Saturday 4th December, 2021

Issue No.69

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Hemp plants: why are they important?

We keep on hearing about hemp plants, but what are they really? Hemp is a term for certain varieties of the Cannabis sativa species. In contrast to "marijuana" - a common word for cannabis that is relatively abundant in THC - hemp has relatively little THC.

Humans have been cultivating hemp plants for thousands of years for food, medicine, and textiles. Hemp may be one of the oldest known plants that humans have cultivated for medicinal and nutritional purposes.

green plant in black plastic pot. We keep on hearing about hemp plants, but what are they really?

People in ancient China seem to have started cultivating hemp plants around 2700 BC Reliable source. According to historical records, hemp spread across Europe after expanding into Asia some 2,000 to 2,200 years ago.

The human relationship with hemp is multifaceted, with humans using hemp and hemp plant parts in various ways. Some records claim that the spine of the first copy of the Bible, and even Christopher Columbus' canvas ropes and sails, were made from hemp fibres.

Read on to learn more about the hemp plant and its uses, including its current legality, health benefits and other uses.

How does hemp differ from other cannabis plants?

The main difference between hemp plants and other cannabis plants is in cultivation, use, and, most importantly, levels of the compound delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is what causes the "high" that cannabis is famous for.

To be legally classified as a hemp plant, a cannabis plant must contain no more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. In contrast, most other cannabis plants contain between 5–30% THC.

The Cannabis sativa species contains about 480 natural components, of which more than 100 belong to a group of compounds called cannabinoids.

Some cannabinoids, notably THC, are intoxicating, meaning they can make someone feel "high". Although hemp plants are low in THC, they can be abundant in other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), which is not intoxicating.

Identifying Factors for Hemp Plants

Cannabis plants, especially in their natural wild state, can all be similar. However, hemp and other cannabis varieties can look quite different when industries grow them for specific purposes.

Anecdotal evidence states that cannabis plants for hemp production tend to:

  • have thinner leaves, mainly concentrated on the top of the plant.
  • have little branching or leaves below the top of the plant to facilitate long stalks rich in hemp fibre
    be tall, up to 20 feet
  • look like a weed and grow naturally in several states, including Kansas and Nebraska
  • grow very close to each other
  • grow under many different conditions and require minimal care
green cannabis plant.  We keep on hearing about hemp plants, but what are they really?

On the other hand, cannabis plants grown primarily for their THC content tend to:

  • have well-sprouted leaves, broad or with small nugget-like buds covered by small crystals or hairs
  • look like a short fat bush from a distance
  • be strongly branched to encourage flower and THC production
  • require a controlled, moist and warm environment to grow
  • grow spaced from other plants

Uses and health benefits of hemp planta

Hemp seeds and hemp oil made from compressed hemp seeds are extremely nutritious reliable sources. They are rich in protein, fibre, and magnesium. Hemp seeds also contain very high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can help:

  • reduce symptoms of osteoporosis (loss of bone density)
  • increase cardiovascular health
  • reduce symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis


Hemp also contains a variety of antioxidants or compounds that protect cells from damage and can help reduce the risk of cancer, including:

  • terpenes and terpenoids
  • polyphenols, namely flavonoids
  • tocopherols

Protein supplements may also contain hemp flour. Some food products also contain raw hemp seeds or hemp seed oil. Hemp seed milk is also an alternative to cow's milk and other less environmentally efficient products such as almond milk.

In addition to the health benefits of hemp's nutritious components, there are also potential health benefits of non-nutritive compounds such as CBD and THC. However, further research should establish its potential health and safety benefits.

Currently, there is some preliminary evidence that CBD may have the potential to help treat or manage:

person sitting while using laptop computer and green stethoscope near.  We keep on hearing about hemp plants, but what are they really?
  • epilepsy and other seizure disorders
  • chronic pain
  • psychosis
  • anxiety and depression
  • digestive disorders
  • multiple sclerosis
  • cancer
  • rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • insomnia
  • type 1 diabetes
  • some research suggests that CBD may also have a neuroprotective effect, protecting brain cells. Due to its potential neuroprotective effect, CBD can help treat neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Other Uses for Hemp Plants

Hemp stalk fibres are strong and used in many different ways. More than 25,000 products contain hemp.

Some popular products made from hemp or hemp products include:

  • ropes
  • textiles
  • clothing
  • industrial oils and biofuels
  • cosmetics
  • home furniture
  • paper
  • construction materials
  • bioplastics
  • health supplements
  • food

Environmental Benefits of Hemp Plants

Growing hemp is more environmentally friendly, efficient and versatile than many other crops. The hemp plant is also capable of growing quickly in a variety of conditions.

As they grow, hemp plants create a dense canopy that keeps the sun from hitting competing weeds. Industrial hemp can even grow without significant amounts of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides required by other crops.

Given how quickly it grows, hemp is excellent for sequestering or "capturing" carbon or absorbing carbon from the air and turning it into plant material throughout the hemp plant. One hectare of industrial hemp cultivation can suck up about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide (C02).

Hemp plantations have dense, deep roots that can help prevent soil erosion and associated land loss.

Hemp roots are also able to extract nutrients from deep in the soil, including harmful heavy metals, and incorporate them into harmless plant matter. These qualities make hemp excellent at recovering, strengthening, and decontaminating or "cleaning up" soil.

In summary

white and purple flower in macro lens. We keep on hearing about hemp plants, but what are they really?

Hemp differs from other forms of cannabis in many ways, including its cultivation, use, and THC levels. Hemp also has multiple uses, and the way it is grown is more environmentally friendly than many other crops.

More research is needed. However, parts of hemp, such as seed, have significant nutritional value and cannabinoids such as CBD may have the potential for various health benefits.

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