By Tom Westfall

Dad,” he said, “you’ve got to promise me two things. I mean I know you’re a child of the 60’s but if you do this, you’ve got to promise me that you won’t start wearing Grateful Dead T-shirts and calling everyone ‘Dude’.” That was my son’s reaction upon learning that I had leased our farm to a hemp producer.

Although hemp is legal in Colorado (as is its cousin, marijuana) there is still a stigma attached to this plant — a plant that has any number of redeeming qualities that offer a wide range of medicinal benefits as well as the potential for industrial use. Thus it was with a bit of trepidation that I began researching the production of hemp prior to agreeing to lease my farm ground for hemp production.

Here are some of the things that I found. To begin with, hemp was probably the earliest plant cultivated for textile fiber. Archaeologists have discovered remnants of hemp cloth dating nearly 10,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. It is likely that hemp originated in central Asia, and spread throughout the world, landing in the Mediterranean about the time of Christ and making its way into Europe during the Middle Ages.

Hemp has a plethora of uses. The sails on the Mayflower were made of hemp. (In fact the term “canvas” is derived from the word cannabis, another name for hemp.) During the 16th century, Henry VIII encouraged farmers to grow hemp to provide materials for the British Naval Fleet.

Hemp can be refined into a variety of commercial items including papertextiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed. There is a building material called “hemp-crete” which is made from the ultra-strong fibers of hemp that is actually stronger and more durable than concrete. Hemp has a nutritional value as well (the seeds are high (pun intended) in protein) and CBD oil is routinely used (in Colorado) to help relieve joint pain.

I was at a gathering recently and spoke about our hemp production. I was interested in the general lack of sophistication around the topic, as many people just assume that hemp is “pot.” (It’s not!) Although cannabis the drug and industrial hemp both come from the same species (Cannabis Sativa) they are distinct strains with unique compositions and uses. Hemp has much lower levels of THC (mostly negligible), the psychoactive component in marijuana, while conversely having much higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD) which eliminates the psychoactive effects of the plant.

The history of hemp in America is quite interesting and prior to 1937, there was some hemp production in the United States. Unfortunately, due to its “cousin” relationship with marijuana, hemp production was basically made illegal and in 1970 was outlawed under the Controlled Substances Act. For those of us living in Colorado the passage of recreational marijuana also allowed for the production of hemp and since the passage of the pot law, as it’s often called out here, hemp production has begun to grow in the state.

One of the uses for CBD is in the drug, “Charlotte’s Web” which is an anti-seizure medication for children. This particular drug has been found to be extremely effective in reducing both the number and duration of seizures (epilepsy) in children. Interestingly, a number of people have begun giving this medication to their aging dogs with rather remarkable results in terms of adding years to their pooches’ lives.

There are a number of additional benefits that can derived from hemp and a quick trip through “Google” will reveal many of them to anyone who spends a little time researching this topic. That it looks like, and is often confused with marijuana is unfortunate. Bull snakes can look a lot like rattlesnakes and while both may have a place in the ecosystem, none of us want rattlers around our houses, while bull snakes are non-lethal and tend to be more benign, helping with rodent control. The comparison between these two snakes and hemp/marijuana is appropriate because hemp is only beneficial, while marijuana may create problems for its users, especially people under the age of 25.

We are 45 days into our initial year of hemp production. Because hemp production is “organic” we are experiencing a multitude of weeds but other than that, I’ve not noticed anything untoward. The deer that munch on the leaves on a daily basis haven’t become lethargic, the birds are still able to fly straight and so far, I’ve had no desire to wear a Grateful Dead T-shirt and call anyone “dude.”

 

Westfall can be reached at mammothrun@gmail.com.