I recently sat down with my friend and local hemp advocate Sharon King to talk a little about the differences between hemp and marijuana. In her late 20s, Sharon was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder with no cure. Frustrated with the lack of answers from conventional doctors, she began to seek out natural and alternative medicines to help her control her Graves’ disease. Sharon began using hemp and CBD products to ease her symptoms with great success. Experiencing a surge of health, her curiosity piqued, she sought more answers about Graves and the healing properties she was experiencing using hemp. Hungry for answers, she enrolled in pre-med at Fort Lewis College, specifically to learn about the science of her body and what she could do to help it. “There were so many ‘ah-ha’ moments. I could be sitting in a rather stodgy microbiology class and suddenly I’d want to stand up and shout.” It was a euphoric feeling not only to understand the biology of her own body and its mysterious disorder, but also why hemp was helping her, and how it could help even more. After the passing of Colorado Amendment 64, which allowed both legal recreational marijuana and legal agricultural hemp, she began facilitating the Western Slope Hemp Talks to educate the community. I asked her for a 101 about hemp.
What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana, or even medical hemp and medical marijuana? I think we should clarify those two things by calling them “industrial hemp” and “medical marijuana,” although there is a medical component to the industrial hemp.
Cannabis is a genus in the plant world, then we have species, like sativa, and indica. Industrial hemp is cannabis sativa that does not have THC. In order for plants to have high concentrates of THC, they are genetically bred. It takes work to maintain those levels, but when a plant grows feral, its THC levels are naturally lower. Because of the legal medical marijuana industry in Colorado, there was already a lot of knowledge how to breed higher levels of THC into plants. Many people then used this knowledge to breed the THC out of the plants for use for industrial purposes, as well as breed in higher levels of CBDs for medicinal uses.
So when you go to the health food store and see hemp seed oil, is that medical grade? Do they sell medical hemp at a health food store?The hemp seed oil you would see at the health food store is a food grade oil, for use in salad dressings, or shakes, and made from the seeds. If you want medicinal hemp oil, then you need to look for a CBD-enriched oil that is pressed from the plant. I am a strong proponent that THC and CBD are more effective together than they are separate, but some people cannot tolerate the psychoactive effects of THC. There are lots of products for people that cannot combine CBD with THC.
Beyond medicine, what are other some other uses for industrial hemp? Besides using hemp seed oil as food, we can make fuel from hemp seed oil by combining it with 15 percent ethanol, making a bio-diesel that burns 70 percent cleaner than diesel. The stalks of the hemp plant can be used as a fiber, not just clothing and paper products, but also lots of applications in the building industry. Hemp can be made into a non toxic insulation eliminating the need for dangerous fiberglass. It can be made into fiberboard. The outside stalks of the fiber, known as the hurd, can be mixed with lime, forming a type of concrete that can be poured into forms which have an insulation value of over 30. Hemp can be used in a composite with other materials to create a lighter stronger compound with the same tensile strength – if not stronger than – steel. Because of this, there are emerging technologies in the automotive and aeronautical industries. Hemp can also be made into a type of plastic that is biodegradable. Problems with pollution because of plastic can be solved by replacing plastics with biodegradable hemp composites. There are also many applications for agricultural use: Super-absorbent bedding for animals made from stalks, food cakes for cattle, made from a healthy combination of hemp seeds and stalks, which is better than corn-based cattle feed for the cows, as well the land. Many farmers want to plant hemp as a rotation crop, as it is beneficial in replenishing nutrients back into the soil.
What have you learned as you present your talks about hemp? I’ve found this really isn’t a partisan issue. It appeals to all kinds of people in our county, Democrat and Republican. I like to approach people with real solutions, not tell people we can save the world, but tell them how.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarityMeggie J is a published poet and freelance writer living in the Four Corners. She is an avid reader, rafter, and connoisseur of cannabis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.