What is hemp but yet another garden plant? It would be easy to pass hemp off as just another weed, but the truth is, it’s far from weed (and being a weed) and is one unique herb that has been utilized for multiple purposes for thousands of years.
It is environmentally friendly, can be used to make materials for construction or clothing, to support people’s well-being and clean up radioactive material. There isn’t much that hemp can’t do with it’s over 50,000 different modern uses.
In New Zealand we’ve been farming hemp more aggressively after legislation was passed back in 2008. Since then, the NZ hemp industry has seen an incredible surge in materials and products made from hemp.
In this article we’ll explore what is hemp its uses and applications in brief, including its recognition for nutritional benefits, and how CBD or whole-plant hemp products work within a physiological system in the body to bring balance to multiple systems and functions to highlight how hemp works directly with the body to alleviate various conditions.
While the hemp industry in New Zealand has experienced a recent renaissance, the future holds exciting possibilities that could benefit kiwi’s in countless ways from farming hemp for export trade, to supporting local farmers and communities by providing building materials, textiles, clothing and timber alternatives while supporting the health of our families.
Hemp is an annual plant commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere; it is part of the Cannabis sativa family. There are three species of the hemp plant: Cannabis sativa L., Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient of marijuana, is the main difference between the different species.
What this means, is that while marijuana is typically associated with a psychoactive effect, hemp is an entirely different strain of the plant, providing no psychoactive effect at all. This is because marijuana strains range anywhere from 10-20% THC and hemp comes in at a legal limit of less than 0.3% THC.
So if you’re driving around the backroads of New Zealand country and you see what appears to be a Cannabis crop, don’t think you’ve just stumbled across an MJ crop like in the movie The Beach. Just leave the plants for the kiwi farmers who know how to farm it and rely on the hemp crop to feed their families. What is hemp? Well, it certainly isn’t marijuana.
Hemp is exceptional in its variety of uses, so it has been grown for both industrial and consumer purposes. It is used to make a variety of products and has been noted for its medicinal benefits. Interestingly, the word “sativa” means useful in Latin.
Hemp has the “longest and strongest” natural fiber produced by any plant, which is used to create more than 25,000 different products, including paper, clothing, rope and canvas. Hemp fibers can also be used for building materials and a variety of composite materials. The fibers, which are found in the stalk of the plant, are harvested by hand, which reduces the environmental impact that comes from conventional processing.
Hemp is one of the oldest crops and its farming, harvesting, and use dates back more than 10,000 years. Cords made from hemp dating back prior to 8000 BC were discovered in Taiwan. As early as 6000 BC, hemp was cultivated in China for its seeds and oils for use in foods. What is hemp, sounds like a silly question when we begin to learn how it's been used for so long.
Writings about hemp dating back to 600 BC were discovered in India, noting the “intoxicating effects” of the resin. The plant was viewed as having a divine connection and some even considered it to have “magical powers.” Some cultures believed the plant was a gift from a higher power and was highly regarded in early cultures.
Hemp was recognized early on for having medicinal benefits in addition to cultural and spiritual uses. Herbalists noted that it was beneficial in treating disease, illness, infections, and other disorders. The leaves were used to make medicinal teas.
In 1621, The Anatomy of Melancholy was published and recommended hemp to treat depression. In 1764, The New English Dispensatory encouraged topical application to treat skin inflammation. In 1839, W.B. O’Shaughnessy reported that hemp was effective in treating epilepsy and tetanus. He noted that a tincture of hemp was used for pain relief.
In the Americas, cultivation of hemp was mandated by European colonists due to its noted value. In 1606, Britain began growing hemp in Canada and then in Virginia in 1611. Hemp was already growing in the Americas, and the Native Americans helped the colonists cultivate these plants.
England actually threatened to impose punishments on colonists to ensure they grew hemp crops. To ensure dependence on England, the colonists could not use or process hemp. Hemp was mainly used as an export, until colonists boycotted English products and began weaving their own fabric from hemp. After the American Revolution, the American paper industry developed and used hemp paper as a major means of communication.
Currently, many countries grow hemp for commercial use across the continents of Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States are the main countries engaging in the research of hemp’s uses.
China is the largest exporter of hemp in the entire world for the paper and textile industries. Canada produces and exports more hemp seeds than any other country. They produce high-quality seeds that are non-GMO and free of pesticides. The United States currently imports 60 to 90 percent of its current hemp from Canada.
Europe’s focus has been on production for industrial uses, like automobiles and building materials. Overall, the United States is far behind its contemporaries in utilization, application, and appreciation of the hemp industry. Many countries see hemp for its true value and potential.
Hemp is able to produce high-quality products, has less of an environmental impact than other crops and comparable products, and is boosting financial revenue in the countries where it is grown and processed.
As education and awareness continue, the restrictions and stigmas unfairly associated with hemp are expected to diminish further in New Zealand.
Hemp has a large role in assisting in the regulation and activation of what some would say is the most important system of physiology in the body: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS was discovered in mid-1990 by researcher Dr. Ralph Mechoulam. It was found that the ECS is an integral part of our physiologies responsible for maintaining order and balance across all other systems of the body from the circulatory, digestive and reproductive, to the nervous system and hemp plays a crucial role.
The ECS produces compounds called endo-cannabinoids which play a vital role in early human growth and development. These endocannabinoids assist in the healthy balanced functioning of all vital systems of the body. When the ECS becomes inactive through being overstressed or undernourished, other systems of the body can fall into disorder, leading to an array of debilitating health conditions.
An extensive Ministry of Health report in 2008 had this to say about the ECS:
"A unique system, critical for our health, and in all of our main organs and tissues. It is responsive to system demand and environmental conditions."
Hemp provides compounds called phyto-cannabinoids, which have been shown to provide multiple benefits to the body both on their own, and by working through the ECS. Some parts of the hemp plant contain cannabinoids, and other parts do not. This is why not all hemp products are created equal.
An example of this would be hempseed oil used for cooking found on supermarket shelves versus a full spectrum hemp oil containing an array of beneficial plant compounds including cannabinoids, fatty acids and terpenes.
On our blog we strive to provide the latest in evidence-based peer-reviewed research on hemp’s effectiveness with multiple bodily conditions ranging from endometriosis, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis to back pain, cardiovascular disease and bipolar just to name a few.
If you found this article helpful in answering the question, what is hemp and how does it work, share it with a friend or two.