Benefits of hemp: the lies, the truth, the dangers!

In this thread the OP is polling people supporting the legalization of pot who don’t personally partake. DrDeth pops in and says, “[A]nd it would help if they would just stop with the fucking lies about the wonders of Hemp.” The Bith Shuffle agrees. Lynn Bodoni says: “And please, as others said, don’t insult my intelligence by praising the glories of hemp. Hemp makes very poor quality paper and fabric, and marijuana is NOT going to be legalized because of its value as a source of fiber!” Rather than HIGHjack that thread (ar, ar!), I thought I’d try to get to the bottom of this.

What are these claims the pro-cannabis crowd are making about hemp? Are they lies? A little advertising spin like beer shampoo and pyramid power?

After three seconds of exhaustive research consisting of googling “benefits of hemp,” I thought I’d get the ball rolling by listing some of the “claims” I see on the first page of google results. Hopefully then we can discuss the extent to which these benefits are lies, and also the danger of these “lies” to the pro-cannabis movement.

[ul]
[li]Hemp seeds: Eat 'em like granola, make oil, or flour for baking. Great protein, good for your heart, etc etc.[/li]
[li]Easy to grow: Everywhere, even deserts where you can’t grow other stuff![/li]
[li]Hair and skin care: Oh c’mon! Can you blame them? People shell out hundreds of $$ on microbeads and botanicals. Fair is fair.[/li]
[li]Paper: Hey, if it was good enough for the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, it’s good enough for everybody![/li]
[li]Fuel: Hey, it’s oil. Nuff said.[/li]
[li]Paint and plastic: Well, it’s oil and fuel, why not?[/li]
[li]Textile Fiber: Fiber is good! Everyone knows that. Surely you’ve run across hemp rope before, but you can mix it with concrete and stuff and build houses and things.[/li]
[li]Wood replacement: Chopping down forests is evil, yo![/li]
[li]Farming: Good for the soil, disease-resistant, “Hemp actually leaves the soil in better condition than before it was planted” blah, blah.[/li][/ul]
Okay, what are some other benefits? Bullshit or not?

How are these claims damaging to the pro-pot lobby?

I think hemp is one of the many - thousands? - of plants with multiple industrial uses. Probably the great majority of plant species don’t currently have an industrial application, though I bet most of them could if there was some other reason to. For example, if some plant was picked and transported to factories to extract, say, an oil, the rest of the plant (now that it is sitting unused in a factory) could be turned into something worthwhile. So hemp is ahead of the game in this respect.

But I doubt it is one of the top 10 or maybe even top 100.

Lignum vitae is also useful. It’s a tree with very dense hard wood. The wood was once used for furniture casters, before plastic took over. Last I heard it was still used for surfacing marine clutches.

The biggest difference between hemp and lignum vitae is that there is a hip, young and now enthusiasm and cult following for hemp, and not lignum vitae.

I think society would most benefit if hemp could be freely harvested for its industrial uses, but enjoyed no special favors. It would probably be an obscure plant for all but a few specialized industrial users.

Well, in my humble opinion, anyway.

Cecil did a workup on this question. I’ll see if I can find it.

That’s interesting, but I think another big difference is this is a slow-growing tropical tree and it’s endangered. Increased popularity could be bad or good. Wide-scale production of it sounds resource and space intensive, compared to hemp.

I replied to this in the thread that spawned this one.

To reiterate. Legalized hemp would be a great additional cash crop for the US with many established markets. It would not be a panacea.

“Industrial Hemp is currently legal in more than 25 countries including Canada, Germany, England, France, Holland, Spain, the Russian Federation, China, Thailand, Hungary and Romania.”

If Hemp really were a miracle plant, why is there no significant hemp industry in the places where it’s legal?

This what you were thinking of?

Legalized hemp would be a marginal additional cash crop for the US with a few specialized markets.

Part of the reason is probably because it’s still illegal more places than not, and the harvesting and processing technologies haven’t had time to develop like they have for more established, less politically problematic industries.

Hmmm…gutta percha.

Useful stuff, that.

I’d imagine the claims are generally overblown.

However, hemp is very popular in the cloth diapering world. My own experience with it supports the claims that its absorbency to volume ratio is higher than other fabrics, and it wears really well. I have hemp inserts that I’ve used to diaper two kids, and they are pill-free and look like they did my first month of using them in 2004.

Exactly. Yes, it makes good sailcloth, and Ok rope. We have better materials for rope and little need for sailcloth.

Here’s the definitive thread on hemp:
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=533692&page=3&highlight=hemp
A few things I posted:
Let us assume that Hemp really was the miracle plant, and it’s only silly racist US laws that’s stopping us from cheap fuel, untouched forests and clothes that make the stuff they made Superman’s blanket out of look like tissue paper.
Then, why the hell isn’t it grown much in the countries where it’s perfectly legal? You can import Hemp products into the USA you know- rope, clothing, even fuel I suppose. But hemp remains a niche market- less than linen for clothes and NOWHERE IS IT GROWN EXTENSIVELY FOR FUEL. Sure, in the USA we have corn subsidies, but in other nations they use cane, not hemp. However- Canada uses corn, not cane (well, it’s too cold to grow cane)ev ien though it’s perfectly legal to grow hemp in the Great White North. Oddly they only grow modest amounts for clothing and rope. Hemp certainly can grow up there- if it’s the super fuel, you think the Canadians would try it. However no, afaik there’s only a couple small experimental farms, if that.

So, there’s the evidence it’s really no great shakes for ethanol, it’s simply not used for a significant production of ethanol anywhere, even when it’s legal.

wiki Corn yields “US is 321 to 424 gal/acre” and that’s just the grain itself, there’s quite a bit possible from the silage or stalks.

A pro hemp site:
http://fuelandfiber.com/Hemp4NRG/Hemp4NRGRV3.htm

146 gallons per acre.

So, it’s the opposite, hemp yields 1/2- 1/3 of what Corn does. Which makes sense, corn has a lot more sugar than hemp does. OTOH, sugar cane yields 727 to 870 gal/acre

Hemp just isn’t that special, there are a number of other plants that yield higher biomass. For example switchgrass.
http://www.seco.cpa.state.tx.us/re_b...tm#switchgrass
As a fast growing energy crop, or closed loop biomass, switchgrass yields over 1,000 gallons per acre, more than 3 times the yield of corn. Switchgrass and sorghum are from the same family; both are short term crops and produce prolifically with limited water, insecticides or fertilizer needs.
So, nearly 10x the yield of hemp, with all the same benefits.

Hemp as fiber and as paper was also covered extensively in that thread, with great posts by Blake and Mr. Miskatonic.

Hemp is OK as a niche market thing. It’s no miracle plant.

Hemp is not going to cure the world’s ills all by its lonesome.

Look, it’s perfectly fine to advocate legalizing pot. But let’s be realistic…most people who want pot legalized want to get stoned off of it, they are not planning on building paper or fabric mills to use the stuff. They just want that high. And it’s a bit disingenuous, and an insult to the listener, to insist that hemp would be a marvelous benefit in oh so many ways. It can, and probably would be, utilized in some non-recreational forms. But I never heard of ANYBODY who wanted to make pot legal just so that rope could be made from it. They all want the bud.

Here’s Cecil’s take on it from the above linked article:

I agree, except who cares what 60s types think? They don’t have a great track record in the fighting hypocrisy dept. Is it really hypocrisy anyway? Sure hemp is a back door to decriminalization for many advocates, but not for all. The other thread is filled with people who don’t use pot but support decriminalization. Are they hypocrites for supporting the right to grow hemp too? There certainly are farmers who would like to grow hemp, and I highly doubt they’re all sneaky pot heads. Canada’s hemp industry is still new, but from what I gather, it’s still growing (heh, heh). The US imports hemp from Canada. Maybe Canada subsidizes it or something I don’t know, but you can’t tell me it’s otherwise cheaper or easier to grow up there than down in the States. Why should we be importing right now?

Will hemp save the world? No, and I can’t find anyone claiming it will. No one anybody takes seriously at least. I’ve found it called a “miracle plant” but so what? I use Miracle Gro fertilizer on my plants. Miracle is right in the name. Oh, the hypocrisy. I’ve heard lots of things referred to as “miracle.” I think my toilet bowl cleaner is billed as a miracle toilet bowl cleaner. I wish.

The latest thing now is to get your fruit called a “super fruit.” What the hell is that? It’s three bucks each for some weird looking thing imported at great expense from somewhere difficult to pronounce, that’s what it is. For the same price, eat a dozen tomatoes.

Hemp will only be a niche market. What does that mean? Niche markets can be large industries. If Levi’s decides to reintroduce hemp jeans and they sell like hotcakes, good for them. There’s nothing hypocritical about giving people a good product they want. Is it hypocritical to want linen sheets, cotton towels, angora yarn, silk underwear and hemp jeans when polyester is obviously better? If people want it, let them have it. No hypocrisy there.

Hemp products aren’t illegal in the US, so if your thinking there is a market issue at least the US isn’t it.

Keep in mind though, that a large portion of the cloth diapering world are eco-granola hippies that think hemp will solve the worlds problems. I don’t have any issue with their environmental philosophies, but it explains why hemp is such a popular material in these markets even if it may not be the best material available. The market in Eugene always sold hemp based soap when I was there. There’s no way that serves any real purpose except to get hippies to buy it.

It’s illegal to grow, so we have to import it. And we do import it. That’s a market issue. Just ten years ago even though hemp products were legal, there was (and I assume still is) a lot of confusion and resistance to it. A lot of retailers won’t, or at least wouldn’t stock hemp products because they were ignorant of its legality, their customers were ignorant of its legality, so it’s easier to just not sell it. The DEA is a scary organization, and they have actively fought hemp at every turn. They have the power, money and authority to do it. The situation isn’t all that different in many other countries, so it’s understandable why it’s slow going, but gradually gathering steam.

May I introduce you to the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

http://www.naihc.org/NAIHC_overview/board.html

As a former member of this organization, I can assure you that none of these Board Members “want the bud.” (With the possible exception of former Director of Central Intelligence, Jim Woosely. :wink: )

Missed the edit window. It’s Woolsey. Also, check out the “research” page of the NAIHC site. Answers a lot of questions which are repeatedly raised whenever this topic comes up.

Sorry to be late to the party:

Well, this is true, but it is not like there aren’t dozens if not hundreds of other options for these things.

Ummm, not really. It is an intrusive crop, certainly, but does not grow everywhere. It certainly does not grow to industrial use levels in ‘hard’ areas.

Are we really desperate for more sources for these things? All I have ever seen was the very cynical addition of hemp to Dr. Brommer’s soap - which resulted in them no longer being able to say “No impurities! None!”. This was just pure pandering to the hippies.

The DoI was written on parchment, not paper. Certainly not hemp paper.

Bad choice.

Again, there are better choices for these.

Yeah, it is strong. That’s fine for some applications but hemp is a bitch work with. Plus, there are other choices if you are going to make construction material out of it.

Hemp cannot replace trees and even if it did most of the trees it would replace are on tree farms.

Anyone who says any crop leaves the soil in better condition is full of it.

Bullshit, mostly.

Because when you make promises that cannot be delivered you are making yourself look like an ass. Pre-Hemp advocates in the 90’s were spamming USENET groups with claims that Hemp would ‘reverse global warming’. Plus, I really had a hard time believing that the pothead two doors down really, truly cared about sewer pipes formed via help fibers.