5 Surprising Ways Hemp Helps the Planet

Hemp already has a good reputation for its use in medicine. As a member of the same species as the marijuana plant, cannabis sativa, hemp contains cannabidiol, a compound better known as CBD. By activating certain receptors in the brain that help regulate the nervous system, CBD is often used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and inflammation. Studies also suggest that it can help with epilepsy, chronic pain, and addiction. (Exclusive for subscribers: science seeks to discover the secrets of marijuana.)

In recent years, however, the uses of the plant have expanded beyond the medical realm. Hemp is now used to build race cars, brew more sustainably, and add a protein boost to any meal. Here’s a look at five surprising new uses for hemp.

1. Microbe Killer

CBD kills certain types of bacteria very efficiently, Australian researchers have discovered. This means that the active ingredient in hemp has advanced to become a candidate for a new type of antibiotic. It is already being used for asthma and pain.

2. Pit Stop Visitor

Hemp fiber is stable, elastic, light and biodegradable, which makes it an excellent substitute for plastic. Batteries add hundreds of pounds to electric vehicles, reducing efficiency, which is why electric vehicle manufacturers are increasingly using hemp as a compounding ingredient in car interiors and bodies. In 2019, Porsche even built race car body parts from the fibers. The oil recovered from harvested hemp plants can also be used to make diesel fuel.

3. Textile Wonder

Hemp plants are armed against climate change. They are six times more efficient than cotton when it comes to water use, as researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomics have discovered. Furthermore, three times more hemp than cotton can be grown in the same area, and their carbon dioxide emissions are similar, when the entire production process is considered.

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4. Quench thirst

Swiss researchers have created a beer that replaces three-quarters of the hops normally used in brewing with hemp flowers, creating a lager indistinguishable from one made with 100 percent hops. This is much more sustainable, they say; In Switzerland, the flowers of the hemp plant are considered a waste product in the industrial production process. Hemp is a hardy plant that needs few pesticides and fertilizers to thrive, and doesn’t seem to mind the heat and erratic weather conditions that climate change is bringing to the world. There are no flavor disadvantages to making beer from hemp, a blind taste test showed.

5. Protein bomb

Hemp seeds are rich in protein, about the same amount as beef, as well as high-quality amino acids, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, making them a valuable protein alternative for vegans. Scientists are developing pasta, tofu, and various meat substitutes from hemp.

This story was originally published in the August 2022 issue of National Geographic magazine german edition.

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