High Stakes by Christopher Yin
Marijuana vs. Hemp
Marijuana is a drug. Marijuana can be addictive. Marijuana is deleterious to cognitive function. Long-term marijuana use has been associated with memory loss, inhibited learning abilities, and mental illness (including depression and schizophrenia). Marijuana is the most common illicit drug in America. According to a 2012 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 45.2% of 12th grade students had used marijuana in their lifetime, and 36.4% were current users.
Marijuana is not hemp.
Both marijuana and hemp are derived from the same plant species- Cannabis Sativa L. However, marijuana undergoes several processing steps to increase the concentration of THC, the compound responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects. Typically, marijuana contains 5-10% more THC than industrial hemp (the stalk and seed of the cannabis plant used for industrial and commercial purposes). The majority of the THC found in cannabis is located in the resin glands of the buds and flowers; industrial hemp is not cultivated to produce buds. Furthermore, the two are sourced from different varieties of cannabis. Why is this distinction important? Well, hemp is actually an incredibly versatile and healthful plant that is too often ostracized for its association with the marijuana drug. While there exists significant controversy over the benefits and detriments of marijuana, the power and salubriousness of hemp cannot be refuted.
Hemp for Health
First of all, what makes the hemp plant so healthy? There are numerous attributes of the plant that make it an extremely valuable addition to any diet. For the meat-heads who insist that dead animal is the only viable source of protein for man, hemp serves as a prime counterargument. Meat is often said to possess a higher quality of protein than plant sources because it contains all essential amino acids, which the human body cannot produce by itself. However, hemp is actually a complete protein as well, making it ideal for a vegan or vegetarian diet. Hemp protein is also easy to digest, as it comes in two types (edestin and albumin), both of which are globular and can thus be readily dissolved and made available for use by the body. Perhaps most importantly, hemp is an excellent source of healthy fats. Though fats have developed somewhat of a bad reputation due to the strong associations between heart disease and trans fats (which are completely artificial), these macromolecules are vital to a functioning human body. While animal sources of protein generally possess high saturated fat contents, hemp contains extremely healthful unsaturated fats (it is important to note that saturated fats can still be quite healthy, but the typical American diet is skewed towards processed saturated fats from poor-quality meat and soy). More specifically, hemp is an exceptional source of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in the optimal three to one ratio. Both of these types of fat are essential, meaning the body is incapable of synthesizing them naturally. There are a myriad of health benefits associated with the proper consumption of these fats, including bone health maintenance, regulation of metabolic function, stimulation of hair and skin growth, and reduced risk for heart attack, various other cardiovascular problems, atherosclerosis (artery hardening), certain cancers, and even dementia. So, whether you consume hemp hearts (the seed), hemp milk, hemp protein powder, hemp oil, or hemp in any other of its inventive forms, you can be sure that your body is reaping the rewards of a wise dietary decision.
Physical health isn’t the only benefit of growing hemp. Hemp is actually one of the most environmentally friendly crops known to man. Since the plant grows so quickly and densely, and weeds thus cannot survive in areas where cannabis is being cultivated, the need for any pesticides or herbicides is completely precluded. While some groups allege that marijuana-producing varieties of cannabis could be grown and hidden among industrial strains, this is not true. Marijuana plants are generally grown to a height of five feet, whereas industrial hemp is grown to about ten to fifteen feet; because industrial hemp is grown so densely packed, any marijuana plants would be outcompeted for sunlight (this difference in height is based on the fact that marijuana plants are cultivated for the resin-producing buds). In addition to food products, hemp can be used for clothing, paper, and even ethanol. Hemp produces four times the fiber per acre as pine trees, and hemp paper can be recycled up to seven times, whereas pine-based paper can only be recycled up to three. While hemp can yield a kilo of usable fiber on 2,123 liters of water, a kilo of cotton fiber requires 9,758 liters. Cotton also uses up twice as much land as hemp in order to equal its productivity. Clearly hemp possesses great potential in the field of agriculture, and in a world where sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue, hemp could play a significant role in the future.
Hemp in America
Despite all these benefits, hemp is involved in a complicated legal situation. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, officially defining hemp as a narcotic drug and creating several restrictions on growing hemp, including a system of strict fines and punishments. This same classification of hemp was repeated in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), which made the crop illegal to grow without a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license. Then, in 2001 the DEA issued an Interpretive Rule that banned hemp seed and any products containing hemp oil with any amount of trace residual THC. This ruling came out of the blue, without any sort of advance warning or opportunity to receive public comment. As this was a violation of the DEA’s rulemaking procedures, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the rule. However, the DEA and the HIA (Hemp Industries Association) are still locked in battle. The DEA currently maintains its stance on hemp, refusing to grant permits for commercial hemp production. What this means is that hemp products sold in the US must use imported hemp seed, resulting in a greater stress on the environment and higher prices for the consumer. The HIA is still striving to completely legalize the growth of industrial hemp in America, but ultimately the fate of hemp in America will rest in the hands of the consumers. With obesity rates on the rise and global warming threatening ecosystems everywhere, this is a battle with truly high stakes.