CANNABIS: A key to sustainable future

Via Cavan Images/ Luis Velasco
Via Cavan Images/ Luis Velasco

Genus of flowering plants in the family of Cannabaceae is termed as Cannabis. Consisting of three primary species: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis, cannabis is herbaceous primordial to central and south Asia specifically in the regions that are now Mongolia and southern Siberia, according to the WARF. Cannabis Sativa consists of two cousin plants Marijuana and Hemp which are a-kin to each other but with different levels of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), a crystalline compound that causes euphoria upon consumption. Hemp consists 0.3% or less THC while marijuana consists of more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.

Hemp is considered as one of the first plant domesticated by humans. Numerous researches trying to uncover the origin of hemp have been done resulting in different outcomes. So, exact geographical origin of hemp is still vague. Some believe it originated from Lake Baikal, in the plains of central Asia. While others believe it evolved in foothills of the Pamir Mountains. Another theory state its first home was near the Yellow river of China. Whatever be the origin but Hemp has been grown for at least last 12,000 years and processed for its fibers and foods. Archeologists found a remnant of hemp cloth in ancient Mesopotamia (currently Iran and Iraq) which dates back to 8000 B.C. During 2727 B.C. the plant was mentioned for the first time in the text of Chinese Pharmacopoeia. In 1400 B.C. it was found along the Indus River in India. Similarly, the Chinese were the first to recognize the usefulness of hemp in paper making approximately during 150 B.C.

During the middle age, hemp was considered as a strategic commodity because of numerous uses allowed by its strong fibers. It was used to manufacture canvases, textiles, clothing and ropes. During 600 A.D Germans, Franks and Vikings started to use hemp fiber. In 770 A.D. Chinese make first printed book (The Dharani) using hemp paper. Afterward, in 1150 A.D. hemp was introduced in other parts of Europe. In 1492 A.D. 80 tons of hemp sails and ropes helped the caravels of Christopher Columbus to reach the new world. Meanwhile, during 1545 A.D., hemp farming begins in Chile and 19 years later king of Spain Philip ordered to cultivate hemp in his empire which then extends from Argentina to Oregon.

Likewise, Dutch begin to use from 1600 A.D. Between 16th to 18th centuries while international trade was booming, the European powers were competing for strategic points through naval supremacy. At that time hemp was used to make ropes, cables, ladders, and shrouds as well as sails. Till the beginning of 20th-century hemp was widely used across the globe in various sectors. However, after the Mexican revolution 1910 A.D., the scenario was altered. During that time Mexican immigrants flooded into the USA introducing their native language, culture and customs like using cannabis as a medicine and relaxant. During the 1930s depression, unemployment, violence and other socially deviant behaviors increased at an alarming rate.  The later government designated Marijuana as a cause of all problems. Due to which in 1937 A.D. after lurid propaganda campaign against weed “The Marijuana Act Law” was passed and as a result marijuana was listed as illegal drug along with hemp. Identically, “The Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs” was implemented by United Nation in 1961 A.D which declared Cannabis as illegal drug. Twelve years later Nepal also declared it as an illegal drug in 1973 A.D. and it was prohibited to use in any aspects.

Hemp is considered as an industrial magical plant that can be grown on marginal land. Compared to other energy crops grown on agricultural land, it requires less fertilizer, thus minimizing the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Hemp plants are also resistant to pest and disease. Global estimates for every ton of hemp grown represent 1.63 tons of CO2 absorption. Cannabis remove smaller amount of nutrients from soil as compared to other crops which ultimately improves the condition of soil. It absorbs the toxicity present in air and its deep reaching roots preserves topsoil and subsoil. Hemp plants take fractional of water to grow compared to other crops. Also it grows extremely fast as it can be harvested within 120 days which produces higher yield per acre per year than other crops.

Every single part of the plant can be transferred in industries to fabricate various goods as required. Leaves can be used in various aspects in pharmaceuticals and tea. The outside layer of stem consist of high quality of fiber from which we can manufacture textiles (clothes, shoes, handbags, diapers and so on). Hemp made clothes are strong, versatile and weather-ability which were also used as prisoner uniforms in ancient America.  Due to its numerous benefits, it can completely replace cotton in textile industries. Hemp is considered more eco-friendly than cotton, for instance, 5000 gallons of water is needed to produce 2 pounds of fabric whereas within 10% of water hemp can produce the same amount of fabric. Moreover, construction materials, fiberglass, plastics, cordage, paper, mats, textiles, brakes, insulators, etc. can be made from hemp fiber. Hemp plastic is 10th time stronger than stainless steel. Hemp paper and hempcrete also have a long history. In 1450 A.D. the first bible was printed in hemp paper by Guten Berg as well as in 1776 A.D. the declaration of independence of America was also written on hemp paper. On the other hand, Merovingian Bridge in France was built by Hempcrete during the 6th century which is still in operation. Hurd, the inner part of the stem can be used as food preservation, fiberboard, insulation, fillers, animal bedding, cat litter, etc. Similarly, bio-fuel, cosmetic products, lubricants, oil paints and food including oil, protein flour, beer, and animal feed can be extracted. Hemp seeds contain about 25% proteins and 30% carbohydrates which are also a rich sources of calcium, potassium and iron. As hemp seeds are free of gluten so it can be used as dietary components for people with celiac disease. Likewise, the hemp seed oil is primarily used as food oil and dietary supplement due to its high and balanced dose of EFA (essential fatty acid). Moreover, hemp seed has already found an application as bait in sport fishing. A large number of hemp seeds are used for this purpose in France, Scotland, and recently in North America. In Europe, over 95% of the produced seed is sold as animal feed, mainly birdseed and bait for fishing. Furthermore, it is also reputed for being rich in properties that make it an effective moisturizer. Cosmetics experts also suggest that it provides the skin with a barrier to pollutants. It also helps in soothing muscle aches, making it an ideal additive to personal and skincare products.

On the other hand, Marijuana which is considered as a cousin plant of hemp also has various uses. As it contains a higher percentage of THC, so it is basically used in medicinal and recreational purposes rather than industrial. It can be used to alleviate migraines, treat glaucoma, cures epilepsy, prevents Alzheimer's and symptoms associated with medical conditions, such as nausea and vomiting in patients being treated for cancer or AIDS, pain and muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries, epileptic seizures and severe chronic pain. Also, CBD (Cannabidiol) oil possesses antioxidant and anti-aging attributes when applied topically to the skin. It is also said to have properties that can protect the skin from environmental damage after extreme exposure to sunlight. In addition, it is reputed for being able to promote skin repair and rejuvenation.

Hemp, Cannabis sativa L., drawing of the plant, inflorescences ...

After realizing there are thousands of uses of the cannabis plant it was started to be legalized since 2013. Uruguay is the first country across the globe for both medicinal and recreational purposes. While Canada became 2nd in 2018 for both purposes. To date, there are more than 40 countries that have legalized hemp for medicinal purposes and for both medicinal and recreational uses with conditions applied. While in the USA 33 states have legalized it for medicinal purposes while 10 legalizing it for recreational purposes. As the cannabis market continues its rapid growth, cultivators and suppliers alike are tasked with meeting the demands of various costumers. According to the data USA has expected to account for 30.1 Billion USD, while Canada for 5.18 billion USD, Germany for 1.35 Billion USD, Mexico for 1.02 Billion USD, and the U.K for 546.9 Million USD of the cannabis market in 2024. All countries around the world are expecting significant revenues from the cannabis plant by innovating and creating new commodities alongside medical and recreational purposes. On the contrary, we have banned it in our country for the last 47 years even without bothering to understand its usefulness. Due to its various uses and revenue-generating potential and with the perfect conditions for it to grow in our country without much effort especially in the difficult to cultivate terrain of the vast hilly region of our country we should start debating about legalizing the cannabis plant in Nepal.

Publish : 2020-12-10 21:21:00

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