Hemp Myths & Realities

by David P. West, Ph.D.

Picture from VoteHemp.org

Surely no member of the vegetable kingdom has ever been more misunderstood than hemp. For too many years, emotion—not reason—has guided our policy toward this crop. And nowhere have emotions run hotter than in the debate over the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana. This paper is intended to inform that debate by offering scientific evidence, so that farmers, policymakers, manufacturers, and the general public can distinguish between myth and reality.

Botanically, the genus Cannabis is composed of several variants. Although there has been a long-standing debate among taxonomists about how to classify these variants into species, applied plant breeders generally embrace a biochemical method to classify variants along utilitarian lines. Cannabis is the only plant genus that contains the unique class of molecular compounds called cannabinoids. Many cannabinoids have been identified, but two preponderate: THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient of Cannabis, and CBD, which is an antipsychoactive ingredient. One type of Cannabis is high in the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, and low in the antipsychoactive cannabinoid, CBD. This type is popularly known as marijuana. Another type is high in CBD and low in THC. Variants of this type are called industrial hemp.

In the United States, the debate about the relationship between hemp and marijuana has been diminished by the dissemination of many statements that have little scientific support. This report examines in detail ten of the most pervasive and pernicious of these myths.

Myth: United States law has always treated hemp and marijuana the same.
Reality: The history of federal drug laws clearly shows that at one time the U.S. government understood and accepted the distinction between hemp and marijuana.

Myth: Smoking industrial hemp gets a person high.
Reality: The THC levels in industrial hemp are so low that no one could get high from smoking it. Moreover, hemp contains a relatively high percentage of another cannabinoid, CBD, that actually blocks the marijuana high. Hemp, it turns out, is not only not marijuana; it could be called “antimarijuana.”

Myth: Even though THC levels are low in hemp, the THC can be extracted and concentrated to produce a powerful drug.
Reality: Extracting THC from industrial hemp and further refining it to eliminate the preponderance of CBD would require such an expensive, hazardous, and time-consuming process that it is extremely unlikely anyone would ever attempt it, rather than simply obtaining high-THC marijuana instead.

Myth: Hemp fields would be used to hide marijuana plants.
Reality: Hemp is grown quite differently from marijuana. Moreover, it is harvested at a different time than marijuana. Finally, cross-pollination between hemp plants and marijuana plants would significantly reduce the potency of the marijuana plant.

Myth: Legalizing hemp while continuing the prohibition on marijuana would burden local police forces.
Reality: In countries where hemp is grown as an agricultural crop, the police have experienced no such burdens.

Myth: Feral hemp must be eradicated because it can be sold as marijuana.
Reality: Feral hemp, or ditchweed, is a remnant of the hemp once grown on more than 400,000 acres by U.S. farmers. It contains extremely low levels of THC, as low as .05 percent. It has no drug value, but does offer important environmental benefits as a nesting habitat for birds. About 99 percent of the “marijuana” being eradicated by the federal government—at great public expense—is this harmless ditchweed. Might it be that the drug enforcement agencies want to convince us that ditchweed is hemp in order to protect their large eradication budgets?

Myth: Those who want to legalize hemp are actually seeking a backdoor way to legalize marijuana.
Reality: It is true that many of the first hemp stores were started by industrial-hemp advocates who were also in favor of legalizing marijuana. However, as the hemp industry has matured, it has come to be dominated by those who see hemp as the agricultural and industrial crop that it is, and see hemp legalization as a different issue than marijuana legalization. In any case, should we oppose a very good idea simply because some of those who support it also support other ideas with which we disagree?

Myth: Hemp oil is a source of THC.
Reality: Hemp oil is an increasingly popular product, used for an expanding variety of purposes. The washed hemp seed contains no THC at all. The tiny amounts of THC contained in industrial hemp are in the glands of the plant itself. Sometimes, in the manufacturing process, some THC- and CBD-containing resin sticks to the seed, resulting in traces of THC in the oil that is produced. The concentration of these cannabinoids in the oil is infinitesimal. No one can get high from using hemp oil.

Myth: Legalizing hemp would send the wrong message to children.
Reality: It is the current refusal of the drug enforcement agencies to distinguish between an agricultural crop and a drug crop that is sending the wrong message to children.

Myth: Hemp is not economically viable, and should therefore be outlawed.
Reality: The market for hemp products is growing rapidly. But even if it were not, when has a crop ever been outlawed simply because government agencies thought it would be unprofitable to grow?

Read the myths and realities in more detail here.

Reprinted with permission.


What is Hemp?

Hemp FieldHemp, also known by its scientific name Cannabis Sativa L., is a versatile plant that has been agriculturally grown since ancient times. It is woody and grows tall, in all kinds of climate.

Hemp vs. Marijuana

Hemp is the variety of the cannabis plant that secretes low-grade THC in negligible amounts of less than 0.3%. It is non-psycho-active and hence approved for industrial production. Marijuana is rich in THC, with content ranging from 2 to 20%. Unfortunately, hemp and marijuana are often confused as the same substance.

Learn more about hemp by reading Myths & Realities.

Hemp can be planted almost anywhere as it is weather-resistant. It also matures quickly and does not need herbicides or pesticides like cotton to grow well and produce high yield. Hemp produces the strongest natural fiber known to mankind. Its strength to weight ratio is actually higher than that of steel. As such, the industrial applications of hemp is now increasing from simply being used to make different kinds of textile such as clothing, rugs and shoes to producing tough material for construction of car components.

Hemp as food can also be made into practically anything: oil, milk, tea, butter, flour, protein powders, etc. It is one of the healthiest things in the world that you can consume!

A few facts:

  • The sub-species ‘sativa’ lends itself to industrial use since it makes very strong and durable fiber
  • The sub-species ‘indica’ is used for medicinal and recreational purposes, because of the low quality of fiber produced from it
  • The raw material is further processed as fiber, seeds, wood and oil for industrial, commercial and medicinal use
  • Hemp food products have become increasingly popular for health-conscious people, since 2007
  • It is used to make paper, plastics that are biodegradable, clothing, textiles, body care products, bio-fuel and construction materials like concrete and insulation
  • It helps conserve renewable and non-renewable natural resources

Hemp grows in a biomass at a very fast rate. The crop can be cultivated in the same soil year after year. It is eco-friendly, as it does not need herbicides for a good growth; the number of pesticides required is also low. China is the leading producer of hemp; other countries where it is legally grown are France, Spain and Ireland in Europe, North Korea and Japan in Asia, North Africa, Canada and Chile. Most of it is exported to the U.S.


Hemp History

Hemp is one of the oldest agricultural crops, cultivated as early as 4000 B.C. in China. It has been mentioned in different contexts in several ancient texts:

  • It was grown all over the world and valued for its medicinal benefits.
  • Once its many properties were discovered, it was treated as a precious substance and even given importance in religious ceremonies.
  • Hemp is one of the oldest known sources for cloth
  • Composites of hemp and limestone have been discovered in ancient Roman structures.

The naval prominence in the Netherlands around the 17th century brought about the Golden Age. The Dutch East India Company has established their shipping trade globally, with the financial support of the Dutch merchant empire. This naval industry relied on hemp to a very large extent. It was the second most important component in ship-building, after wood. It was used as rope, canvas and to waterproof the hull through caulking. Around 21 kilometers / 13 miles of rope and several hundred square meters / yards of canvas were needed for each sailing vessel. This in turn increased the cultivation of the cannabis plant.

The British colonized the region of modern-day America and set up large agricultural fields to produce the raw material, mainly in Kentucky and Missouri. The processed fibers were exported to England and the other colonists. Employment opportunities increased in America as the spinning and weaving industry grew, eventually leading to the War of Independence against England’s dominance. The growth of hemp in the U.S. dwindled with the availability of cheaper imported fibers from Manila and the East India Company. During War II, however, the Japanese took possession of the Philippines and the East India Company, and since jute supply from India was also restricted, the Americans had to produce hemp once again, for industrial purposes as well as to sustain the vast demand from the army and navy, as follows:

  • Rope made from hemp was used in rigging, towing and mooring the ships
  • Paratroopers needed webbing for their parachutes
  • The fiber was used to make shoes for the soldiers
  • It served as a fire-hose of average quality

Thus, hemp has played a vital role in global history.

“Hemp for Victory” Documentary from 1942.

Why Buy Hemp Products?

By buying hemp products, you are helping the world work towards a more sustainable future. Hemp can be made into practically ANYTHING. Hemp foods is packed with nutrition. Hemp is not just good for us on the inside, but on the outside, too. Not only can we benefit from hemp nutritionally, and as a beauty aid, it's also beneficial from an environmental viewpoint. From paper to clothes, from construction materials to even building cars, hemp is literally a miracle crop. Spread the word!