Earth Day 2016: Can Hemp Help Save Earth’s Environment?

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This week many celebrated marijuana on 4/20, while we also honor Earth Day on 4/22. Earth Day is not so much a celebration as a call for us to become aware of the incredibly widespread destruction and havoc humans have wreaked upon our environment and a plea for us to dramatically change this before we destroy our habitat. The closeness of 4/20 and 4/22 is apropos, as the banned and controversial cannabis plant offers arguably the single best way to ameliorate many of the problems our society and ecosystem currently face.

Cannabis (also known as hemp and marijuana) is one of the oldest cultivated plants. I know of no plant with such a wide range of beneficial uses. It is claimed that the hemp plant has 50,000 uses. Cannabis is among the very best sources of food, cloth, oil, paper, and building materials. It grows quickly (like a weed), thrives in a variety of climates, is naturally resistant to most plant diseases, requires little weeding and enriches the soil it is grown in.

Hemp is a superb source of fiber, historically being used for rope, cloth and paper. The sails and ropes on Columbus’s ships (and most ships in that era) were made from hemp, the first American flag was made from hemp and the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. From 75%-90% of all paper in the US was made from hemp until the late 1800’s. George Washington famously wrote “Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere” and grew it at Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison also grew hemp. They grew it for its industrial uses and it is unlikely that they used it medicinally. Ben Franklin started the first hemp paper mill in the US.

An acre of hemp will produce 4.1 times as much pulp for paper per acre as an acre of trees. It will produce 2-3 times as much fiber for cloth per acre as cotton. Cotton production requires very intensive use of water, pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers which increase nitrogen dioxide emissions, which are 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and which also contaminate groundwater. Cloth made from hemp is softer, stronger, warmer and more durable than cotton. The first Levi jeans were made from hemp cloth.

Hemp-based materials can replace wood and other building materials used in foundations, walls, shingles, paneling, pipes and paints. Concrete made from hemp, such as Hempcrete, is lightweight, waterproof, fireproof, self-insulating and pest-resistant and can be used to build roads and bridges.

The oil from hemp plants can be used as a fuel. Henry Ford expected that ethanol distilled from hemp and other biomass plants would be the preferred fuel for cars and built a car made from plastic-like material derived from hemp fiber that ran on fuel distilled from hemp. This plastic was 10 times stronger than steel and weighed far less.

Hemp is the most efficient producer of biomass per acre on Earth. Hemp can be distilled into charcoal, methanol, pyrolytic oil and gasoline at a 95.5% fuel to feed ratio. It burns much cleaner than fossil fuels, producing virtually no sulphur or ash. While burning it does produce carbon dioxide, that same amount of carbon dioxide is converted back to oxygen by growing hemp plants, creating a completely balanced cycle that adds no net carbon dioxide to our atmosphere!

Hemp is a also a valuable source of food. Hemp seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition, containing one of the highest protein contents of any food including all 20 amino acids and all 9 essential amino acids. It is nature’s highest source of essential fatty acids with an optimal 3:1 ratio of omega 6 linoleic acid to omega 3 linolenic acid. It is a rich source of minerals such as magnesium, potassium and iron and has many vitamins, especially Vitamin E, and is an excellent source of dietary fiber. It is highly digestible and undoubtedly one of nature’s most perfect foods. Hemp seed oil is perhaps the healthiest oil (and makes a fine salad dressing) and hemp milk is a nutritious milk substitute.

While industrial hemp is the same plant as medicinal cannabis, the strains grown for industrial use have minimal levels of THC and other psychoactive compounds, while the strains used medicinally have been bred to have very high levels of psychoactive compounds.

The cannabis plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years, being mentioned as a popular medicine in ancient China in 2900 BC and was widely used in Asia, India and the Arab world. According to Medical Marijuana Law by Boire and Feeney, “By 1850, marijuana had made its way into the United States Pharmacopeia [an official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the counter medicines], which listed marijuana as treatment for numerous afflictions, including: neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, insanity, excessive menstrual bleeding, and uterine bleeding, among others. Patented marijuana tinctures were sold” and widely used as a medicine in the US until 1937, when it was outlawed (despite opposition by the AMA!).

While there is a surprising amount of modern research on the medicinal uses, such research has been limited due to its legal status. The conditions marijuana are most widely used for include nausea and vomiting (particularly associated with chemotherapy), seizure disorders, migraine headaches, glaucoma, muscle spasms, including those associated with multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, premenstrual syndrome, menstrual cramps, Alzheimer’s disease, poor appetite associated with wasting diseases like AIDS and with chemotherapy, asthma, insomnia, anxiety, depression and chronic pain, especially neuropathic pain, a difficult-to-treat type of pain associated with cancer, diabetes and neurological disorders. Medical marijuana is also increasingly being used to treat cancer based on recent research showing it can kill at least some types of cancer cells. There are many individuals with conditions for which medical marijuana appears to work far better than any known pharmaceutical medicine.

Twenty-four states and Washington DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana (and two of these have legalized it for recreational use). This is leading to refinement of its medical uses. There are 2 main strains, sativa, which is more stimulating, and indica, which is more sedating, but there are hundreds of substrains that contain various mixtures of the 400+ chemicals found in cannabis. The main chemical in cannabis that causes the “high” is THC ( Tetrahydrocannabinol), which also appears to have anti-cancer properties. The other main medically-active substance is CBD (Cannabidiol). This does not make people feel “stoned” but is anti-inflammatory and reduces pain, anxiety and muscle spasm and also appears to have anti-cancer properties. Thus, some strains are better for insomnia or muscle spasms, some better for nausea or appetite, etc. Besides smoking the plant, it can be used orally and topically. Vaporizers allow one to inhale the vapors without smoke. Many users do not want the “high” associated with marijuana. Using it topically relieves pain without altering consciousness, as does ingesting the juice of fresh leaves, or choosing strains high in CBD.

Until a few years ago my main concern about the use of marijuana as a medicine was that while it is very safe and effective, it was primarily used to treat symptoms, and I am more interested in healing people than treating their symptoms. However, the recent research demonstrating that cannabis has powerful anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties suggests that it is very useful in supporting true healing.
Of course, the most common use of marijuana is “recreational” but even this use may have significant medical benefits. As a recreational substance marijuana has a calming effect that eases anxiety and helps many to cope with the stresses of modern day living. It increases sensitivity to lights, sounds, taste, smell and touch. It often opens one’s mind to new ideas and can enhance creativity. Many users ascribe spiritual benefits to its use, and it does have a long history of use by yogis in India as an aid to meditation and spiritual practice. Its use as a relaxant is a viable alternative to alcohol and drugs like Valium, as it is much less toxic and addictive than those substances. Anything that helps people better cope with stress and can help them to connect with their spiritual self is likely to significantly benefit their health.
Of course, like all medicines, marijuana has side effects including poor short-term memory, difficulty concentrating, anxiety and fatigue. While marijuana has a measurable yet relatively mild effect on psychomotor skills, it does not appear to play a significant role in vehicle crashes, particularly when compared to alcohol. Like many medicinal substances, marijuana can be abused by some. Often when people first start using marijuana recreationally in adolescence they use it daily for a period and it may be used to avoid dealing with emotional issues and as a means of escape and withdrawal. However, most recreational users evolve out of this phase and use it only occasionally. It may be wise to avoid or minimize use in adolescence. One widely publicized study found that regular use before 18 may result in long-term lowering of IQ, though a more recent study found no evidence of marijuana lowering IQ in adolescents.

No medicine is equally suited for everyone. Marijuana certainly does not agree with everybody, creating anxiety and paranoia in a significant proportion of users, and, like all medicines, should be used with caution. However, those who have negative experiences with it tend to learn this quickly and avoid it. Also, those who react poorly to strains rich in THC may still have medicinal benefits from strains rich in CBD.

 

As mentioned, cannabis was in widespread use as a patent medicine in the US in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. In the 1930’s Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, ran a smear campaign against marijuana, generating propaganda including news stories and ads depicting marijuana as often leading to insanity and murderous violence, often with strong racial undertones. Marijuana prohibition began with the Anslinger-written “Marihuana Tax Act” in 1937. Many in congress did not even realize that marijuana came from the hemp plant. Today some authorities contend that the real reason marijuana was prohibited was because, with the invention of the decorticator, a device that made it easier to process hemp for industrial uses, hemp became a threat to the timber and nylon industries.The primary reason given by those who do not want to legalize industrial hemp is that this would make it difficult to maintain prohibition of marijuana. However, it is widely acknowledged that marijuana use is far less hazardous than alcohol and tobacco and it is illogical and a tremendous waste of resources that in 2007 an estimated 872,720 persons were arrested for marijuana offenses in the US and tens of thousands remain imprisoned. Because of marijuana prohibition, many who grow it illegally do so in national forests and on other public land, causing significant environmental disruption. A March 2015 Pew Research poll found a majority of Americans now favor legalization of marijuana (53% vs. 44%). An overwhelming 72% of those surveyed (vs. 23%) said the federal government’s efforts against marijuana “cost more than they are worth.” Many illustrious drug policy experts, economists and politicians both liberal and conservative advocate the decriminalization of cannabis. According to a paper by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, the federal government could save as much as 13.7 billion dollars annually by legalizing marijuana, with 7.7 billion coming from the cost of enforcing current laws and 6 billion from tax revenues. However, this figure only looks at the medical uses of marijuana and does not take into account the potential savings from using hemp for fuel, paper, cloth and building materials. The Department of Defense Budget for 2014 was over 620 billion dollars. A large amount of that budget is used to defend our access to foreign oil. By not having to ensure this our military budget might be reduced at least 20%, resulting in 124 billion dollars or more in additional savings.
Thus, the use of industrial hemp can revolutionize our economy and tremendously reduce the stress we are placing on the fragile ecosystem of planet Earth. It is estimated that 6% of the US landmass cultivated for hemp would meet ALL of our current needs for oil and gas. Imagine a world without the environmental havoc of oil drilling, oil spills, pipelines, coal mining, and fracking let alone the need for a huge military presence and wars fought to ensure our supplies of foreign oil. Imagine no need for nuclear power and the attendant hazards of world-wide radiation contamination. Imagine a world with no need to cut down forests for paper and building materials. Imagine reducing the amount of pesticides released into the environment by 16-25% and dramatically reducing the use of environment-degrading nitrogen-based fertilizers by replacing cotton farms with hemp farms.
Now is the time to end the senseless prohibition of hemp. I believe that future generations will look back at our current prohibition of hemp with the same sense of bewilderment that we have when we look back upon such misguided policies as tolerance of slavery and denying women the right to vote. Rather than prohibiting the hemp plant, this incredibly useful and valuable plant should be the very foundation of our economy.——————————————————————————————————————-
There is a large amount of readily available information on cannabis.
Among the more useful links I have found:
Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-284.html
This is a chapter from an academic agriculture book. It is extremely  thorough and very well-documented.The Emperor Wears no Clothes
http://www.jackherer.com/thebook/
Full text of the 11th edition of the seminal “book that started the hemp revolution,” first published in 1985, which has sold over 600,000 copiesEnvironmental Benefits of Hemp
http://eap.mcgill.ca/CPH_3.htm
A succinct summary of the environmental benefits of hemp from McGill University

History and Benefits of Hemp
http://www.sdearthtimes.com/et0199/et0199s11.html
Well-written summary

Recent Research on Medical Marijuana
http://norml.org/library/recent-research-on-medical-marijuana
Excellent review by NORML of the surprising amount of scientific research conducted 2000-2013

The Science of Cannabidiol

http://projectcbd.org/

Excellent website providing extensive documentation of the science on the medical uses of CBD (Cannabidiol)

Marijuana and Cancer

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/08/23/20-medical-studies-that-prove-cannabis-can-cure-cancer/

A summary of research on the use of marijuana to treat cancer

Historical Timeline
History of Marijuana as Medicine – 2900 BC to Present

http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000143
An interesting, enjoyable and documented chart

Raw Cannabis-Medicine Without the High
http://www.medicann.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Summer2010.pdf
Fine article by Deborah Malka MD, PhD along with an extremely impressive testimonial by patient Kristen Peskuski

Recent Research on Marijuana and IQ
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/22/no-marijuana-use-doesnt-lower-your-iq/

4/13 Pew Research Survey on Marijuana

http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-marijuana-legalization-majority-support-20130404,0,2533952.story

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6 thoughts on “Earth Day 2016: Can Hemp Help Save Earth’s Environment?

  1. What a great article!! I hope you don’t mind that I shared it on Facebook. This could be the answer we have been seeking for so long.

  2. Awesome article, old friend. I’ve known some of these facts, but minimal, compared to what I learned today in your comprehensive report. We definitely need to encourage the redevelopment of this natural resource as the opportunities arise.

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