Our lifestyles are having an ever-bigger impact on the earth’s finite resources. But what if there was a crop that could provide farmers with income, be turned into food, clothes and even concrete, with minimal impact on the environment?
Hemp, once widespread in the UK, is now on the sidelines despite having all of those qualities. In this film, we investigate what’s holding back this miracle crop from going mainstream.
While most people associate hemp with a hippie-esque fabric for tote bags, or even misclassify it along with fellow (psychoactive) cannabis variety consumed as marijuana, it actually has a wide range of uses in anything from sustainable building materials to food and textiles.
And it’s not new either. Think of towns like Hemel Hempstead and Broadhempston – they are signs of how significant hemp production was the UK, before cotton and the industrial revolution took over. And it could become so again.
Here are some of the diverse products hemp can produce:
Hemp seeds can be turned into a wide range of food items, including oil for cooking, a dairy alternative to milk, as an ingredient in baking or food processing, or as a supplement as a protein powder. Hemp is full of healthy polysaturated fatty acids, a source of Omegas 3 and 6, which are great for skin, hair and nails as well as heart health.
Made from the leaves of hemp and usually sold in liquid form, cannabidiol – better known as CBD – has a long history of therapeutic uses, including calming stress and anxiety, and help with sleep. There are also other stronger claims, such as alleviating the symptoms of epilepsy, autism, and even cancer, which were the subject of a recent BBC 2 episode of Trust Me I’m a Doctor. It’s important for users to be aware of potentially inflated health claims online and buy from trusted CBD retailers like Good Hemp or Venus Hemp.
Textiles and personal care
The global textile industry uses hemp, but in the UK it’s not as widespread due to our historic association with cotton and cultural perceptions. As we now know the environmental impact of cotton, not least its high water use, hemp could be used as a sustainable fashion alternative. It can also be used in personal care items like soap, and in an array of other sustainable lifestyle products.
The stalk of the hemp plant can be used for ‘hempcrete’, which is a strong and durable building material, and can be used for insulation in houses. The fibres can be even be used in dashboards for cars. Hemp as a plant has very long roots, which trap carbon deep within the soil. Once harvested, hemp fibres also retain and therefore lock up this carbon, compared to usual building materials which might slowly release carbon over time. Companies like Hempcrete Cymru, in Wales, are among a small number of companies offering hempcrete as an affordable and sustainable building material.
Hemp fibres could be used as a much lower impact source of paper. Rather than causing deforestation and shipping paper all over the world, British-grown hemp could be used as a sustainable and strong source for paper production.
Despite these many uses, for UK farmers, who are unable to use the leaves and therefore cannot utilise the full crop, hemp is not currently commercially viable. Even though CBD is legally able to be sold and consumed in the UK, British farmers are banned from producing it due to a technicality in how the crop is classed as an illegal drug. This is widely thought to be the key in unlocking hemp to go mainstream.
What can you do?
Buy hemp products when you see them. Ask those selling it where those products are made and can they buy from British farmers. Generating demand for British-grown hemp will have a knock-on effect.
Challenge legislation. If you feel strongly about it, write to your MP and let them know you want to see hemp unlocked for British production as a sustainable crop that could help raise farm incomes, reduce pesticides and store carbon.
Share this film. The more people who talk about it and understand hemp, the easier it will be to bust the myth of hemp being linked with an illegal drug.