Despite what we’ve been taught, cannabis isn’t just a popular recreational drug.
The cannabis plant actually has over 60 thousand possible uses, including healing deadly diseases, substituting prescription medicine, and replacing highly polluting substances like traditional paper and plastic.
So why are we taught so little about this life-saving plant?
The Cannabis Plant: Marijuana vs. Hemp
Hemp seeds pack a protein punch and are so nutrient-dense that they are considered a superfood. In fact, you’re probably already heard of hemp hearts, hemp oil, or hemp protein or even purchased some yourself.
So what is hemp exactly?
Well, put simply, it’s a variety of cannabis.
There are three well-known species: sativa, indica, and ruderalis. These species vary in use, chemical makeup, and cultivation requirements (1).
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Sativa is what’s known as “industrial cannabis” or “hemp” because it’s non-psychoactive. However, every strain of cannabis can be used industrially (2). “Marijuana”, on the other hand, typically refers to cannabis that can be consumed recreationally, although the term is used interchangeably with “cannabis”.
All cannabis species remove toxins, radiation, and contaminants like heavy metal from soil and water, making them a valuable crop. Hemp was even used around Chernobyl as a part of the decontamination efforts (3).
Industrial Hemp Uses
Hemp was long grown in the United States to produce anything from paper, to textiles, biodiesel, and even cordage.
This hardy and renewable resource can also be used in body care, clothing, construction materials, plastic composites, and up to 25,000 products (4).
However, after the World War II, hemp was lumped up with cannabis and soon became illegal to grow and harvest. Some American-known companies like Ford Motors, Patagonia, and The Body Shop still use hemp in their products, but it is imported from in Canada, Europe, and China.
It’s grown in these countries since it requires less water than cotton, can be used to produce a larger variety of products than nearly any other plant, and requires no pesticides, herbicides, or bleach. It also makes a great rotation crop that remineralizes soil and prevents erosion.
It can even be used to produce a finer, stronger, and longer-lasting paper than wood. Plus, hemp produces nearly 4 times as much raw fiber than trees and it grows much, much faster (5).
Some states are now fighting for the right to study and grow hemp, which currently has a total retail value of $620 million in the United States alone.
A Game-Changing Medicine
Cannabis has been used medicinally for over 3000 years and was present is most ancient civilizations (6).
The cannabis plant contains hundreds of compounds, including around 80 different cannabinoids, which supply most of its medicinal properties. Cannabinoids are found in other plants too and interact positively with the body’s endocannabinoid system. This system directly influences your immune system and central nervous system. Your body also produces its own cannabinoids (7).
THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), one of the most well-known cannabinoids, is the only compound in marijuana that causes a “high”- but only when it’s heated. As such, it can cause mild hallucinations, a change in thinking, delusions, hyper-relaxation, and psychomotor impairment (8).
The compound also has the following healing properties, just to name a few:
- Muscle relaxant
- Fights cancers
- Improves chemotherapy side-effects
- Improves Chron’s disease
- Manages chronic pain
- Improves insomnia
- Improves multiple sclerosis
- Increases appetite
- Treats neurodegenerative disorders
These properties can be enjoyed without the high by juicing raw cannabis leaves.
Another well-known cannabinoid is CBD (cannabidiol).
CBD is non-psychoactive and is the main component in cannabis oil (9).
Among other things, it has a positive effect on (10):
- Mental illness
- Chronic pain
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disorders
Some cannabinoids have been isolated and used in FDA-approved oral sprays. If you do want to use cannabis as medicine, it’s best to juice it or make cannabis oil rather than ingest or smoke the herb.
Why is Cannabis Illegal?
Cannabis isn’t illegal because it can be smoked and it can give you a high. If that were the case, wouldn’t tobacco, alcohol, and refined sugar be illegal too?
While we may never know the reason why the cannabis plant became a legal no-no, there are some prevalent theories:
When alcohol prohibition began to lose traction in the late 192os and early 1930s, Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, turned towards marijuana. Although he was once supportive of the recreational use of the plant, Aslinger began a “war on drugs” by introducing the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (11).
He looked to the scientific community, hiring 30 scientists to find evidence that cannabis was dangerous but 29 scientists confirmed the contrary. He also argued that latinos and African Americans used the drug more than white Americans, corrupting society through the drug.
During the wide wave of Mexican immigration of the early 1900s, many new migrants brought marijuana to the United States with them for medicinal and recreation use. However, many Americans weren’t too happy with the arrival of these migrants and the government looked to marijuana as a reason to search and deport the newly arrived Mexicans.
This theory is the most commonly believed one by far. Since cannabis has so many applications and can be grown and transformed at home, it isn’t popular among pharmaceutical and industrial companies. In fact, Dupont financially supported the criminalization of marijuana, fearing that hemp could compete with their new patented material: nylon.
Nowadays, pharmaceuticals are trying to patent specific cannabinoids in order to profit as much as possible from the herb, which can effectively replace many pharmaceuticals.
Perhaps it was one of the above theories, perhaps it was a combination, but now the Western world is finally waking up to the potential of cannabis and decriminalizing it at a steady pace. And who knows how positive the cannabis plant might be for modern medicine and other industries in the upcoming years?
For more information on the cannabis plant, watch the information video below: