wooden tray set with hemp seed and oil
Industrial Sustainability | Sustainability

What Can Hemp Be Used For?

Hemp is one of the world’s fastest-growing plants and has long been grown for the production of a variety of industrial and other goods.

Industrial hemp is grown for the production of food and non-food products, with some of the key uses being for medicines, body care products, agricultural products, construction products, plastics, textiles, paper, and food. It has been estimated that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products.  

Many consider hemp “a wonder crop” and possibly the most important plant on earth.  

What Is Hemp?

hand caresses hemp leaf from growing plant

Hemp is one of the many varieties of cannabis plants and together with marijuana comes from the same species but different cultivars of Cannabis sativa. However, hemp is genetically distinct and differs in its chemical composition and use from marijuana.

Unlike marijuana, hemp contains low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical substance that can affect the nervous system leading to changes in mood, perception and behavior. In the United States, hemp is legally defined as a cannabis plant that has 0.3 percent or less THC, whilst marijuana is a cannabis plant with more than 0.3 percent THC.

Generally, the term ‘cannabis’ is used in reference to the plant species that are used for recreational and purposes. The term “hemp” or “industrial hemp” refers to the type of Cannabis sativa variety that is cultured for industrial use, and ‘marijuana’ for the variety grown for the psychotropic drug, be it recreational or medicinal.

From skincare and medical uses to feed for farm animals and fiber to make paper and clothing, the uses for hemp are seemingly endless. Here are just a few.

1. Medicine

glass cbd jar sits on table next to leaves

Hemp has been an important crop throughout human history for the production of medicine and has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine to treat various ailments including fever, constipation and rheumatic pain.

Instead of THC (the psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants), hemp used for therapeutic purposes has high levels of a substance called cannabidiol or CBD. Cannabidiol, the most abundant of at least 85 active cannabinoids obtained from hemp, lacks psychoactive activity, but is widely used to treat various medical conditions.

Since the 1970s, various cannabinoid-based medicines have been developed for the treatment of a wide range of diseases, including vomiting and nausea, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, dermatitis and side effects of chemotherapy.

2. Body Care Products

hemp seeds sit next to topical hemp balm

The oil from hemp seed is widely used for cosmetic applications, personal care products and skincare due to its high concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acid, minerals and vitamins.

Hemp has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-ageing and antioxidant properties, which balances skin pH and moisture levels. Thanks to these properties, it’s now a common ingredient in soaps, creams, shampoos, conditioners, creams, perfumes and many other hair and beauty products.

3. Agricultural Applications

women hands hold hemp seeds and leaf

Hemp seed is nutritious, contains valuable fatty acids and high-quality protein, and can be used as a source of fat and protein in livestock feed. In Europe, a protein cake made from hemp seed has been used for animal feed.

The use of hemp seed for livestock feed has also been shown to have nutraceutical properties, that is properties that are health-promoting or disease-preventing. For example, the addition of hemp seeds to the diet of hens and broilers has been shown to result in increased breaking strength of the tibia, the shinbone, and a decrease in the rate of its deformation.

The use of hemp in veterinary medicine is currently being investigated. Presently, the most common and scientifically justified clinical applications of hemp in veterinary medicine are as a painkiller for osteoarthritis and an anticonvulsant activity for epilepsy.

The oil from hemp is also potentially useful as a source of environmentally friendly botanical insecticides. Hemp extracts are effective at repelling insects and preventing the growth of soil-borne microbial disease-causing agents.

Planting hemp along the boundary of fields or rotating fields between crops with hemp has been reported to reduce infestation by insects. Its deep rooting system has a positive influence on soil structure and restricts the growth of nematodes and fungi.

Other hemp uses in agriculture include the use of its leaves as mulch, compost and animal bedding.     

4. Construction Materials

exposed building shows it's using hemp as insulation

Hemp as a building material is one of the most important uses of this plant. Hemp fiber is used to produce various types of building and insulation materials such as bricks, blocks, slabs, roofing tiles, paneling and fiberboards with good hygrothermal properties.

Hemp fibers have low thermal conductivity, which makes hemp an excellent insulator. Insulation is one of the most important applications for hemp today.

Hemp-based building materials are affordable to produce, lightweight, durable, fire and waterproof, and resistant to fungal molds and other pests. In France, more than 5000 tons of hemp material are used annually for construction purposes.  

5. Plastics

biodegradable cutlery sit upon a biodegradable food container

Hemp is used in manufacturing non-toxic and biodegradable plastics or bioplastics. The production of plant-based plastics has been shown to have lower environmental and human health impacts than petroleum-based plastics. 

6. Textiles and Fabrics

rack of organic clothing on hangers outside

For thousands of years hemp fiber has been used to make textiles, fabrics, rugs, ropes and canvas. Hemp is strong, durable, versatile, flexible and naturally resistant to water damage, ultraviolet light, mold and mildew. Today, it’s used in a large number of textile and fabric applications including clothing, bags, diapers, blankets, shoes, furniture, and even jewelry.    

7. Paper

old timely paper with wax seal

The production of paper using hemp also dates back thousands of years. Hemp pulp has fiber that is four to five times longer, has greater tear resistance and tensile strength than wood pulp.

The most common type of papers currently produced from hemp include high-quality specialty papers for writing and printing, cigarette paper, filter papers for technical and scientific purposes, greaseproof papers, insulating papers and several specialty art papers. 

8. Food and Nutrition

bowl of yogurt and berries has hemp seeds spread on top of it

Hemp seed contains about 25% protein and substantial amounts of minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber and specific phenolic compounds. Nutritionally speaking, hemp is packed with good stuff, and is one of the best, most easily digestible sources of the following:

  • vegetable protein
  • vitamins A, D, E and group B
  • calcium
  • iron
  • sodium
  • polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • dietary fiber
  • phytonutrients that aid in ensuring the normal operations of body tissue and organs

Thus, hemp seed is widely used globally as a source of food and nutritional supplements.

The seeds can be consumed or used to produce a diverse range of food products including, hemp flour, protein powder, hemp milk, hemp oil, butter and tea.

sign in front of hemp farm implies no trespassing while reminding it is not marijuana and contains no thc

















https://dx.doi.org/ 10.1079/9781845937935.0004










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