Cannabis Cousins

Over 25,000 products are made from hemp across 9 submarkets and the total industry has an estimated size of $500 million USD. Despite this, the topic of Cannabis has been laden with controversy. Even so, the US Congress passed a farm bill this month allowing controlled studies of industrial hemp growing programs – a big leap from categorizing this plant as an illegal narcotic for more than five decades. The prior step toward this was the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 that excluded industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana”. Cannabis sativa indica and cannabis sativa sativa belong to the same family of plants with greatly differing qualities. The latter, industrial hemp contains approximately 0.3% THC (Tetrahydrocannabinoids), only a fraction of the intoxicating ingredients found in marijuana.
Industrial hemp already has a niche market in numerous countries such as the Netherlands, Australia, China, Germany, Russia and Canada. Canada’s official broadcaster CBC recently announced this country’s “small hemp industry is growing like a weed”. Kim Shukla, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trading Alliance, says production is forecast to almost double by 2015. No wonder. It turns out that hemp is an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to the over-exploited pulp industry. Hemp fiber is known to be strong and durable, and hemp cultivation minimizes the usage of pesticides and herbicides. Also, the same size hemp farm produces on average four times as much fiber as pine trees. How about giving trees some breathing space? An added bonus is that hemp–based paper can be recycled roughly twice more than pine pulp–based paper. Hemp is also used in the clothing industry and could be explored as a source of biomass for fuel.
In addition to ecological and economic benefits, the cannabis cousins show promise in the medical field, not merely in pain relief. Hemp seeds are high in protein and amino acids while offering an alternate food source to salmon for omega-6 and omega-3 toward preventing cardiovascular disease. The ratio of these essential fatty acids in hemp seeds is an optimal level that decreases risks associated with breast and colorectal cancers according to a National Institutes of Health publication. Furthermore, a recent study published by the US National Library of Medicine states that cannabinoids in cannabis are effective at killing drug-resistant bacteria: All five major cannabinoids showed potent activity against a variety of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains of current clinical relevance.
How about trying out a handful of hemp seeds while chewing on the good news?
Need more optimistic ideas for sustainable alternatives? Find them in this free issue.
Photo: Flickr/ Chris H

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