Spending day after day in fields of cannabis, one can come up with some pretty offbeat ideas—like making houses out of hemp.
But Dr Susanna Wilkerson has great visions for a plant often maligned for its association with drug use.
The founder of Australian company Pure Delight Hemp says the fibrous plant could replace trees as a source of the world’s paper. Its seeds are nothing short of a super food and it can decontaminate vast tracts of land, including nuclear wastelands.
And, yes, it can be used to create a building material, called “hempcrete”, which is six times more insulating than concrete for heat and sound. It is also lighter, non-toxic and fire resistant, she says.
In fact, the Canadian-born naturopath believes that hemp is the answer to a sustainable future. From her property in north Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands, she produces hemp to make cosmetics, food, fuel, paper, textiles and now buildings.
Hemp has more uses and is more sustainable than any single plant on the planet,” Dr Wilkerson told The Epoch Times. “It is the obvious solution for pretty much every ecological situation we’ve got. That includes global warming, soil degradation, deforestation and bad farming, including the problems associated with animal farming.”
Cannabis sativa is the longest and strongest known fibre in the plant world. Since the invention of paper about 2000 years ago, hemp has been used to make the finest and most enduring of papers. In 1611, the King James Bible was printed on hemp in Britain, as was America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Levi jeans were originally made from recycled hemp sail cloth. Before the US 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, 70 per cent of all rope, twine and cordage was made from hemp.
The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana
However, in the early 1900s, prohibition of cannabis began due to recreational drug use. Hemp and the drug marijuana are from the same cannabis family, but according to Dr David West, who holds a PhD in Plant Breeding from the University of Minnesota, they are as different as opium poppies and common garden poppies.
“Many believe that by legalising hemp, they are legalising marijuana. Yet in more than two dozen other countries, governments have accepted the distinction between the two types of Cannabis and, while continuing to penalise the growing of marijuana, have legalised the growing of industrial hemp,” he wrote in a research paper on the topic.
Marijuana strains are high in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC and low in the antipsychoactive cannabinoid CBD. Conversely, other variants are high in CBD and low in THC, and it is these that are known as industrial hemp.
Nowadays, commercial growers generally need a licence stipulating the use of varieties that have virtually no drug content, but the damage to the plant’s reputation has taken a long time to heal.
Dr Wilkerson believes those days are behind us. Her company is producing hemp paper samples in Tasmania with the hope of eventually eliminating old growth forest harvesting. By removing one of the key sources of deforestation, hemp could play a major part in reducing global warming.
“There is not a single reason why another tree should be felled for paper pulp,” she said. “It’s ludicrous and environmentally irresponsible at the highest level.”
The plant could also replace thirsty crops like cotton, without the use of chemicals and with much less impact on the soil.
It can also used as a “mop-up crop” for sewerage treatment, with one acre capable of absorbing 10 million litres of effluent, while at the same time producing 18 tonnes of fibre. It has even been used to decontaminate the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site.
And nutritionally, the balance of omega oils in the hemp seed is the closest to the ratio needed by humans, with the added bonus of high contents of protein, minerals and vitamins.
For more information on industrial hemp, please visit Dr Wilkerson’s website at www.puredelighthemp.com.au .
BENEFITS OF HEMP
• Compared with trees, one acre of hemp produces four times as much pulp over a 20-year growing period
• Hemp is 77 per cent cellulose (compared with 30 per cent in wood pulp)
• Hemp contains only 4 per cent lignin, while wood pulp has up to 60 per cent, which must be broken down using chemicals
• Barely any toxic effluent is produced from hemp paper mills (compared with dioxins and organo-chlorines from wood pulp paper mills)
• Hemp is disease resistant so requires few pesticides, no herbicides and little fertiliser
• It is a natural weed suppressant and its long taproot stops soil erosion
• Hemp can be grown easily in most soils and a variety of climates
• In only 14 weeks, one hectare of hemp can produce enough material to build an average-sized house.
• During the growing period, this crop absorbs 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide, making hempcrete a carbon negative building material