What is Hemp

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Hemp is a name given to the cannabis plant.

Hemp is a name given to cultivars of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa) that have been selected over many generations for fiber and seed production.  Most hemp cultivars contain less than 1.5% THC, a narcotic compound that has the potential for abuse in high concentrations.  Cannabis sativa cultivars selected and developed for their drug properties, referred to as marijuana, or dagga, can have a THC content of 3%-25%.  Hemp is a bast fiber, producing its fibers in the stalk similar to flax, kenaf, and sun hemp.

Multiple Uses

Hemp fiber and seed are used to produce a wide range of commodities including food and beverage products, fiberboard, insulation, paper, composites, textiles, carpets, animal bedding and feed, cosmetics, body-care products, soaps, paints, fuels, and medicines.

Hemp Seed Food and Beverage Products

  • Hemp seed contains about 25% protein, 30% carbohydrates, & 15% insoluble fiber.

  • Hemp seed is reported to contain more easily digestible protein than soybeans.

  • Hemp seed contains all 8 amino acids essential to human nutrition.

  • Hemp seed is high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, carotene, sulfur, iron and zinc, as well as Vitamins A, E, C, B1, B2, B3, and B6.

  • Hemp seed imported into the United States or Canada must be steam sterilized at between 180 degrees F and 212 degrees F. for 15 minutes to prevent sprouting. Many US facilities receive imported viable seed under customs bond, steam it, and then release it to the consignee or customer with a Certificate of Sterilization.

  • Hemp food and beverage products include hemp oil and seed, flour, pasta, cheese, tofu, salad dressings, snacks, sweets, hemp protein powders, soft drinks, beer, and wine. Hemp beer can be made from the seed, flowers, sprouts, and seed cake that is a by-product of oil pressing. Hemp beer is produced and sold in Europe and the US.

Hemp Oil

  • Hemp seed is 25% to 35% oil, and is one of the oils lowest in saturated fats (8%).

  • Hemp seed oil is the richest source of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (80%).

  • Hemp seed oil is the only common edible seed oil containing Omega-6 Gamma-Linolenic Acid.

  • Hemp seed oil is very fragile and not suitable for cooking.

  • Pressed hemp seed oil must be bottled immediately under oxygen-free conditions, and must be refrigerated in dark, airtight containers.


  • Hemp fiberboard tested by Washington State University Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory proved to be two and one half times stronger than wood MDF composites, and the hemp composite boards were three times more elastic.

  • Hemp herds can be used in existing mills without major changes in equipment.

  • Russia, Poland and other Eastern European countries already manufacture composite boards from hemp and other plant materials.

Pulp and Paper

  • The major use of hemp fiber in Europe is in the production of specialty papers such as cigarette paper, archival paper, tea bags, and currency paper.

  • The average bast fiber pulp and paper mill produces 5,000 tons of paper per year.

  • Most mills process long bast fiber strands, which arrive as bales of cleaned ribbon from per-processing plants located near the cultivation areas.


  • Until the 1930’s, hemp-based cellophane, celluloid and other products were common, and Henry Ford used hemp to make car doors and fenders. Today hemp herds can be used to make new plastic and injection-molded products or blended into recycled plastic products. Hemp fibers are introduced into plastics to make them stiffer, stronger and more impact resistant. Hemp plastics can be designed that are hard, dense, and heat resistant, and which can be drilled, ground, milled, and planed.

  • Hemp plastic products currently made include chairs, boxes, percussion instruments, lampshades, bowls, cups, spectacles, jewelry, skateboards, and snowboards.

Hemp Animal Bedding

  • Hemp horse bedding and cat litter are produced and sold in Europe.

Hemp Animal Feeds

  • After oil is extracted from the hemp seed, the remaining seed cake is about 25% protein and makes an excellent feed for chicken, cattle, and fish.

  • Chickens fed hemp seed on a regular basis have been found to produce more eggs, without the added hormones used in most poultry plants.


  • Hemp seed oil can be combined with 15% methanol to create a substitute for diesel fuel which burns 70% cleaner than petroleum diesel.

  • Hemp stalks are rich in fiber and cellulose, making them conducive for conversion into ethanol and methanol fuels that have a higher octane than gasoline and produce less carbon monoxide. These biomass fuels are also free from sulfur, and do not require the addition of lead and benzene used to boost octane and improve engine performance in fossil fuels. Ethanol holds condensation, eliminating oxidation and corrosion, and is reported to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 30%.

  • Hemp has been studied in Ireland as a biomass fuel to generate electricity.

  • Hemp has been reported to yield 1000 gallons of methanol per acre year.

  • Hemp stalk can be converted to a charcoal-like fuel through a thermochemical process called pyrolysis. Henry Ford operated a biomass pyrolitic plant at Iron Mountain, Michigan in the mid-20th.

Paints and Varnishes

  • Until the 1930's, most paints were made from hemp seed oil and flax seed oil.

  • Hemp oil makes a durable, long lasting paint that renders wood water-resistant.


Hemp herds have the potential to make glues for composite construction products that are non-toxic and superior to binders currently used.  With this technology, industry can produce composite products where all components are derived from hemp.

Markets for Hemp Pulp

Some paper manufacturers already have the equipment to process decorticated hemp fiber into paper. The leading European supplier of non-wood pulp, Celesa, currently produces about 10,000 tons per year of pulp from hemp.  The use of hemp pulp in blends with recycled fiber of other non-wood fibers is growing.  Tests by several European pulp and paper producers suggest that hemp pulp may replace cotton cost effectively in several specialty paper applications.

Potential Markets for Medical Application of Low-THC Hemp Cultivars

Many cannabis medicines have been produced using cannabis cultivars high in THC, and there has been medical research into cannabis that is low in THC and high in CBD.  CBD is a cannabinoid that does not have many of the psychoactive effects associated with THC.  CBD has been used to treat the following medical conditions: epilepsy, dystonic movement disorders, inflammatory disorders, pain, chronic insomnia, chorea, cerebral palsy, and Tourette's syndrome. According to a July 1998 report by the National Institute of Health, CBD may hold promise for preventing brain damage in strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even heart attacks and has been found to prevent brain cell death in an experimental stroke model.

That's the answer you get when  asked, What Is Hemp?