CBD has become more popular than anyone could have predicted, and now the industry is raking in pounds of cash. Edibles and tinctures filled with potent CBD extracts line the shelves in supermarkets and drugstores. Every major beauty brand is putting out its own brand of CBD-infused skincare products. The wellness community can’t get enough of this non-intoxicating cannabis-derived compound.
Demand for CBD-rich hemp is at an all-time high. As more and more farmers transition into hemp cultivation, do we need to be concerned about a potential ecological problem, or is hemp actually good for the environment?
What Exactly Is Industrial Hemp?
If you’re confused about the difference between hemp, marijuana, and cannabis, don’t worry, we’ll explain.
Both marijuana and hemp are technically cannabis plants. The distinction between the two varieties comes solely from the percentages of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. In 2018, the federal government officially quantified the difference in the Farm Bill, which also federally legalized hemp. According to the bill, in order for a cannabis plant to be classified as hemp, it must contain less than 0.3% Delta 9 THC per dry weight.
Historically, there were benefits of hemp flower. Industrial hemp has been used for its fibers in the past and presently today. The durability of hemp fibers makes it the perfect material for making paper, sails, ropes, bags, clothing, and other textiles. Today, ingenious engineers have found ways to turn hemp biomass into eco-friendly building materials and even biofuel.
However, the majority of hemp grown in North America today is harvested for its potent flowers. While the federal government has placed limits on the amount of THC that can be present in hemp, plants can still be bred to produce large amounts of other cannabinoids like CBD.
How Can Hemp Help The Environment?
At this point, there’s no denying that the earth is getting hotter and that greenhouse gases are a major contributing factor. Current projections have us poised to enter a catastrophic climate crisis unless we can drastically change course, and soon. Could the hemp industry actually help?
Certain cash crops can wind up causing more damage to the environment than good. Take almonds, for example. Adding almond milk to your coffee in the morning may seem like a more eco-friendly option than supporting the dairy industry, but almonds hurt the planet in other ways. Almost 80% of the world’s supply of these legumes comes from the constantly drought-stricken state of California. So you may be surprised to learn that it takes 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 measly almonds.
Unlike almonds or another textile crop like cotton, the hemp plant is resilient and doesn’t need a lot of water to thrive. Even in dryer parts of the country, hemp can be maintained with a low-water drip irrigation system that’s much more water-efficient than the systems required for comparable crops.
Hemp plants also produce tons of pollen, which helps bees thrive and maintain our ecosystem. Not to mention, novel hemp products like hemp biofuel could dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Hemp And The Carbon Cycle
Let’s talk about carbon. When we burn fossil fuels, we release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, where it gets stuck. The more carbon that gets stuck in the atmosphere, the harder it is for the heat from the sun to escape, which accounts for the climate shift we’re currently experiencing.
Carbon also gets released into the atmosphere naturally. All living organisms on this planet are made of carbon. When we breathe, and when we die and decompose, we release that carbon into the atmosphere. But mother nature, in her infinite wisdom, has a way of balancing this called the carbon cycle. Plants, trees, and other vegetation absorb the carbon we release as part of photosynthesis. Certain plants absorb more carbon than others.
Typically, when we think about the carbon cycle, we think of something like lush rainforests in the Amazon, but let’s take a look at some figures. A single acre of forest land captures around 5,000 lbs of carbon annually. That sounds like quite a bit until you compare it to hemp, which can capture as much as 40,000 lbs of carbon in just a few short months. Amazingly, hemp is one of the best commercial crops on the planet at sequestering carbon. And, if we could pivot towards hemp-based paper products, we could also take away much of the incentive for logging companies to cut down the existing rainforests.
Reversing climate change will take a concerted effort from a variety of different avenues, but planting more hemp can only help!