Hemp most often refers to Cannabis sativa (Cannabaceae). Hemp and marijuana are both common names that have loosely been applied to the various forms of the plant (which makes the nomenclature complex), but for the purposes of this article we will refer to the ‘hemp’ that is primarily used for fiber cultivation. This type is commonly referred to as industrial hemp (<0.3% THC).
Hemp is a fast-growing, resilient and high-yielding crop. The plant fibers can be created into materials comparable to cotton’s softness, feel and look—with a greater fiber durability. Compared with cotton’s need for 9,800 liters of water per kg of usable fiber, 1kg of hemp fiber requires just 3,000 liters. On top of its performance in textiles, hemp is extremely versatile and able to be created into over 50,000 different products (see fig.1).
A 2020 study out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York found when compared with medium agricultural activity and medium yield estimates for cotton, hemp enables a 77.63% reduction of cost associated with agricultural activities. This is accomplished through less pesticides, fertilizers, less water and quicker grow times.
However, due to politics and policy dating back to the early 19th century in the United States, the cultivation of the plant was largely phased out. This was the reality until the 2018 Farm Bill legislation approved the cultivation of hemp.
Crini, G., Lichtfouse, E., Chanet, G. et al. Applications of hemp in textiles, paper industry, insulation and building materials, horticulture, animal nutrition, food and beverages, nutraceuticals, cosmetics and hygiene, medicine, agrochemistry, energy production and environment: a review. Environ Chem Lett 18, 1451–1476 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10311-020-01029-2
Duque Schumacher, Ana Gabriela et al. “Industrial Hemp Fiber: A Sustainable And Economical Alternative To Cotton”. Journal Of Cleaner Production, vol 268, 2020, p. 122180. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122180.
Shuvo, I.I. Fibre attributes and mapping the cultivar influence of different industrial cellulosic crops (cotton, hemp, flax, and canola) on textile properties. Bioresour. Bioprocess. 7, 51 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40643-020-00339-1
Small, E. and D. Marcus. 2002. Hemp: A new crop with new uses for North America. p. 284–326. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.