Hemp is a strain of the Cannabis Sativa plant, incidentally a source of marijuana. Though derived from the same plant, hemp has fewer psychoactive compounds, and marijuana or medical cannabis has a higher content of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. The two products are botanically linked to the same plant but have different chemical compositions, gene structures, and applications.
Hemp is grown and processed to be used in the industrial application in a wide range of products that include
- Dietary supplements and nutritional aids
- Pet foods and relaxants
- Skincare and beauty products
- Textiles and fabrics
- Hardboard and paper
- Construction materials like particle board and fiberglass
There is continued research to include hemp in sustainable and ecological use that can help in resolving climate change issues to an extent. It can be used as packaging material and replace plastic that takes years to decompose and is part of heavy landfills. Besides, since hemp plants can grow in most soil types, there is acute deforestation when it is used in place of trees to make paper and construction materials.
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Chemical characteristics of hemp
Hemp and cannabis are structurally made up of cannabinoids and complex phytochemicals, terpenes with bipolar elements, and isomers with similar molecular structures. Hemp plants have a negligible or low concentration of THC and a higher presence of CBD.
Consumption of hemp products does not give a high as the CBD element is non-psychotropic. Contrarily, the presence of higher CBD counters the effect of THC. Cannabinoids account for 60% of the concentration in a hemp plant. THC content is less than 0.3% on a dry weight basis for hemp.
Apart from cannabinoids which help relax muscles and improve immunity, hemp is known for its rich nutrient profile like proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, flavonoids, and antioxidants. Ancient civilizations have recorded a history of using hemp for various generic uses and even as a miracle medicinal plant.
Texture of hemp
Hemp plants are grown as per the end product that is being sourced or processed. The flower heads of hemp plants come in clusters and contain seeds. It is used for seeds that are used in dietary supplements and extraction of hemp seed oil.
Processing of hemp
The sturdy woody stalks of hemp when retted in the fields, disintegrate to reveal the bast fiber. The woody grass stalks are processed after resting to separate the bast fiber and processed in a big churner to separate the outer hardy surface. Fiber that comes out from the machine is tossed, beaten, and rolled into bales. These bales are processed into yarn. It is later spun into textiles, and used for making mattresses or other useful products.
Hemp seeds are taken from dried flower heads and processed for edible products like hemp gummies.
Let us check a few uses of hemp and see how it is cultivated for the purpose:
Seeds and grains
Hemp seeds are a popular choice of nutritional supplement because of their rich profile. Apart from being a good source of protein for vegans, it also contains essential minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, and multivitamins. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in hemp seeds can help reduce cholesterol and maintain a good metabolism level.
Hemp plants are densely placed to discourage flowering and branching. Seeds grown are dried and dehulled before processing into end-product.
Hemp cellulose is extracted through various methods of retting or decortication. Once the bast fiber is separated from the corn fiber, the end product is tossed, beaten, and combed using various machines. From this stage, it is rolled into big bales to be further processed as yarn for textiles or thick tensile products like fiberglass.
Hemp-based fiber is very comfortable, and breathable and is a natural fiber. Its use is being encouraged by garment manufacturers in the world’s fashion capital cities like Paris and Milan.
Hemp grown for fiber is densely spaced to discourage flowering and turn into long woody stalks with leaves.
CBD is extracted from flower heads. Flowering is encouraged from the cultivation stages, and CBD oil is extracted from the dried flower heads. This oil is used in topical applications like muscle pain oil, bath and body products, relaxants for pet products, and other uses of counter drugs.
The anti-inflammatory analgesic properties of CBD compounds help in de-stressing severe pain like osteoarthritis, and migraine and even helps calm down depression symptoms by relaxing the mind and body.
CBD is extracted through various methods like alcohol distillation, solvent, and non-solvent extraction.
Hemp dust and husk are processed as pellets and used as feed for livestock, natural biofuel, and bio-fertilizer to enrich the soil. Every part of the hemp plant is used, and there is hardly any wastage. Its versatile utility and easy cultivation make it the crop of the future.
Future for industrial hemp
The demand for CBD and hemp products is still in a nascent stage and the products are scarce and expensive because of the supply and demand situation. Though the awareness is increasing, the lack of many players is making it difficult for consumers to opt for as the production overheads are not yet spread across and absorbed by the revenue multipliers.
If there are efforts from the stakeholders to encourage more people to join the hemp industry, then the future of the industry can see positive transformations.
Testing of Hemp plays a vital role in marking its credibility as the consumers can read the information on the profile of the product. Important content levels of THC, cannabinoids, and terpenes are mentioned along with details about any harmful contamination found in the sample.
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The hemp industry can grow to astronomical heights if it is used even by half as many people as it was a few centuries ago. It is a natural, organic, and plant-based source that can help reclaim the efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of human beings. Unlike plastic it takes just a few weeks to decompose, thus making it an ecological solution.