In the United States, legal hemp is a type of cannabis that must contain a concentration of less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. At such a low concentration, hemp is not likely to get you high, so what is hemp used for? Hemp has many practical uses including:

  • CBD
  • Food products
  • Textiles
  • Building materials
  • Biofuels
  • And many more

Read on to learn about the many uses of the versatile hemp plant.

What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Hemp is a variety of cannabis sativa L that contains many of the same cannabinoids as marijuana, but in different concentrations. While marijuana is commonly cultivated for its medical and recreational benefits, hemp can be used in many other ways. Industrial hemp contains four major usable components:

  • Seeds
  • Flowers and Leaves
  • Hurds
  • Bast fibers

Marijuana growers focus on cultivating the cannabis flowers using methods such as feminized seeds, topping, and the SCROG method to minimize the production of seeds and maximize cannabinoid production. These practices are used in order to yield potent flowers that elicit marijuana’s well-known effects. When cultivating hemp to be used for CBD products, hemp farmers often use similar methods.  Industrial hemp plants, on the other hand, are typically grown for the use of their sturdy stalks and for their nutrient-rich seeds, which requires entirely different cultivation techniques. Rather than separating male and female cannabis plants, industrial hemp farmers often allow the males to pollinate the females, which promotes seed production. Another key difference between hemp and marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is considered the main psychoactive component of cannabis and produces the “high” that many associate with it. Hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight to be considered federally legal in the United States, according to the 2018 Farm Bill. Cannabis with a greater THC concentration is still considered illegal nationwide.

Continue Reading Below

What can you use hemp for?

Hemp has frequently been called “the plant with 1000 uses” and it’s easy to see why. Cannabis plants grow rapidly and are known to be particularly hardy. Nearly every part of the plant can be used for human benefit. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the many uses for hemp.

CBD Made From Hemp

CBD is another well-known cannabinoid that many users take regularly to promote wellness. More research is needed to confirm the many health claims that have been made about CBD, but promising early research on CBD shows that it may be an effective treatment for various sleep disorders, anxiety, and many other conditions.  A January 2019 Consumer Reports survey of over 4,000 Americans found that 26% had used CBD in the last two years, and one in seven of them reported using CBD every day. The survey also found that:

  • Of the 37% of participants who used CBD to reduce stress or anxiety, 63% found it extremely or very effective.
  • 24% used CBD for joint pain.
  • Side effects were only reported by 26% of participants.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration has only approved CBD to treat two rare forms of severe epilepsy. The FDA states that they have “seen only limited data about CBD’s safety” and that “many unanswered questions” remain about the science of CBD. The FDA forbids businesses from labeling CBD as a dietary supplement and from making unverified medical claims about their products. Nevertheless, the CBD industry continues to grow. According to a recent report by BDS Analytics, the CBD market is expected to reach a value of $20 billion by 2024.

Hemp Food Products

Hemp has also been hailed for its nutritional value, and many are even calling it a superfood. The majority of hemp’s beneficial nutrients comes from the seed. 100 grams of hulled hemp seeds contains:

  • 32 grams of protein
  • vitamin B6
  • Folate
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Iron

The hemp seed’s flavor is similar to pine nuts, making it a great alternative ingredient in a pesto or risotto. The seeds can also be eaten plain as a snack, blended into smoothies, sprinkled on top of salads, and incorporated into any number of other dishes.  In addition to being eaten in their raw form, hemp seeds are used to make hemp seed oil which can be used to add flavor when cooking and is also a popular oil used in natural beauty products. The leaves and flowers can also be added to salads or juiced to extract the phytonutrients.

Hemp Fiber Textiles

For centuries, hemp has been cultivated to produce fibers that are used to make textiles including paper, rope, cloth, and canvas. In fact, the word “canvas” comes from the French chanevaz, literally meaning "made of hemp." Hemp plants produce significantly more usable fiber than cotton or flax and tend to be stronger and more versatile. An acre of hemp produces an average of 1300 pounds of fiber from the stalks of the plant. Hemp textiles are made by separating long strands of fiber from the bark of the hemp plant in a process called retting. This can be done mechanically or through a chemical process. The ecological impact of hemp fabric varies based on the methods of cultivation and production. 

Hemp Fuel and Hemp Building Materials

Did you know that hemp can be used to fuel our engines and even build our homes and infrastructure? Hemp is considered one of the more efficient biofuel crops because it does not require high quality soil and can be grown on marginal land. It requires less water than corn and, unlike corn, hemp plants return 70% of their nutrients to the soil at the end of their life cycle.   Hemp can be used to make biodiesel, which works in any conventional diesel vehicle and can be transported and stored in the same manner, making this hemp product easy to incorporate into existing infrastructure. If implemented on a large scale, hemp biodiesel could decrease dependence on fossil fuels. According to the National Hemp Association, hemp biodiesel is more lubricating than petroleum diesel, which can extend the life of your engine. Hemp can also be used to make ethanol by fermenting the plant’s stalks. Hemp concrete, also known as Hempcrete, is made from the hurds, or woody core, of the hemp plant and is used as a lightweight thermal insulator that can be considered more sustainable than drywall or fiberglass.  Composite bioplastics are another emerging use for hemp. The cellulose found in hemp plants can be used to create products such as cellophane, rayon and more. As research into sustainable bio-based plastic continues, we may be more likely to move away from non-biodegradable plastics in the near future.   These are a few of the many ways that we have used hemp throughout history and in the modern world. As cannabis becomes more widely-accepted, we look forward to seeing even more everyday uses for the hemp plant.