From March 2nd to 5th, hemp researchers and merchants
from over twenty countries met in Frankfurt, Germany, to participate in the
world’s largest ever hemp symposium and trade show.
Hemp 1995 was a scientific and technical symposium organized by the
nova-Institute. The symposium was held in conjunction with the
Bioresource Hemp Exposition and Trade Show, organized by Frank
Zander of Tritec, as part of Biofach 95, a world-wide exhibition of
ecological products which attracted over sixteen thousand visitors.
Hemp provided a first hand account of the rapid growth of hemp research and
new technologies world-wide, but also highlighted the lack of domestic
cultivation in several countries, and a current shortage of the investment
capital necessary for accelerated hemp use.
following is a look at some of the material presented by the different
countries that participated in the Bioresource Hemp expo. This article was
adapted by Dana Larsen from the papers and materials presented at
Bioresource Hemp, as well as the symposium overview written by Gero Leson
of the nova-Institute, which is in the current issue of the
Journal of the International Hemp Association.
More papers were presented by Dutch hemp researchers than by those from any
History & Status of Hemp Cultivation
A presentation by a company called Hemp-Flax discussed the history
and status of hemp cultivation in the Netherlands. They explained that
until several decades ago, hemp had been the most important fibre crop in
the country. Rembrandt’s paintings and Dutch world exploration would not
have been possible without hemp for canvas and ropes.
Since the late 1980’s, the Dutch government has supported hemp research in
order to help establish a cooperation between farmers and industry, and to
bridge technological gaps.
In 1994, Ben Dronkers founded Hemp-Flax as a private company. He purchased
a modern flax processing plant and contracted with Dutch farmers for the
cultivation of 140 hectares of hemp. Although no pesticides or fungicides
were used, losses caused by pathogens were insignificant. 500 hectares have
been contracted for 1995.
Function of Cannabinoids
An interesting study was presented by David Pate of the International
Hemp Association. Pate explained that cannabis is a “virtual factory”
for the production of metabolic compounds, and that the compounds which
make up the active drug ingredients are unique to the genus and are termed
Although Pate has researched the function cannabinoids serve in cannabis,
he admits to having no comprehensive explanation for why cannabis produces
them. He did however, outline four intriguing theories.
The first is that the sticky compounds may present a physical line of
defense against insects, which is coupled with the insect repelling
aromatic qualities of the resin.
Since it has been demonstrated that cannabinoids have anti-biotic
properties, they might also serve as a protection against microorganisms
and discourage fungal growth.
The third explanation is that cannabinoids act as protection from heat and
dryness in the same manner as the waxy coating on a cactus. This theory is
supported by the fact that strains of cannabis with a high level of resin
production tend to come from areas of high altitude, low geographic
latitude, and low humidity.
Finally, there seems to be a correlation between UV-B radiation and the
amount of resins produced. UV-B radiation has a significant negative
biological impact, and cannabis plants with high levels of cannabinoids
absorb and neutralize more of the damaging UV-B rays than low-potency
Although David’s theories are somewhat speculative, they do provide the
possibility that strains of cannabis with high THC could have agricultural
benefits over the low-THC varieties to which most farmers are legally
Breeding & Agriculture
There were two Dutch studies presented at the Bioresource Hemp Symposium
which dealt with the breeding and agriculture of cannabis hemp.
Hayo van der Werf of the DLO Research Institute for Agrobiology and Soil
Fertility presented the main results of the Dutch research program on
the crop physiology and agronomy of hemp. He explained that the prices of
many arable crops have been falling in recent years as the European Union
has reduced food crop subsidies in order to fight production surpluses.
As a result of this, crop rotation on Dutch farms has become limited to a
few profitable crops such as potato and sugar beet. This short crop
rotation has increased the incidence of disease and also lowered overall
yields, while at the same time increasing the use of biocides and soil
The development of a new crop introduced into current rotations would help
to solve these problems. Van der Werf explained that the new crop would
have to be profitable, produce for a large non-food market, require little
or no biocides, and help reduce disease in current crop rotations.
After six years of study, the report concluded that hemp grown for paper
pulp seems to meet all of these needs. Although fungus can cause
significant damage in rainy years, the problem may be solved through
further breeding. Hemp requires little or no biocides, and even suppresses
weeds and some soil-borne diseases.
An interesting piece of information came out of a study introduced by
Etienne de Meijer of the Centre for Plant Breeding and Reproduction
Research. He outlined the results of a four-year study into using hemp
for paper pulp production in Holland.
The conclusions of this study were similar to the one brought forward by
Van der Werf. What is interesting however, is that the study states that
“there were no strict relationships between the cannabinoid profiles and
non-chemical traits.” This would indicate that some varieties of cannabis
are high in both THC and fibre content, but also that hemp can be a useful
crop even if it is legally constrained to varieties low in THC.
Innovations in Pulping
Gertjan van Roekel of the Dutch Institute for Agrotechnological
Endeavours (ATO-DLO) presented a new technology for pulping hemp fibres
that combines the best of traditional mechanical and chemical pulping
His paper begins with a look at the history of papermaking. He explains how
paper used to be made of rags derived from hemp and flax clothing. At the
time of the industrial revolution, the demand for paper outstripped the
supply of rags, and so inventors and industry developed new processes to
use the world’s most abundant source of natural fibres: trees. This trend
has persisted, and now less than five percent of the world’s paper supply
is made from annual plants like hemp, wheat straw, and sisal.
Roekel goes on to describe modern papermaking techniques. He states that
the average hemp pulp and paper mill produces around 5000 tonnes per year,
compared to a minimum of 250,000 tonnes for a wood fibre pulp mill. This
vast difference in scale means that most modern hemp pulp mills are
designed to produce only specialty papers for which they can charge a great
deal more per tonne.
Examples of such specialty papers include cigarette paper, coffee filters,
insulating and greaseproof papers, and specialty art papers.
The typical technique used to process hemp fibres into specialty paper pulp
is called Kraft chemical pulping. This process involves cooking the hemp
fibre in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfate, and then beating
it for up to twelve hours in a machine specially designed for long fibres
called a Hollander Beater. Bleaching methods often include chlorine
compounds which are discharged into the environment.
Although this process does produce a fine grade of paper, it is not
economically feasible to use it in the production of “regular” grade
printing and writing papers, which is the fastest growing area of demand
for hemp paper.
Modifying the Mechanical
Mechanical pulping entails separating the fibres by exposing them to
shearing forces rather than chemical energy. The new pulping technology
introduced by Roekel involves adding small amounts of alkaline and some
catalysts to the mix, thereby improving the lignin removal. This improved
process is called chemi-mechanical pulping.
The main difference between chemical and chemi-mechanical pulping is that
chemi-mechanical pulping does not completely remove the lignin while
chemical pulping does. (Lignin is the biological glue which holds the plant
together.) Since wood fibre contains up to 30% lignin this can mean a
serious difference in the quality of wood pulp. Hemp bast fibre however, is
at most 4% lignin, and so this is not really a factor.
A major environmental advantage of the chemi-mechanical process is that it
doesn’t require extensive chemical cooking, so that it uses less energy and
chemicals than traditional processes. It also requires less bleaching, and
uses hydrogen peroxide to whiten the paper instead of chlorine.
Studies at Wageningen Agricultural University have shown that waste from
chemi-mechanical pulping does not contain toxic elements, and that all
components can be degraded biologically, except for a fraction of the
lignin, which it is hoped further studies will find a solution for.
Cannabis in Kursk
Stanislav Shulga of the Russian Institute of Land Use and Erosion
Protection gave an overview of the traditional hemp cultivation in the
Kursk Region. Although hemp cultivation has dropped from around 30,000
hectares in the 1950’s to under 1,500 by 1994, the technical know-how and
equipment for harvesting and processing are still available. Hemp is
currently being grown in rotation with oat, clover, and potatoes. It should
be easy for this region (and others like it) to increase their production
of hemp if the demand were to rise.
The Russian Seed Bank
Robert C Clarke reported on a joint project between the Vavilov Research
Institute (VIR) based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the
International Hemp Association (IHA) based in Amsterdam,
Holland. The VIR maintains one of the world’s largest collections of viable
seeds from economic plants and their wild relatives. Since its creation in
1992, the IHA has been involved in a cooperative project with the VIR to
preserve the nearly four hundred types of cannabis seeds in their
Each seed type must be grown out and reproduced in sufficient quantity to
provide seed for storage in several locations as well as additional seed
for distribution to researchers. Successful grow-outs of portions of the
VIR cannabis collection were carried out during 1993 and 1994 in Russia,
Ukraine, and Italy. The VIR and the IHA plan to continue grow-outs over the
next two years.
Funding the Future
The current political instability and inflationary economic situation in
the former Soviet Union has resulted in the grow-outs suffering rapidly
increasing costs. Thus the VIR/IHA Cannabis Germplasm Preservation Project
is currently seeking funding for the continuation of grow-outs in 1995.
The goal of the project is to have a minimum of 1000 plants of each
population so as to ensure preservation of the entire gene pool. They would
also like to have at least 10,000 seeds (about 200 grams) of each type,
half for an active collection and half for long-term
The German presence was very strong at the Bioresource Hemp Expo, which
isn’t too surprising considering that it was held in their
country. Nevertheless, Germany has seen a dramatic surge of interest in
cannabis hemp, and this is reflected in the many new businesses and
innovative products that have seen their origins in Germany over the past
year. This is even more remarkable considering that no agricultural hemp is
presently being grown in Germany as it is prohibited by law.
Hanf in Deutschland
Michael Karus of the nova-Institute gave an overview of the
past, present, and potential future of German hemp cultivation. The
earliest findings of hemp fabrics in Europe are from around 800 BC. Hemp
seeds have been used as a food staple since the Middle Ages, and
descriptions of the plant’s medicinal properties date back to the 16th
The Hemp Heydays
Hemp experienced the same progression in Germany as elsewhere in the
world. Its production level peaked in the seventeenth century as it was
used for many aspects of the shipping and sailing industry. In the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries hemp use declined as mechanized cotton
processing allowed cotton to displace the labour-intensive hemp, and wood
pulp replaced hemp pulp as a source of paper.
Hemp cultivation saw a brief period of resurgence during both World Wars as
it was revived to replace lost fibre supplies from overseas. After World
War II, hemp rapidly lost ground to the competition of synthetic fibres and
Banned but for Beets
In East Germany, the cultivation of hemp survived into the late 1960’s, and
researchers were able to breed several new varieties which combined high
fibre yield with low THC content. These varieties are now considered lost
in Germany, although they may survive elsewhere.
In 1982, West Germany amended the federal narcotics act to outlaw all
cultivation of hemp, with few exceptions. To this day, these amendments
effectively ban the commercial cultivation of hemp in Germany.
Only one agricultural use of hemp in Germany has been exempted from this
general prohibition, that being as a pollen insulator in the commercial
breeding of beets. No other plant forms such impermeable hedges and
minimizes undesirable outside pollination.
Rediscovering Hemp Paper
The rediscovery of hemp in Germany has come about largely through the
publication of The Rediscovery of Hemp Cannabis Marihuana in
September 1993. This book contains a German translation of Jack Herer’s
The Emperor Wears No Clothes, along with a historical review of hemp
in Europe by Mathias Brockers, and an evaluation of the industrial uses of
hemp by the Katalyse Institute.
The publication of this book also spurred the development of a hemp market
in a very practical fashion: it was printed on hemp paper. At the
Bioresource Hemp expo, Jurgen Schlegelmilch of Schneidersohne Paper
explained how he accepted the challenge of obtaining hemp pulp and
producing paper from it for this venture.
Schneidersohne Paper is Germany’s largest paper distributor, and now
carries a complete line of quality hemp papers. Schlegelmilch recounted how
the trade association of the German paper industry had told him that they
would be printing their next annual report on hemp paper, because they
recognized that it was a truly innovative product.
In February of 1994, an association of German farmers, agro-cooperatives,
and entrepreneurs formed Die Hanfgesellschaft (The Hemp Society) as
a means of promoting the reintegration of hemp into farming and industrial
The society’s most visible venture is the Hanfhaus (Hemp House)
chain, which markets hemp-based textiles through its retail outlets in six
major German cities. The textiles are predominantly manufactured in
The research and development in these areas has been carried out without
government funding. The federal agencies responsible for these areas are
not willing to fund hemp projects because hemp cultivation is considered
However, as a result of the rapidly growing public interest in the use of
hemp, and pressure from German farmers, the federal government seems likely
to lift the ban on farming low THC hemp in the near future.
Another apparent reason for the lack of support is that the federal
agricultural bureaucracy do not want to support a competitor to flax, which
has received DM 60 million of public funding without the hoped-for
breakthrough. However, since much of the newly developed flax technology is
applicable to hemp as well, government actions might be of some benefit to
hemp cultivators despite their intentions.
Fram Flax to Hemp
One technology based upon flax was actually presented at the Bio-Resource
Hemp Symposium. A company named Bahmer Maschinebau presented their
design for a two-step hemp processing technology originally developed for
Most of the other technological innovations introduced at Bioresource Hemp
were related specifically to hemp. For example, the fact that hemp cannot
be easily separated into fibres of consistent quality without specialized
machinery is a major obstacle to their use in a wider range of
applications. Two new technologies which overcome this problem were
presented by German organizations.
Steam Explosion &
Kai Nebel of the German Institute for Applied Research presented
their innovative new way to separate hemp fibres. The system uses the power
of a steam explosion to separate the fibres, producing a cotton-like
material which can be spun using existing technology for cotton. The
material becomes a fine yarn that retains some of hemp’s characteristics,
such as its high strength and low elasticity.
Another alternative to traditional fibre separation techniques was
presented by Hugo Zimmer for a German company called Ecco
Gleittechnik. Their process involves exposing the hemp stalks to
powerful ultrasonic waves while they are under water.
Ultrasonic waves have the effect of causing local pressure differences in
the water, which in turn creates tiny bubbles of gas which implode during
compression. The implosion of the bubbles generates extremely high pressure
and temperature in a small area, and this breaks the hold between the
fibres and the lignins that hold the hemp fibres together.
The result of this process is that hemp fibres can be extracted from the
stalks without the need for intensive chemical or mechanical
processing. The resulting fibres are also quite white, so that little or no
bleaching is required for most applications.
A side benefit is that the “waste product” of extracted lignins can be used
as a raw material for further products, such as organic glues for fibre
boards or even as fertilizer.
Ecco is currently in the planning phase for a full-scale
demonstration project of this process.
Karl-Heinz Hensel of Ecco Gleittechnik explained that Ecco is actually a
manufacturer of special lubricants. They became involved in hemp through
their efforts at trying to deal with the problems of common brake
linings. Ecco wanted to replace the asbestos and other environmentally
harmful fibres used in brake linings with plant fibres, and ultimately
developed plant fibre products which were able to meet the necessary
As a result of their experiences with plant fibre processing, they were
able to realize the potential of hemp and other plant fibres in a number of
Cannabis Cars & Cement
Hensel used the example of an automobile to show the many different uses of
plant fibres. Aside from roof and inside door coverings and sound
insulation for the engine, they could also be used for underseal, gaskets
and brake linings, principally as reinforcing fibres. Plant fibres could
also be used in parts of the vehicle where it is important to have tensile
strength combined with flexibility, such as bumpers and supporting parts.
Another use for plant fibres is in building materials. Plant fibres are
suitable for heat insulation purposes, and hemp and flax materials have
excellent insulating and flame retarding properties. Plant fibres can also
be used as reinforcement fibres in aerated concrete, and as dry mortar for
interior and exterior plaster.
One of the most important potential markets for industrial plant fibres is
as a replacement for asbestos in fibre cement. Fibres extracted using
Ecco’s ultrasonic process seem well suited to this application because of
the absence of contaminating particles which can otherwise weaken cement.
Hemp Oil Detergent
Perhaps the product which most belonged in a category of its own was
presented by Max Olschewski for Sativa. Sativa is a German company
which has developed a laundry detergent produced from hemp oil and yeast
combined in an innovative biochemical process. The low surface tension of
hemp oil based detergents increases their laundering power over
conventional detergents, and allows the removal of persistent stains such
as grease, ink and blood.
Potential future application of this technology include the detergent’s use
as an industrial cleaner and, because of its rapid biodegradability, in the
remediation of soil contaminated with petroleum products.
England’s Ecological Farmers
The presentations made by the English representatives were dominated by
ecological concerns. David Strickland of Organic Farmers & Growers
discussed hemp’s position as the ideal crop for the ecological farmer. The
fact that hemp suppresses weeds and is generally disease free are both
major advantages for organic growers. Hemp’s status as a deep rooting crop
also reduces the need for fertilizers as it can use deep lying sources of
Sue Riddlestone of The Ecology Centre described the potential
ecological and economic benefits to be gained from small-scale processing
industries for hemp and other fibres. In her paper she writes that “The
green ideal is sustainable local production for local needs.” She mentions
briefly the fact that about 75% of virgin paper pulp consumed in the UK is
imported, much of it from British Columbia.
Riddlestone further explained that a revival of traditional, multiple use
crops such as hemp would increase Britain’s self-sufficiency and benefit
small-scale rural industries. It would also allow farmers to diversify
their production and reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Three Long Years of Hemp
Hemcore is a British company that undertook a three year program to
develop the cultivation, processing and marketing of hemp in the UK. In
addition to this, they have also grown commercial crops of hemp during the
last two years.
Ian Low, a partner in Hemcore, described their hemp growing experiences. He
explained that they had not found it necessary to use any herbicides,
insecticides, or fungicides on their crops, and that the plants had matched
their reputation for an impressive growth rate by reaching an average
height of over three metres.
In 1993 Hemcore suffered some crop theft from pot smokers foolishly raiding
their fields. This did not occur in 1994, presumably because the word got
out that the plants did not provide any intoxicating effects.
Several Centuries of Chanvre
The only French representative at the Bioresource Hemp Symposium was
Michka, an author and journalist from Paris. Michka explained that
hemp has been grown legally in France with no interruption for several
centuries. Although its use for textiles ceased in the 1960’s, hemp fibre
is still processed into pulp for specialty long-fibre papers. An example of
this is the German company EFKA which manufactures
hemp “Canuma” brand rolling papers. EFKA was one of the sponsors of the
France has been exploring innovative uses for hemp hurds over the last
decade, particularly in construction. Firms such as Chenovette
Habitate and La Chanvriere de l’Aube now use hemp hurds as raw
material for insulation and construction projects. The hemp hurds are
usually mixed with lime or cement to produce these materials. They can be
used without further additives in foundations, walls, floors, ceilings, and
plaster. The mineralized hurds are blown or poured into a cavity if being
used for insulation.
Truth or Consequences
An interesting sidenote to Michka’s presentation is that she is being sued
for libel by Gabriel Nahas. Nahas has been a prominent opponent of
marijuana for almost forty years and has authored numerous studies of
dubious scientific credibility that claim to show its damaging effects. He
is suing her for an article she wrote for “Maintenant” magazine in 1993,
called “The Crusade of Gabriel Nahas – or the Art of Disinformation”.
The trial is set to begin in September, and Michka has gathered an
impressive array of marijuana and drug experts to testify as to the truth
of her attacks against Nahas. Unfortunately, the costs to properly prepare
a defence are rapidly mounting, so donations and financial assistance are
Olivier Pittet of the Swiss Federal Institute for Agroscience & Technology
reported that Switzerland permits hemp cultivation with certain
restrictions. In a four year experimental program, the federal agricultural
administration is subsidizing the cultivation of renewable crops like
kenaf, cereals, and hemp. Two manufacturers, one of compression molded
parts and the other of pulp, have committed to the purchase of hemp from a
ten hectare area.
In other Swiss projects, hemp has been used for the production of building
materials, and of oil.
Hemp in the Ukraine
Pavel Goloborodko from the Ukrainian Institute of Bast Crops
reported on the current status of the hemp industry in Ukraine. Over
hectares of hemp were grown in Ukraine for fibre and
oil until the 1950’s. This figure had fallen to
hectares by 1994, but is expected to rise again.The Institute of Bast Crops
has been researching the anatomy, biology, physiology, selection, genetics,
harvesting and processing of hemp for sixty years. The Institute has
established a genetic fund of hemp since Ukraine’s independence in 1992,
and currently maintains about three hundred varieties, each of which is
catalogued according to fibre and cannabinoid content, as well as many
Pulping the Whole Thing
The Ukrainian Pulp & Paper Research Institute (UPPRI) presented
their newly-developed and unique pulping technology. Vladimir Krotov’s
paper explains that hemp stalks contain about one quarter long bast fibre,
and three quarters woody core fibre, also called hurds.
It is usually necessary to mechanically separate the two types of fibre
before pulping, because the optimum pulping conditions for each are
different. However, the added costs of separating processes include higher
capital investments and operating expenses, and the advantages of better
quality pulp are at least partially negated by the high loss of raw
materials during mechanical stalk-separation.
Soft & Decentralized
The process developed by the UPPRI uses mild reagents, a weakly alkaline
medium, and organic solvents to produce very soft pulping conditions that
allow the entire stalk to be pulped as a whole. The pulp yield is therefore
higher than traditional methods.
The technique requires no fresh water, and therefore it generates no
effluent. Also, one unit can combine all the necessary equipment for an
unbleached pulp plant, thus allowing for the development of profitable
low-capacity plants and even mobile units. This could be a major factor in
the decentralization of pulp and paper production in Ukraine and around the
Breeding & Hybrids
Hungarian hemp breeder and researcher Ivan Bocsa summarized his decades of
involvement in hemp breeding and gave an overview of currently available
varieties of fibre hemp. He compared monoecious (single-sexed) and
dioecious (two-sexed) varieties, explaining that monoecious have higher
fibre production, but dioecious allow for simultaneous production of fibre
and seeds in one crop.
He mentioned a hybrid variety with a high seed yield of 1600kg per
hectare, which cannot be grown in Europe because its THC content of
exceeds the European Union’s limit of
Another interesting variety is a dioecious yellow stem hemp which loses its
chlorophyll content before flowering. This means that the fibre does not
turn brown and so does not require bleaching. This lends itself to the
production of environmentally friendly paper and textiles.
Real Live Hemp Pulp
Robert Zulauf discussed the practical problems he had experienced while
making hemp paper at his paper mill. Difficulties included the wide
variation in the quality of purchased pulp, repeated clogging of disk and
cone type grinders by the long fibres, and the need for time-consuming
grinding in a Hollander beater.
Although Zulaf’s experiences did not live up to the fabulous possibilities
for hemp outlined during the Symposium, it did serve to show that hemp can
be a successful crop if it is properly controlled and developed.
Two papers were presented by representatives of the Polish Institute of
Natural Fibres which demonstrated the current state of Polish hemp
Cultivating Cannabis in Poland
The first of these was from Ryszard Kozlowski, who presented results from
the cultivation of two domestic varieties, and explained that their fibre
yields per hectare have almost doubled since the 1950’s.
Russian equipment is used for harvesting, followed by dew-retting in the
field. Subsequent processing involves equipment manufactured
hectares are under commercial cultivation in Poland, with plans for an
hectares for the production of cellulose.
Cannabis Cleans Contamination
Przemyslaw Baraniecki presented a paper which outlined a very different use
for cannabis hemp. He has concluded from four years of cultivation that
hemp can help in the reclamation of soils contaminated with heavy metals.
His tests suggest that high levels of heavy metals in soil do not impair
plant growth, and that yield and fibre quality do not differ from those
obtained on regular soils.
However, Przemyslaw didn’t address the issues surrounding the use of
potentially contaminated hemp fibres in clothing or industry. Although his
initial research suggests the potential for gradual and inexpensive
remediation of heavy metal contaminated soils by hemp, these other issues
must also be discussed.
In the Shandong Province
Robert Clarke of the International Hemp Association reviewed the
history of hemp cultivation in the Tai’an District of Shandong Province in
the People’s Republic of China. He explained that hemp cultivation in the
region dates back over 5000 years, and showed the cultivation and
processing techniques currently used.
Traditionally, peasants have produced twine, sacking and clothes from hemp,
and until recently hemp was processed almost entirely by traditional
methods. In 1987 however, a modern degumming, spinning and weaving mill was
constructed. In 1993 a Chinese-American joint venture invested in the mill
and initiated changes to cultivation, market structure, and processing of
Hemp in China
Hui-Min Wang of the Chinese North-West Institute of Textile Science and
Technology was not able to attend the Symposium due to visa
problems. However, his paper explains that textiles made from hemp have
been in decline in China for decades, due to competition from more easily
processed fibres like wool, cotton, and synthetics. Despite this, China is
still the world’s largest producer of hemp bast fibres.
The main uses of hemp in China are currently in the production of ropes,
pulp, and hand knitting products, and the use of seeds for oil and of
leaves and flowers in traditional Chinese medicines. The recent resurgence
in hemp has been caused by a growing demand for natural fibres, a drop in
world market prices for flax, and the emergence of advanced technical
applications for hemp cultivation.
Shaun Lisson of the University of Tasmania outlined the current
state of hemp study and cultivation in Australia. Although no hemp industry
currently exists in Australia, hemp related activities have been gaining
momentum, and hemp merchandise from overseas manufacturers is being sold at
a number of outlets.
A Study in South Australia
In South Australia, permission has been granted for a two year study into
the potential use of hemp as a strengthening supplement in a proposed wheat
straw paper mill. Field trials are expected to begin in the Autumn of this
year. Licensing authorities require that a wide range of monitoring, crop
handling, and security measures are adhered to, and that THC levels are
kept below the required levels.
New South Wales
In New South Wales negotiations for license issue have been going on for
the past four years, with rejection being based upon concerns about crop
security and the weed potential of hemp. The most recent submission has
been made by a partnership between a hemp merchandising company and a
prominent New South Wales university. There have been expressions from
local industry in both textile and biofuel production.
Testing in Tasmania
The first license to grow cannabis in Tasmania was issued by the state
government in 1991. Although the license was issued too late to sow the
crop, the next year a successful harvest was reaped. In early 1993
laboratory pulping trials were conducted with two major pulping
companies. These trials demonstrated the potential of mechanical hemp
pulping and showed the need for further research.
Four Reasons Why
There are a number of reasons why the legal cultivation of cannabis was
approved in Tasmania four years earlier than anywhere else in Australia.
First, there is a growing need in Tasmania for a locally produced
reinforcing pulp for newsprint to replace the softwood pulp currently
imported from outside Australia.
Second, the temperate, maritime climate and soils of Tasmania are well
suited to the cultivation of hemp.
Third, the issue was approached by a coordinated effort between industry,
the state’s university, a local support group, and farmers.
Finally, opium poppies are cultivated in Tasmania, so an infrastructure
already exists to monitor the production of governmentally regulated crops.
A Seedy Situation
In Australia there is a growing awareness of hemp-based products and
merchandise. A company called Environmentally Sound Products is
trying to import hemp seeds for use as a food product and as a source of
oil for body products. A major obstacle to this is that cannabis is
currently considered a prohibited botanical for use as a
foodstuff. Attempts are being made to exempt hemp seed in the same manner
poppy seed, and it is expected to be successful.
In the US, Canada, and most of Europe, cannabis is prohibited even for
medical use. Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the Harvard Medical School in
Boston has studied the medicinal uses of cannabis for over twenty years. He
summarized the results of his research with patients. His generally
anecdotal evidence shows that cannabis effectively treats a variety of
illnesses without the severe side effects caused by pharmaceutical drugs
created for the same purpose.
The benefits of cannabis are most evident in the treatment of glaucoma and
in relieving the nausea and anorexia associated with cancer chemotherapy
and AIDS patients. Although synthetic THC in the form of Marinol can be
legally prescribed for these applications, most patients prefer to smoke
marijuana because of better dosage control and the lack of side effects.
Dr. Robert Gorter of the University of California Medical Centre in
San Francisco presented the results from his clinical studies on the
effects of the use of marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids by AIDS
patients. He found that they provided appetite stimulation and mood
improvement, resulting in generally improved physical and mental condition
without significant negative side effects.
Industry in the USA
Two Americans made presentations at the Bioresource Hemp Symposium. The
first was Ken Friedman of the Hemp Industries Association, (also
president of American Hemp Mercantile) and he gave an overview of
the current status of the US hemp industry. He explained that demand for
hemp based products has grown considerably over the past decade, but that
the US hemp industry still faces several problems.
The lack of a domestic hemp supply combined with internationally high
demand drives up the cost of raw materials. At the same time, the hemp
industry is trying to overcome its “drug driven” image. The Hemp Industries
Association accordingly sees the education of the general public and public
officials as one of its main responsibilities.
The Excellent Oils of Hemp Seed
The other American speaker was Don Wirtshafter of the Ohio Hempery,
the largest hemp seed importer in the US. He talked about the nutritional
value of hemp seeds, explaining that hemp seed recipes are found in many
cultures around the world.
Packed With Protein
He also explained that hemp seeds contain up to one quarter protein, and
that this protein contains all eight essential amino acids in the correct
proportions for human needs.
Although soybeans contain a higher percentage of protein, they are complex
proteins which are harder to digest. The protein in hemp is more easily
absorbed into the human body. Because they are so easily digestible, hemp
seeds can be used in the treatment of nutrition blocking diseases and
The Essential Fatty Acids
Hemp seeds typically contain up to
oil. This may be the most unsaturated oil derived from any plant
product. Hemp oil is very high in polyunsaturates, also called Essential
Of the dozens of fatty acids that we normally consume, only two or three
have proven to be essential to human life. These are called the Essential
Fatty Acids (EFA). Some scientists blame the prevalence of degenerative
diseases in our society on a lack of Essential Fatty Acids in our diet.
Although some oils do plug up the system, others are mandatory for
sustaining life. The push for a “fat free” diet does nothing to ensure the
consumption of the oils necessary to get the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E,
EFA’s cannot be made by the human body, and yet are essential for a variety
of bodily functions. They act as the lipids in the membranes of all body
cells. They prevent the build up of arterial plaque. They are the
precursors of the prostaglandins that are needed by our immune
systems. Wirtshafter stated that there are at least two hundred articles
published about EFA’s in scientific journals each year.
An unfortunate fact is that Essential Fatty Acids are unstable and will
degrade and become rancid quite rapidly when compared to other oils. This
is why junk food is typically high in hydrogenated and saturated fats, and
also why we will never see hemp seed treats sold in cellophane
packages. Once you roast or grind the seeds, rancidity reactions begin.
In 1986, some American seed oil companies began using advanced technology
that could extract oils in the absence of heat, light and air. By keeping
oxygen away from the oil the process of rancidity cannot begin and the oil
can be kept in the bottle for up to one year.
Painted into a Corner
Hemp oil also has other uses. Aside from being an excellent base for skin
creams and massage lotions, it is also a preferred base for house paints.
During the hearings for the 1937 US Marijuana Tax Act, a representative of
the Sherwin Williams Co. testified that in 1935 his company had imported
135,000 pounds of hemp seed, in addition to what was grown on the large
company plantations in Texas.
Although paint companies switched to a flax oil base (linseed oil) soon
after marijuana prohibition, flax oil does not penetrate into the surface
of the wood as well as hemp oil. Hemp oil paint also hardens the lumber’s
surface, making it resistant to scratches and other abuse.
Hemp oil was also the base for early printing inks. Flax became the
preferred base because it dries more quickly, but hemp oil is superior and
requires less processing to make a quality ink.
A Heated Entry
The biggest difficulty with hemp seeds in the United States and Canada is
that the seeds must be heated upon entry in order to sterilize them. Being
in possession of viable hemp seeds is considered as possession of marijuana
in both countries. Unfortunately, the heat opens micro-fissures in the seed
shell which allow oxygen to penetrate into the kernels. This reduces the
seed’s shelf life considerably, and destroys a high percentage of the
delicate Essential Fatty Acids.
Certified Standards for Hemp
Don Wirtshafter also spoke about the need for certification standards in
the hemp industry. He stated that legitimate hemp producers must guard
against “the plethora of imitation hemp and cheaply made hemp goods that
are about to flood onto the market.” He gave the examples of a company
selling products as hemp, but only in reference to the colour, not the
material, and of others selling jute as “rough hemp”.
Don explained that he had been involved with the creation of the Hemp
Industries Association, a trade association formed last November by
over fifty hemp-related companies at a conference in Phoenix,
Arizona. Chris Conrad, author of Hemp, Lifeline to the Future, was
The HIA members agreed to work together to protect the name “Hemp” and
avoid confusion by preventing the word from being used to describe a colour
or texture, or a plant species other than cannabis. They also agreed upon
the minimum hemp content necessary for a product to be labeled as being
“made from hemp”.
These types of organizations already exist for wool and cotton, so as Don
explained, the HIA can learn from them and model itself after their best
The concluding sentences of Don’s paper summarize the goals for which the
Hemp Industries Association, the Bioresource Hemp expo, and perhaps all of
us as well, are aiming.
“Together we stand, divided we fall. We have the choice to spend our energy
in needless trade battles or working to fight those who really need to be
fought. History has shown us that there are many pitfalls on the way to
forming a legitimate and prosperous hemp industry. No one of us can do this
Language barriers, differing customs, and other problems will have to be
overcome. We have no choice, we have to do it. The success of this
conference proves to me it can be done…
An organization like I describe can last a millennium. I ask you each, in
the spirit of our common goals, to join us and to do what you can to get
this association underway.”
Canada’s representative at the Bioresource Hemp symposium was Gordon
Reichert, an employee of the Market Analysis Division of Agriculture &
Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). He explained that his department had become
involved with cannabis through the publication of the December 16, 1994,
edition of their Bi-Weekly Bulletin. This issue of the bulletin discussed
the potential for industrial hemp in Canada, but he admitted that the AAFC
did not expect the “unprecedented and highly positive interest” that they
subsequently received from farmers and industry.
Gordon’s trip to Frankfurt was funded in part by Canadian cannabis retail
and research organizations. The
Manitoba Hemp Alliance
initiated and organized the cooperative venture, and received funding from
Hemp BC, the Friendly Stranger, Shakedown Street, NORML Canada, Hemp Head,
Gordon discussed the fact that cannabis can be legally grown in Canada only
under licence from the Minister of Health, and only for research
purposes. This clause means that expenses cannot be recouped by selling
parts of the plant as fibre, seeds or oil, and that the RCMP monitors the
plants at the expense of the farmer.
He suggested that his audience “keep in mind that the Canadian Narcotic
Control Act was initially prepared over thirty years ago when industrial
hemp was considered a drug.” He also mentioned that
(which has now been withdrawn until next year) does not alter the
provisions for cannabis cultivation.
Gordon explained that the Canadian Federal Department of Agriculture
currently spends between
million on agricultural research every year. Aside from consultation, none
of this was spent on researching cannabis. However, three provinces have
established research and development funds for successful applicants, and
more are expected to follow.
Industrial Hemp in Canada
Anyone applying for a licence to cultivate cannabis in Canada must provide
detailed information regarding their research plan. This includes the
potential location and number of plants to be grown, scientific methodology
and purpose, names of all companies and individuals involved with the
process, and most importantly, “any other information which the applicant
feels will facilitate the issuance of a license.”
Gordon explained that in 1994 one licence to cultivate cannabis was granted
to a private Canadian company, Hempline Incorporated. This was the first
legal hemp crop harvested in North America in nearly forty
years. Hempline’s initial research helped to catapult Canadian agriculture
into the realm of industrial hemp.
At the time of the symposium no cannabis cultivation licences had yet been
granted, although applications from all provinces had been received by the
International Control and Licensing Division at the Bureau of Drug
Surveillance. In an update to his report, dated May 23, Gordon wrote that
the Canadian Ministry of Health had so far issued seven research licences
to four individuals in two provinces for the 1995 growing season.
Gordon said that he expected there to be intensive lobbying from industry
next year for legislative changes to permit the development of agricultural
cannabis. It is anticipated that there will be applications totalling
thousands of hectares on a national scale. He explained that the next six
to eighteen months are going to be of “paramount importance” in attempting
to re-establish the Canadian hemp industry, and that this will only come
about with cooperation from all levels of government, the business
community, researchers and academics, and the general public.
In the final paragraph of Gordon’s report he writes that “Canada has both
the human and natural resources required to be a key player in the
expanding global hemp industry.” It is only a matter of lifting the ban on
cannabis and allowing Canadian farmers to get to work.