What Is Hemp Fiber?

Close-up of hemp fiber

Hemp fibers, also called bast fibers, are found on the long stalk of the hemp plant.

Raw hemp fibers are not for medical or recreational cannabis use.  According to The North American Industrial Hemp Council (NAIHC),

“Although both plants are from the species cannabis, hemp contains virtually no THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana.”

What is Hemp and How Can We Use It?

The culture wars and economic fears must have been significant in order to hold down such a useful plant. We can use hemp fiber to make paper, fabric, plastics, biofuel, and food. The Global Hemp Fiber Industry 2016 Market Research report analyzes the current state of the hemp fiber industry. Countries that are currently producing the most hemp include the U.S., Japan, China, India, and European countries. They all seem to agree that hemp fiber has promising prospects in several categories.

Building Material

Millions of people currently need affordable, sustainable housing. Hempcrete is a viable alternative to traditional building materials, including insulation, paneling, and roofing. To build cars, hemp processed into a plastic is lighter than steel and much stronger. We can also make hemp plastic that is biodegradable and non-toxic.

Alternative Fuel

While alternative fuels haven’t caught on widely and even electric/hybrid motor vehicles aren’t very popular, hemp fiber fuel is poised to show what it can do. Biodiesel fuel is made from the hemp plant and fuels conventional diesel engines without any needed modifications. Storage is the same as petroleum diesel fuel. Hemp fuel has been shown to release much less carbon into the atmosphere, potentially helping relieve global warming.

Woman With Hemp Plant

How to Grow Hemp

Hemp seeds are available online from U.S. suppliers and companies abroad. You may be able to visit farmers to obtain seeds or cuttings or visit online forums to obtain seeds or baby plants. Under ideal conditions, your plants will grow very fast. The stalks look like bamboo and will grow 6 to 12 feet or more, depending on the variety. In the dense plantings typical of industrial settings, the bottom leaves will suffer from lack of sunlight and fall off. The home grower could space the seeds less densely to optimize production.

When harvesting, the bark on the stem contains the long, bast fibers. They feel like wood but are softer to the touch and more flexible. These fibers are used to make clothing and rope. The short, tougher fibers in the core of the stalk are called hurds or shives and are used for building materials and plastics.

Industrial Hemp Plants Hemp plants vary considerably in properties and some are better suited to certain applications. Some have more short fibers than long fibers, more or less CBD, and varying composition. Growers should define the intended purpose before choosing a hemp varietal.

Additionally, you can make choices in cultivars. The dioecious has male and female flower parts on separate plants. The monoecious is one plant with male and female flower parts. The female predominant is 85-90 percent female, thought to be better for producing grain.

Be aware of the laws in your area regarding hemp when selecting a variety. You may be asked to prove that your plants have only a certain amount of THC, which can fluctuate in certain growing conditions or environmental stressors. In Canada, farmers must plant hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC.

The stipulations, restrictions, and trouble are not deterring home and industrial hemp farmers worldwide. They cite hemp’s favorable qualities such as taking half the irrigation water than wheat does while providing four times the income. With multiple uses for hemp fibers, negligible THC, and the presence of CBD oil, hemp fibers are positioned to dominate multiple categories and markets.

Why Was Hemp Outlawed?

Humans have been using this plant and its raw materials for eons so why was it outlawed? According to Jack Herer, cannabis activist, in his book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, the paper industry – led by powerful men and lobbyists in Washington, D.C. shut down the hemp industry because it would compete with their business.

Others disagree. Author Steven Wishnia says,

“The belief that marijuana prohibition came about because of the secret machinations of an economic cabal ignores the pattern of every drug-law crusade in American history.”

He states that hemp/cannabis prohibition was fueled by racism, fear of crime, and culture wars.


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