Understanding Hemp (aka Marijuana), a banned (in India) herb with unlimited possibilities.

Cannabis Sativa (or Hemp) is a herbaceous plant which has been used since decades for medicinal as well as industrial purpose. The use of Cannabis Sativa is not allowed in many countries because of its misuse, mostly amongst the youth. It contains a psychoactive constituent called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which when taken in high amount can affect your nervous system.

Speaking of hemp:
Hemp is one of the varieties of Cannabis Sativa also called as industrial hemp. It is explicitly grown for industrial use, and it’s derived products. Hemp is basically the seed and the fiber part of the plant Cannabis Sativa.

Sometimes people confuse hemp with marijuana (another constraint of cannabis – usually used as drugs), although these two come from the same species, both of them have different concentration of THC.

Hemp contains a minimal amount of THC in it. In fact, it also contains cannabidiol (CBD) which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effect.

Hemp is being used for years for medicinal purpose, making papers, animal feed, etc.

Hemp Growing Regions:
It is found in the northern hemisphere. It first originated in central Asia and its production is being practiced in many countries like China, Europe, Japan, Chile and other countries since years. Before 1985 it was entirely legal to grow hemp in India. During the time of World War 1, India used to be the largest manufacturer of Hemp.

Hemp is usually grown in temperate regions. For a profitable hemp production moderate temperature, sandy, loamy soil and a proper drainage system are required. In India, hemp is found in abundance in Himalayan belt states.

Processing:
To grow hemp fiber, the seeds are sown densely, and the plants are allowed to grow up to a height of 2-3 meter with less branching. To get hemp seeds, the plants are grown spaced apart from each other. These plants are short in height and are with branches.

Hemp fibers are obtained by subjecting the stalk of the plant to a process of retting, drying, crushing and at last by shaking it to separate them from woody portion to get long threads of fibers. These fibers are used in various ways in industries (textiles, making cordage, etc.)

The seed obtained from the plant is also beneficial in numerous ways. They can be either eaten raw or can be processed to get other products (like milk). The hemp seeds contain 30% of oil and are an excellent source of protein and fiber.

Hemp producing countries:
There are more than 30 countries which produce industrial hemp. France leads the world in hemp production. It meets 70% of the world hemp demand. China is the second largest producer. Small production occurs in Europe, Chile, and North Korea. Countries like India, Australia, Japan, UK and others also grow hemp. In India, it was banned after 1985, and use of it was made a criminal offense. As of now, in India Uttrakhand is the only state where the growing of hemp is legal.

Uses of hemp:
Hemp can be used in multiple ways. It can be consumed raw, or it can be processed and then used for industrial purpose.

As seeds – Hemp seeds can be eaten raw as an accompaniment in the meal. Its leaves are eaten raw in the salad. Hemp seeds contain protein, carbohydrates, vitamin b, magnesium, zinc and other trace elements in it.

Hemp seeds are used for producing milk and oil out of it. Hemp seed oil can also be used in making paint and varnishes, soaps, etc.

As fiber – Hemp fiber is used for making clothes. Pure hemp has a texture similar to linen. Hemp fibers are strong and durable enough to replace wood. In many cases, building blocks (hempcrete) are made by mixing hemp and lime.

Hemp is also used for making paper, plastic, jewelry and cordage (twin, yarn, rope, etc.)

Environmental benefits of Hemp:

Cleaning of wastewater – Hemp is used for cleaning wastewater such as sewage effluents by using the process of phytoremediation (using living plants to clean air, water, and soil).

For weed control – It is used as a mother crop which stops the growth of weeds. It can be used by farmers to avoid the use of herbicides and other chemicals on plants which in turn affect our environment. CBG (cannabigerol) is the compound present in hemp which opposes the growth of weed.

As biofuels – we also get biofuels from hemp by using seed oil and stalks as well. By fermenting the whole plant, we can even get alcohol fuel (methanol).

Medical potential of hemp :
The main constituent of cannabis sativa is THC, but it contains more than 500 other compounds, among them 113 are cannabinoids produced in trace amount. Research is going on to find out the use of these compounds present in hemp.

The important compounds apart from THC produced in larger quantity are CBD(Cannabidiol) and CBG(Cannabigerol).

THC – This constituent of cannabis has a psychoactive effect. It is used as a drug by the youngsters in a very high amount because of which its use is made illegal in many countries, but the same drug can also be used to cure stress, pain, anxiety, sleep disorder, etc.

CBD – Cannabidiol is the major component of plant’s extract which could be used for treating diseases like – inflammation, stress, epilepsy, anxiety, etc. It is the main component of hemp. Hemp has a lower amount of THC and larger amount of CBD. So producing hemp has a significant medical potential. Further possibilities are of curing Cancer, Alzheimers, and glaucoma, migraine, etc.

CBG – Cannabigerol, another important component of cannabis is CBG, which stimulates brain cell growth and it is also antibacterial, anti-tumor and can be used to treat insomnia and promotes bone growth. Further research is going on to cure glaucoma, epilepsy, chronic pain, and to make antibiotics out of it.

All the cannabinoids THC, CBD, CBC are biosynthesized by using CBG by rapid action of enzymes.

Other advantages of growing hemp are that it has a short crop cycle, so farmers can grow and use it as a cash crop.

Urvashi completed her B.Sc. in Biotechnology from SBS PGI College Dehradun and is currently pursuing Masters in Environmental Sciences (Natural Resource Management) from Doon University, Dehradun.

She is currently interning with CityGreens, and while at it, trying to spread the knowledge she has gained during her academic studies by writing for CityGreen’s University.

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