Welcome to our Beginner’s Hemp Guide! We wrote this guide to be an easy solution for you to quickly learn key points and gain a solid understanding of hemp.
Now is a great moment in the history of hemp. More people than ever before are learning about this amazing sustainable product and our helpful guide is a great resource to answer most of your questions, help you learn more, or share with a friend.
Let’s get started.
Hemp vs Weed (Marijuana)
There are many misconceptions around hemp – also known as industrial hemp – and marijuana. There are important legal differences between the two, but when it comes to science, hemp and marijuana are actually just two versions of cannabis.
The International Association of Plant Taxonomy has confirmed that hemp and marijuana both belong to the Cannabis genus, Cannabis sativa L, with three sub-species Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa – and the lesser known – Cannabis ruderalis.
However, despite both being from the same Cannabis genus, hemp is completely different from marijuana in respect of its function, compounds, cultivation, and application.
What is Hemp?
Whilst there is little scientific difference between hemp and marijuana, years of breeding and manipulation have resulted in the emergence of two Cannabis breeds: one for psychoactive purposes (marijuana), and the other for agricultural and industrial uses (hemp).
The difference between hemp and marijuana is actually not visible. Hemp includes any of the Cannabis species that contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound that makes marijuana psychoactive and gets you “high”. In fact, to be legally considered hemp, the Cannabis plant must have less than 0.3% THC in most countries, and less than 0.35% THC in New Zealand.
Will Hemp Get You High, Like Marijuana?
Hemp and marijuana just aren’t the same thing. Yes, they both come from the Cannabis genus, but if you try to smoke hemp, you’ll probably just end up with a headache. This is because hemp has extremely low levels of THC, the compound in marijuana that gets people stoned. So, unlike marijuana, you just can’t get high from smoking hemp and it has absolutely no use as a recreational drug. In fact, studies have shown that a sub-one percent THC concentration in hemp produces the same effects on humans as a placebo.
What Can Hemp Be Used For?
You can produce over 25,000+ different, healthy, and sustainable hemp products across various sectors such as pharmaceuticals to food to renewables to construction and textiles. The image above shows some of the remarkably beneficial uses of hemp.
Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated crops and was first grown thousands of years ago in Asia as a sustainable and nutritious food source. Interestingly, strong and durable hemp plant fibers were used to produce some of man’s earliest products, such as rope, paper, fabrics, and textiles. Even Christopher Columbus was thought to have used hemp for sails and ropes on his three ships that discovered the New World.
Other uses for hemp include food, supplements (Omega 3 to 6), ‘hempcrete’ (blocks that look like concrete), soaps, wallets, shoes, sunscreen, nappies, fuel, hemp milk, medicine, ink, carpet, coffee, socks, body lotion, clothing, sunglasses, blankets, pens, chairs, backpacks, lip balm, jeans, and shampoo to mention but a few.
Here are some of the current main uses for hemp:
You may have noticed that hemp is currently getting a lot of hype around the world over CBD products such as oils, supplements, and vapes. Hemp has high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), a medicinal compound that many people believe helps with epilepsy, chronic pain, inflammation, arthritis, stress, and other health conditions. CBD can also come from marijuana, too.
Hemp, as a whole food, is extremely nutritious, containing an array of healthy phytocompounds, terpenes, amino acids, B vitamins, omega (omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9) fatty acids, proteins, and other nutrients.
Hemp seed foods are also incredibly versatile and can easily be added to a number of dishes as a way to get more plant-based protein and omegas. Hemp seed oil, hemp seed powder, hemp seeds, and hemp hearts are becoming more widely available for consumption in New Zealand.
Hemp seed oil contains a superior ratio of essential fatty acids, skin-friendly vitamins, and key amino acids. This combination makes hemp seed oil a superior ingredient for a variety of body care products.
Hemp fabric has proved to be more durable and more sustainable than cotton. The stalk of the hemp plant has two parts, called the bast and the hurd. The fiber (bast) of the hemp plant can be woven into almost any kind of cloth. In fact, the first Levi’s blue jeans were made out of hemp because of its durability. Many eco-friendly brands have started to add hemp clothing to their product lineups.
The next frontier lies in biodegradable hemp-based plastics.
Surprisingly, this is not a new use for hemp – in 1941 Henry Ford introduced a prototype automobile built almost entirely of hemp.
Unfortunately, as hemp was outlawed in America in 1937 because of its association with marijuana, the project stagnated. But the promise of hemp-fueled bio-plastics remains today, and automakers like BMW use it for door panels and dashboards. Other hemp-based biocomposites can be molded or 3D-printed into everyday items like cups, pens, and eyeglasses.
Is Hemp Legal in New Zealand?
- Growing, Trading & Processing Hemp
The New Zealand hemp industry is able to legally grow, trade and process low THC industrial hemp plants. However, farmers must be licensed under the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 and also must pass a police check. According to New Zealand law, industrial hemp must not contain more than 0.35% THC content on a dry-weight basis and exceeding this limit crosses over into marijuana territory.
In New Zealand, the only part of the hemp plant allowed to be sold as food or used as an ingredient in food is the seed. Hemp seed products, such as hemp seed oil (legal since 2003), de-hulled hemp seed (hemp hearts), hemp seed protein powder, hemp seed beverages, and hemp seed snack bars can be legally sold for human consumption in New Zealand since 2018.
However, this means that food made from the hemp flowers, leaves, buds, stems or any other part of the plant – even from hemp with effectively zero levels of the psychoactive component THC, is still illegal. Medicinal cannabis for therapeutic use and CBD products are also prohibited to be sold as food or as an ingredient in food.
CBD products are legal in New Zealand for patients with a prescription from a GP or specialist. Additionally, a new law allows authorised prescribers and pharmacies to import CBD products into New Zealand, as can individual patients with an original letter or prescription from a doctor. At this time, patients may only import up to three months’ supply of CBD product.
How Is Hemp Grown?
Cannabis flowers and leaves contain the active THC psychoactive content we recognise as marijuana. Hemp, on the other hand, uses the seeds and fibers — mainly from the stalk — of Cannabis plants which contain negligible levels of THC. Because of this, marijuana and hemp are cultivated differently. Marijuana is a horticultural crop grown for its THC content, while hemp is an agricultural crop grown for seed and fiber.
Hemp can be grown inside and outside. The growing season outdoors is generally from late spring through summer. Hemp requires little fertiliser and grows well almost everywhere. It also resists pests, so it uses little pesticides. Hemp puts down deep roots, which is good for the soil, and when the leaves drop off the hemp plant, minerals and nitrogen are returned to the soil. Hemp is known as a nitrogen-fixer – taking nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil – and can be used to restore depleted land. Hemp has been grown on the same soil for twenty years in a row without any noticeable depletion of the soil.
Hemp is usually planted at different times in both hemispheres. For the Northern Hemisphere, it is planted between March and May, and between September and November in the southern hemisphere. The process of maturity takes place in three to four months.
What Does Hemp Look Like?
In terms of their physical properties, hemp plants tend to be taller and narrower than marijuana’s short and wide physique. Hemp leaves are also thinner and less densely clustered than leaves on a marijuana plant. Farmers typically want to give marijuana as much growing room as possible – the more sunlight, air, and water that reach the plant, the more buds that sprout. Hemp’s priority, however, is not to produce big buds for smoking, but strong fiber for manufacturing, so hemp plants are usually be grown closer together.
Hemp Compounds and Chemical Make-Up
There are more than one hundred unique chemical compounds found in Cannabis plants called cannabinoids. A cannabinoid is a name that describes a ground of similar compounds that are found in the body (called endocannabinoids), found naturally in plants (called phytocannabinoids), and even made in a lab (in this case they’re called synthetic cannabinoids). Cannabinoids interact with a large system in the body called the endocannabinoid system, which is often described as a major system of receptors that maintains vital functions throughout our body.
The two most famous cannabinoids in Cannabis are CBD and THC. THC is the intoxicating cannabinoid that acts as a euphoriant and gets you “high.” CBD is the non-psychoactive, non-intoxicating, highly therapeutic cannabinoid that has recently received so much attention in the medical as well as the health and wellness space. Hemp is extremely low in or entirely free of THC and is grown for fiber, hempseed oil, and, increasingly around the world, for CBD.
We hope you enjoyed our Beginner’s Hemp Guide, and that it served as a great introduction to learning about hemp. If you have a question that we haven’t answered in this Hemp Guide, please let us know!
Hemp’s fortunes really seem to be going nowhere but up. Whether it’s for the health benefits of CBD in America, hemp seed as food in New Zealand, textiles in China, or industrial applications such as cars and clothes in Europe, a hemp revolution is happening!