And Now For Something Cool…

As the hysteria over the belief that pot was a “gateway” drug finally began to abate, and states slowly moved to legalize its medical and recreational uses, discussions about the benefits of marijuana have tended to focus on CBD and similar semi-medicinal uses. But the real benefit of a more sane approach to the plant is in the rediscovery of the multiple uses of hemp.

As Wikipedia reports, industrial hemp– a botanical class of Cannabis sativa cultivars grown specifically for industrial and consumable use– can be used to make a wide range of products. Along with bamboo, hemp is among the fastest growing plants on Earth. It was also one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 50,000 years ago. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items, including paper, rope, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Pretty impressive!

It always seemed insane to me that disapproval of the more “recreational” use of marijuana plants had effectively prohibited the growth of hemp for these multiple benign purposes. (As I understand it–and I probably don’t– plants grown for industrial purposes lack the “recreational” element, but because the varieties look so much alike in the field, neither could be grown in jurisdictions that outlawed pot. In other words, most jurisdictions.)

Now it appears that hemp is being used in yet another promising way: as a climate-friendly building material. As the Guardian reports,

Cannabis sativa, the plant of the thousand and one molecules, has a long and expansive reputation – as a folk medicine, a source of textile fibre for clothes, for making rope or plugging holes in ships.

But now cannabis – or specifically its non-psychoactive variant, hemp – is being touted for something greater still: building blocks for housing that may avoid some of the environmental, logistic and economic downsides of concrete.

The cement industry is responsible for about 8% of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, alongside problems created by unyielding surfaces and low insulation, or R-value, properties. The search for large-scale alternatives has so far yielded few results, but on a small scale there are intriguing possibilities, including the use of hemp mixed with lime to create low-carbon, more climate healthy building materials.

“There’s an enormous growth potential in the US for hemp fibre used for building and insulation,” said Kaja Kühl, an urban designer and the founder of youarethecity, a design and building practice based in Brooklyn, New York. “Hemp was only legalised in 2018, but now industrial hemp is following the first wave of CBD and cannabis.”

The Guardian reports that there is a “fledgling network of advocates, designers and fabricators” who are working to enlarge the use of bio-based building materials, which they see as a way to dramatically reduce the upfront carbon footprint of materials that can account for some 80% of a building’s carbon lifecycle.

But more recently its ability to capture more than twice its own weight in carbon – twice as fast as traditional forestry – has come into focus. By some estimates, hemp can capture up to 15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare, through photosynthesis. Hemp cultivation taking up only 25% of the world’s agricultural land used for dairy and livestock would close the UN emissions gap of 23 gigatons of CO2 annually.

“Choosing materials that sequester a lot of carbon before they become construction materials can be very beneficial in this quest to get to carbon-neutral by 2050,” Kühl said, pointing out that the hemp that is used is the hurd, from the inner stem, and not the bark that is used for paper or rope.

This is so cool!

It is so easy to become discouraged about the current state of the world we inhabit. Listening to the daily reports of idiocy emanating from our various legislative chambers, cringing from the reports of devastation in Ukraine and the Middle East, scanning the reports of all-too-frequent episodes of mass gun violence…The bad news tends to overwhelm and drown out the good.

We need to remember–as I report here too infrequently–there are a lot of good people in the world doing a lot of very good things. They are making cool discoveries, inventing marvelous things and figuring out new ways to help those who need that help.

Those of us who prefer helping the good guys to feeding the resentments and insecurities of those who are barriers to progress have a job that is both difficult and disarmingly simple: we need to elect lawmakers who want to make it easier–not harder– for the good guys to move humanity to a better place.

At the very least, we need to vote out the MAGAs who want to take us back to a past that never was.


  1. I’ve been hoping that someone would start producing hemp toilet paper instead of harvesting trees . As of yet, no one has figured out how to bring it to scale. David Byrne started a newsletter called Reasons to be Cheerful, to highlight the good news in the world.

  2. patmcc is right. What a great way to start the day…feeding my brain and emotions with something positive and encouraging.

  3. Well-timed positive essay today, Sheila. Nicely done. In her book, “The Watchman’s Rattle”, Rebecca Costa wrote an entire chapter about doing the right thing vs. profit motive. In short, if it doesn’t create short-term profits, it usually doesn’t get done.

    In this morning’s Denver Post there was a featured article about the recreational/medicinal side of the MJ issue. The shops are being squeezed by regulations and bureaucrats making it difficult for them to stay in business. Thing is, the blush of freeing-up recreational MJ has passed its time and the market has settled down driving small operators out of business.

    BUT for every pack of buds, there are stalks that could be used for any of the mentioned environmentally favorable things the essay mentioned. Is that part of the cultivation plan? Who knows? MJ/hemp and bamboo are indeed the natural use items we so sorely need. MJ, for example, grows to “maturity” in weeks, not years, so could easily supplant trees as the major paper source – including TP. I’m sure there are lots of jokes embedded here, but you all get the idea.

    Will MJ replace so many polluting products in the near future? Only the profit margins will tell.

  4. Im reminded of Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry where knowledge of molecular structures and how they are affected by chopping, heat, cooling, pressure, etc., can produce a magnificent meal or cup of coffee. Like hemp, there is so much good right in front of us to learn about while being good stewards of ourselves and our environment. Had I know what I know now about physical science, I would have been a chemistry whiz in high school! Sheila, thanks for this refreshing moment!

  5. Life is because it is inherently recyclable. It is meant to create all of its arrangements out of stuff lying around, and when death occurs, it turns back into the things for the next life.

    All that is required to do that is energy from the sun.

    Species are because life is so flexibly arranged. Whatever niche in the food chain exists, life of some form fills it. We are an experiment to see if an upright stance and large brains work out.

    Fossil fuels are a problem because circumstances allow them to remain unrecycled for hundreds of millions of years, so burning them now releases carbon into the atmosphere, forming a barrier to radiant energy returning to space.

    We are on the verge of the Anthropocene, the era when homo sapiens changed the balance of energy on earth away from what we built all of our infrastructure to support the supply chains we now require to live.

    Nobody knows the ultimate impacts on all species, but the early returns do not look promising.

    Today, we are proving that big brains are necessary but not sufficient. What is in the way of a solution or mitigation to the problems we created is the learning of the knowledge we possess collectively, but it is unequally distributed among us.

  6. Unless my memory is much mistaken, the reason we can’t/couldn’t have hemp products was because William Randolph Hearst, of paper magnate (in general) and news particularly fame, didn’t want hemp to compete with his paper industry. So, since he owned the news – he demonized hemp to keep his profits healthy.

    I know, I know – a wealthy person using his power and influence to protect their own money and power by making the world worse? Shocking!

    The more things change…

  7. Hooray for science! Support better science education and keep religious dogma out of public schools.

  8. Yeah, Dirk, you could add Big Pharma to the list of oligarchies that didn’t want MJ legalized. They couldn’t make any profit from it, like Vernon said.

    Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, Indiana now has hemp fields statewide. It’s hard to believe that this Koch-run state would allow hemp. The Farmers must have more weight in Indy than Koch’s toilet paper factory.

    Midwest Hemp can be found here:

  9. Liberals encourage the spread of human knowledge like precipitation and gravity urge rivers to flow into the sea.

    Conservatives discourage that. They prefer the lack of knowledge as was before now.

  10. Unfortunately, the FDA has recommended that MJ be moved to a class three drug. That would make it unavailable without a prescription in the US. We just can’t get past “Reefer Madness.”

  11. “Listening to the daily reports of idiocy emanating from our various legislative chambers…,” same as my new phrase: “Empowering Stupidity!”
    So, Hearst screwed hemp, and brought us Billy Graham! Special!

  12. In the late 1970’s I worked as a nurse on a cancer unit in Indiana where we gave THC pills to counteract the side effects of chemo treatments. THC was effective in helping to control anxiety, nausea/vomiting and increasing appetite. It seemed to be helpful in many patients. It was a schedule I drug and we would carefully count and sign out the pills. Not many meds are in pill form, they looked like chocolate bb’s in a round dispenser. By the 1980’s THC was outlawed, and pts. would have to take an antiemetic, tranquilizer and steroids to get similar benefit.
    Legislatures throwing the baby out with the bathwater is over reaction and blocks progress.

  13. Thank you for mentioning the benefits of hemp! I know as a knitter I went on my own hunt for eco-friendly, vegan, and affordable yarn. It’s hard to beat the qualities of wool which is expensive. But yes, the yarn industry is trying to innovate all sorts of yarns and the hemp plant is part of the experiments.

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