Cannabis (or hemp) is a flowering plant from the family Cannabaceae, a subset of the order of Urticales. There are three species: Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis and several subspecies. Physically, even with considerable variations, it has an average height of 1.5 – 2 meters and is characterized by palmed leaves and straight, hairy stems.
The name “hemp” means the variety without psychoactive ingredient (in nature, usually the male of the plant), which is used to produce food (seeds, oil, flour), biofuel, paper, fabrics, stringwork, cosmetic products and materials (innovative and very efficient) and for ecological construction.
History and uses in ancient times
Hemp is a plant that has been with humanity for thousands of years. Originally from the regions of Central Asia, over the centuries it has spread almost everywhere, overcoming all kinds of environmental adversities. This was one of the first plants that man used as fiber, food, medicine and in social and religious rituals.
The first recorded use of cannabis dates back to 8.000 B.C., in an old town of Taiwan. It was used for the production of the first fabrics for clothing and also for the manufacture of footwear. In 4.000 B.C. In a Chinese town called Pan-p’o, hemp was considered one of the “five grains” of China and therefore one of the main food crops.
In India, Cannabis has been used for various medicinal and spiritual purposes, ranging from nausea and diarrhea to headaches and insomnia. Most importantly, the Indians used Cannabis often enough to ease the pain of childbirth.
Active molecules and therapeutical uses
Cannabis contains a huge amount of active ingredients. In more than 600 substances that make up it we find terpenes (more than 200), hydrocarbons, flavonoids, fatty acids, alcohols, aldehydes and other substances, in addition to the approximately 120 cannabinoids that have been identified to date. The distribution of cannabinoids varies in different strains of cannabis and usually only three or four cannabinoids are found in a plant at concentrations above 0.1%. The most well-known molecules contained in this plant are undoubtedly s-9-tetraidrocannabinole (THC), cannabidiole (CBD) and cannabigerole (CBG).
- Terpenes are the class of chemicals with the greatest variety of smells and flavors. They contribute significantly to the quality of fruits and vegetables and participate in the synthesis of different biochemicals such as vitamins, hormones, oils and cannabinoids and have different therapeutic properties. Several terpenes have been identified with therapeutic effects on cannabis, such as myrcene, limonene, β-cariophyllene and pinene.
- THC is the only cannabinoid that has psychoactive properties. Extensive research in recent decades explains that THC has numerous medicinal properties that are useful in a wide range of ailments, some of which include: Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, Tourette’s syndrome, cancer (in various forms) and many others. THC also has antiemetic (anti-nausea) properties that make it useful for the treatment of AIDS and chemotherapy patients. THC is considered a “neuroprotective“ and means it can protect brain cells from damage caused, for example, by inflammation and oxidative stress. Scientists have also shown that THC can promote the growth of new brain cells through a process known as neurogenesis.
- CBD is another cannabinoid currently at the center of various scientific research for its therapeutic qualities. Not only that, because the ownership of CBD to counteract the psychoactive effects of THC, has also seen the entry of this cannabinoid into the recreational cannabis sector with many strains that have been enriched with CBD in proportions of 1: 1, 2: 1 or higher than THC. In addition to studies such as antipsychotic and pain therapy, CBD and cannabis genetics with a high content of this cannabinoid are the focus of several trials and clinical studies on different forms of drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in paediatric cases and young patients.
- CBG is one of the many cannabinoids in cannabis and hemp that does not have psychotropic properties. Like THC and CBD, CBG produces various effects on our body, which makes it an increasingly attractive substance. Among others, we find antibacterial and antifungal effects, it can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, relieves pain, is anti-inflammatory, promotes bone growth, helps to fall asleep, is useful in the treatment of anorexia and cachexia, improves the intestinal diseases, it is antidepressant, it lowers intraocular pressure and many studies have confirmed that it is useful in the treatment of glaucoma.
The industrial uses of the hemp plant are so many. The main uses are in the food sector, in the production of paper, in green construction, in the production of bioplastics, biofuels, textilesand cosmetics.
- The part of the plant that is mainly used as food is the seed, but the inflorescences are mainly marketed to make infusions or fermented to make tasty craft beers. The seeds can be eaten whole or peeled, they can be squeezed or ground to obtain hemp oil and flour.
- The part of the plant that is used in construction is the gutter. It is the woody inner part that constitutes the stem of the plant. Hemp is rich in silicon, which gives it insulating and extremely absorbent properties. Thanks to the recent improvement of the properties of hemp in construction, several companies have embarked on the production of thermoacoustic panels, bricks and biocomposites such as lime.
- From hemp it is possible to produce a completely natural, biodegradable and compostable bioplastic that could compete with the price of petroleum-derived materials that are used today, but that would have better characteristics of resistance and lightness. The automotive industry is one of the main users of this product, which makes it possible to manufacture lighter and more efficient cars, but also the packaging sector, for example, is paying a lot of attention to this type of material. In addition to being a bioplastic, hemp can be used as a biofuel, a natural and sustainable fuel source.
The part of the plant that is used for weaving is the fibrous part, these are hollow fibers, hydroscopic and resistant to mechanical action and deformation. The result is a breathable and heat-insulating fabric that allows you to stay cool in summer and warm in winter, reflecting up to 95% of UVA rays, hypoallergenic and antiseptic.