Hemp fibre has many advantages which make it ideal to use in the 21st century. The environmentally friendly cultivation, and sustainability of its products are the main drivers for growth in its use.
Despite the positive properties and features of hemp its cultivation and use has been held back, and it has decreased as a raw material during the 20th century. In recent years the upsurge in environmental pressures, and the need for sustainable products has brought a renewed interest in hemp. However, the growth in the use of hemp still has certain obstacles to overcome before it is again fully accepted as an industrial crop. One of the main obstacles is that it is regularly grouped with the psychoactive strains of the Cannabis plant; creating a stigma and restricting its cultivation for industrial end uses. The name hemp classifies varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3% or less of the psychoactive element Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), by dry weight.
In recent years, Small has proposed two possible classification of Cannabis, one based on ICP-MS, which confirms his earlier taxonomical treatment, and a new classification system for domesticated Cannabis. This is based on The International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP) and recognizes six groups of cultivars as follows:
1. Group of the non-narcotic plants, domesticated for stem fibre and/or oil seed in Western Asia and Europe. Low THC and high cannabidiol (CBD);
2. Group of the non-narcotic plants domesticated in East Asia, mainly China. Low to moderate THC, high CBD;
3. Group of the narcotic plants domesticated in South Central Asia. High cannabinoids, mostly THC;
4. Group of the narcotic plants domesticated in South Asia (Afghanistan and neighbouring Countries), containing both THC and CBD.
What is Industrial Hemp?
Cannabis is a genus of plants in the family Cannabaceae. There are three species within the genus. These are Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. It is not always agreed that these are three separate species.
Hemp, or industrial hemp is Cannabis sativa which is grown specifically for industrial end-uses. It’s made into a number of commercial products such as textiles, paper, human and animal foods, etc.
In Europe from the 1500s to the 1850s hemp had many uses including ship sails, rigging, ropes, sacks for cargo and clothing.
Hemp was so much in demand for naval use in this period, it was at times made compulsory to turn a part of your land over to growing it.
When steam-powered ships came along in the mid-nineteenth century demand for hemp fibre declined. It was also being replaced by cheaper cotton, and later synthetic and made-made fibres.
Controls on the Growth of Hemp
In the early/mid-20th century industrial hemp came under further adverse pressure as it was often categorised the same as marijuana. Whether this was confusion, protectionism, political or some other reason is unknown. However, the difficulty in differentiating species, and the many hybrids, may have been the reason to keep things plain and simple.
In the UK the Home Office can issue licences for the cultivation of cannabis plants with a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content for production of hemp fibre for industrial purposes or the obtaining of seeds for their oil. Licences to enable the use of non-controlled parts of the plant are available. These non-controlled parts include the seeds and fibre, and mature stalk. The licence does not allow for use of the leaves and flowers as these parts of the plant are controlled. A clear commercial use is essential and the licences are only issued for cultivation of plants from approved seed types with a THC content not exceeding 0.2%. EU approved seed varieties have to be used.
Hemp is not marijuana, although they do both come from the Cannabis plant. Hemp’s environmentally friendly cultivation, and sustainability of its products makes it ideal for the modern world. However, its use has been held back by being linked with the psychoactive strains of the Cannabis plant.