switch to plant-based substitutes.
Thanks to its Vitamin E content, hemp oil is also a great source of antioxidants. Antioxidants counteract free radicals in your body which, if left to accumulate, can cause cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer.15
If you want to live a long and healthy life, this is a big one. Not only is hemp oil a great source of plant cholesterol, it contains more phytosterols than other plant-based options like soybean or sunflower oil. These phytosterols lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by inhibiting your absorption of ‘bad’ cholesterol,16 so a tablespoon of hemp oil a day really will keep the doctor away.
Nope, I’d never heard of it either. But ingesting GLA is believed to significantly reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and regulate the hormone imbalances associated with menopause. And hemp oil is a great source of it.17
How Hemp Oil Cares For Your Skin
Once again, it’s all about the fatty acids. The EFAs in hemp oil make it an excellent natural moisturiser which improves both the composition of fats in the outermost skin layer and the overall functioning of your skin.18
It also protects against inflammation, just as it does inside your body, while fighting oxidation. Oxidation accelerates aging by mutating and breaking down cells, but hemp oil contains more antioxidants than virtually all other plant-based oils.19
And it can treat a range of skin conditions too. Both dietary consumption and external application can effectively counteract the causes of eczema and acne, while studies have also noted hemp’s effectiveness in treating dermatitis.20
Hemp Creams and Hemp Moisturisers
“Well if hemp oil is so good for the skin, maybe I should try some of those hemp face creams and moisturisers I’ve heard so much about…”
You’re right, you should. In addition to the aforementioned perks of using hemp oil, hemp skincare products offer a range of benefits that most of their competitors cannot.
To start with, the majority of alternatives are petroleum-based. Many of these contain minerals which aren’t good for you and cannot be absorbed, meaning they sit on your skin, clog up your pores, starve your skin of oxygen and lead to blackheads.21
Even if you opt for a natural alternative, oils such as coconut, flax seed and palm have high comedogenic ratings, so also clog up pores. Hemp seed oil is a non-comedogenic, making its products far more suitable for people with sensitive skin.
What’s more, hemp-based moisturiser is humectant. This means it draws moisture to your skin, and if you use it regularly for a prolonged period of time it will actually improve your skin’s ability to retain moisture.
Hemp Hair Products
There’s much to be said for switching to hemp shampoo.
While many traditional shampoos strip your hair of necessary oils, leading to dryness and irritation, hemp’s Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids (yes, those guys again) provide it with effective nourishment. Its supply of Vitamin E is also welcome, as studies have shown it to prevent hair loss by stimulating capillaries and improving blood flow.22
And if you suffer from a dry or itchy noggin, or even more serious conditions such as psoriasis of the scalp, hemp hair serums are definitely worth a shot. The way the oil quickly soaks into the skin makes it especially effective at relieving flakiness and irritation,23 while the very nature of hemp oil means it doesn’t leave your hair feeling greasy.
Hemp Protein Powder
Not all of hemp’s benefits come in oil form. Thanks to its nutritional profile, hemp is a strong contender for the best plant-based protein powder around.
Besides providing a great option for vegans – it offers the highest vegan source of simple protein available24 – its high concentration of fibre promotes a healthy digestive system, making it ideal for people who are lactose intolerant or struggle digesting whey protein.25
To top it off, it contains the globular proteins edestin and albumin which your body uses to make key enzymes, antibodies and hormones. So using hemp protein powder will boost your immune system.26
For more information, check out our extensive guide on hemp protein powder.27
Thanks to hemp fabric’s many upsides there are numerous reasons to give hemp clothing a go.
Hemp fibre is porous and breathable, so its clothes soften over time.28 Hemp fabrics also possess antibacterial properties29 and are resistant to mildew, making them perfect for shirts and towels. Plus hemp is more durable and stronger than cotton30 and provides natural UV protection,31 meaning it shields your skin and retains its colour better than other fabrics. This enhanced practicality means hemp clothing in Australia is rapidly gaining popularity.
Another colossal reason to pick hemp clothing is its impact (or lack thereof) on the environment. In this age of fast fashion and petroleum-based synthetic fibres, the presence of microplastics in the earth’s water supply is a major problem.32 Each time a man-made fabric is washed, synthetic microfibers are dislodged and rinsed into the sewer system and, as they are too small to be filtered out, enter the water cycle for good. These fibres are subsequently ingested by anything that consumes water, and new studies indicate they could be “poisoning our waterways and food chain on a massive scale.”33
As hemp fabric is stronger it doesn’t shed so easily. And even when it does, its fibres are non-toxic and 100% biodegradable.
Hemp’s more sustainable than other natural options too. It requires 20,000 litres of water to produce the weight of cotton equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans,34 while 25% of the world’s pesticides are used in growing the crop. Hemp, on the other hand, needs half as much water and virtually no pesticides.35
Besides, what better way to encourage the widespread adoption of hemp than to help it make an impression on the fashion industry? It may seem like a tall order, but you can do your bit to promote hemp clothing in Australia simply by wearing a piece.
Or maybe sample some of the many other hemp products that we’ve mentioned here instead.
It may not be a recreational drug. But when it can enhance your life, make you healthier and reduce your carbon footprint, trying hemp is a no-brainer.
Ajay is a freelance writer and lover of hemp. He co-founded an independent magazine in Manchester, England, and his interests include music, politics and sustainability. He is currently travelling across Asia with neither direction nor encumbrance.
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