The Big Business of Hemp

Up-to-date news on the booming hemp industry, and discoveries of extreme biological endurance in melting glaciers.

| Fall 2019

hemp
Photo by Getty Images/Zbynek Pospisil

The United States is facing a huge increase in the job market, and it’s coming from an unexpected source: hemp. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is no longer a controlled substance, which means hemp-based products will be on the rise, including everything from food and drinks to cosmetics and fibers. Previously, hemp had been held under the same federal restrictions as marijuana, despite containing less than 0.3 percent of the mind-altering compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Marijuana, by contrast, typically contains 5 to 30 percent THC.

As of February 2019, 41 states permit the cultivation of hemp for commercial, research, or pilot programs, and most products created from these plants are focused around the medical uses of the compound cannabidiol (CBD). The only current FDA-approved CBD prescription is an oil called Epidiolex, but over-the-counter CBD remedies are widely available, as are supplements, beers, candies, and lotions. In addition to therapeutic uses, hemp-derived cellulose was once prized for making paper, and the fibers can also be made into durable textiles and rope. Hemp canvas was preferred in the Age of Sail for its durability in wet, salty conditions at sea. Hemp contains less lignin than wood, meaning fewer chemicals are needed to break it down into pulp, and it can grow in a wider variety of climates and soil types than cotton. Of course, no matter its advantages over currently farmed fiber plants, sustainable practices will be essential to capitalizing on hemp’s environmental friendliness.

Already, experts estimate that the hemp industry will dwarf the marijuana industry when it comes to creating jobs. The budding industry will require not only farmers and laborers to create and harvest raw materials, but workers in processing and manufacturing, accountants, lawyers, researchers, marketers, and, of course, retail employees. Current estimates predict that by 2022, the hemp industry will be earning $2.6 billion in annual revenue.



Discoveries in Deep Freeze

There’s no question that climate change has endangered thousands of plant and animal species over the years, and the numbers are growing more alarming every month. But in the midst of the increasing fragility of our ecosystem is a story of unmatched biological resilience. In 2009, evolutionary biologist Catherine La Farge discovered that a species of moss (Aulacomnium turgidum) buried since the Little Ice Age within the 100-foot-thick Teardrop Glacier was beginning to reemerge as the Canadian glacier thawed. When she brought samples back to the lab, placed them in nutrient-rich soil, and provided them with warmth and brightness, one-third of the centuries-old samples grew new shoots and leaves. Not long after, ecologist Peter Convey announced that a 1,500-year-old sample of another species of moss had awoken after a deep freeze in the Antarctic permafrost. While they don’t provide solutions to the ever-worsening problem of our changing planet, these tireless plants provide at least a glimmer of hope for the future.

aulacomnium-turgidum
Photo by Wikimedia Commons/HermannSchachner






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