What is Hemp? Definition & Uses
Posted on December 30 2020
Hemp is a dioecious plant, meaning it is able to be divided into male and female plants. These plants are a variety of Cannabis sativa plant L and have served an array of purposes for more than ten thousand years. The plant’s stems contain fiber, seeds have protein, and the leaves and flowers encompass oils and smokable portions.
Many of those who are unacquainted with cannabis often question if hemp is the same as marijuana. Although the two are both classified biologically as cannabis, there are an assortment of important differences between them.
What is The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?
The distinctions of hemp and marijuana are documented in the language, laws and regulations that apply to both. The anatomy, history, uses and legality of the plant not only distinguish it from marijuana, but also make it a viable and versatile commodity.
In addition to its medicinal properties, hemp fibers can also be used to make things like paper, clothing, fabric, rope and building materials. The entire plant, from seed to stalk, can be used to make fuel and feedstock. It can be divided into four categories for more specific applications:
- Leaves and flowers
- Bast fibers
- Hurds, or shives
Hemp THC and CBD
The hemp plant produces a broad range of cannabinoids, which are the compounds found in cannabis. The most notable cannabinoid in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the primary psychoactive compound and active ingredient in cannabis. However, the hemp plant does not contain enough THC to produce intoxicating effects when consumed.
Despite the fact that the hemp plant does not produce a significant amount of THC, it is composed of high concentrations of the non-intoxicating and medicinally rich cannabidiol, or CBD. As a matter of fact, hemp-derived CBD is rapidly becoming one the most popular forms of therapeutic cannabinoid on the market today.
Different Hemp Varieties
Hemp cultivars are chosen based on a variety of factors depending on the desired final product, including:
- Stem quality
- Seed production per acre
- Harvest time
- Seed oil content
- Cannabinoid content
- Resistance to disease
The CBD market continues to grow, and its production, in particular, has become a major factor. More and more cultivars are being chosen based upon their CBD production and unique aromatic profiles, known as terpenes.
Uses for Hemp
The CBD oil that is extracted from hemp leaves and flowers can be used for making CBD oils, testifying to the ever-growing traction of CBD-focused cultivation. Its fibers are typically used for textiles, paper, building materials and other industrial products.
The raw materials from hemp such as hurds or shives are short woody fibers found inside of the stalk. These are used to make bedding, ceiling panels, compost, particle board, absorbents and other industrial materials. The outer portion of the stalk is made up of bast fibers which is categorized according to their cell strength and wall thickness, determining its usage.
How is Hemp Processed?
Hemp seeds and stalks can be processed with many different techniques. Which technique to utilize depends on the purpose of the final product.
The seeds can be refined by being pressed or crushed to produce oil and flour. These seeds can also be hulled, or shelled, to make them more palatable; while the stalks are refined through a process called decorticating, a multistep method for separating the long fibers from the rest of the plant. The flowers can be processed, and the cannabinoids and terpenes extracted.
The History of Hemp
Hemp has a long history of being cultivated all over the world dating back thousands of years. The oldest documented use of hemp cultivation was in 26,900 BCE to make rope in what is now known as the Czech Republic. Prolific use of the crop began around 10,000 BCE in China for making clothing, rope and paper.
Greco-Roman cultures were profoundly influenced by cannabis as a source of fiber, medicine and intoxication. Pliny the Elder was a Roman author and naturalist who made reference to the decoction of cannabis as a joint stiffness and gout treatment in the first century BCE.
Hemp was a prominent crop in the United States until the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act virtually eliminated the industry in America. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp.
Prior to the federal government passing the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, 39 states, under the Hemp Farming Act of 2014, passed industrial legislation, legalizing statewide cultivation programs that specified hemp definitively from marijuana. This established the differentiation of licensing and regulation requirements through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Many Uses of Hemp
Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops known to man. It can be grown for raw materials as a renewable resource and be incorporated into thousands of products, from health foods, to organic body care and other nutraceuticals.
Its seeds contain fatty acids, proteins, fiber and other nutritional chemicals. It also contains an impressive array of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, especially rich in iron, zinc, and B vitamins, to name a few.
In addition to its rich nutrition profile, some research suggests that hemp seeds have a wide range of positive health effects.