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High time we explore hemp’s many uses

Published Mar 27, 2014


With close to 40 countries growing low-THC industrial hemp, South Africa is falling behind, says Tony Budden.

Cape Town -

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Cannabis… it certainly seems to be popping up in all sorts of strange places lately.

The mainstream media seem finally to be giving the plant some positive space, not just focusing on the “dangers” and reporting on the different initiatives around the world to get it liberated, a far cry from the old days of the “groen-gevaar”, the devil’s weed.

The plant has found its way into the hallowed halls of Parliament lately, with the submission of the Medical Innovation Bill by Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini that includes medical marijuana as a potential treatment for cancer patients, of which he is one.

In the bill is also reference to the economic and industrial uses of the plant, which is why Hemporium was invited to display our hemp products and samples outside the assembly doors during the parliamentary debate.

We had plenty of interested MPs and a few ministers come and learn about and touch the various industrial hemp products that included textiles, construction materials, food products, cosmetic and body-care products, paper, oil, twine, rope, carpets and more, all made from this easy-to-grow resource that grows in four to five months without the need for agro-chemicals.

A certain group showed more interest than most – the Khoi/san, Griqua and Koranna chiefs who were there for a sitting of the House of Traditional Leaders.

I was told with great excitement how the cannabis plant has been used by the indigenous people since way before colonial time for medicinal, recreational and fibre purposes.

It is a plant that has always been seen positively by traditional healers and indigenous groups, and it is thanks to them that a lot of the knowledge that is now being “rediscovered” about cannabis is knowledge that they have never lost, only been prevented from using (legally).

Another strange place that cannabis popped up is in construction materials, with the idea that you can “grow your house”.

Hemporium constructed a hemp house in Noordhoek that is constructed with hempcrete (a mix of chipped hemp stalk and lime), hemp insulation (made from the hollow hemp fibre) and hemp chipboard.

The soft furnishings such as carpets, curtains, couches and bed linen all were made from hemp too.

Hempcrete has been dubbed “the better-than-zero-carbon” building material, and the houses built with it are not only eco-friendly, but are healthy, breathable and well insulated.

With economies of scale, all of these products could be competitive with the price of traditional building methods, as has been shown in Europe, with Marks & Spencer building their latest flagship store using hempcrete.

If we evaluated construction materials on the true costs, including the environmental and social costs, hemp would win every time.

Cannabis is also appearing in your cosmetics, with many brands such as the Body Shop using super-moisturising and absorbent hemp seed oil as a base ingredient.

Hemporium’s own range is locally made and is an example of the kind of industry that rural communities could get into with minimal technology if they were allowed to grow and process it.

If you are still suffering from the affliction of cannaphobia, best you avoid health food stores, and even giants like Woolworths and Spar, where hempseed nutritional products are being sold openly.

Before you cry “boycott these drug dealers”, you should know that hemp seeds are not psychoactive (which may be a disappointment to some) and are grown from non-drug varieties of industrial hemp.

The only high you will get from them is the natural one you receive from eating a food that contains immune-boosting omega 3, 6 and 9 in the optimum ration for the human body and really good protein (globulin edestin) that is easily digested.

The hemp food market has grown incredibly quickly in the US and Canada, where over 24 000 hectares have just been planted to keep up with demand.

Now I know some of you connect the surfing culture with cannabis use already, but industrial cannabis is now finding its way into surfboards too (and not for smuggling purposes).

Some shapers are experimenting with replacing fibreglass with sustainable “fibregrass”. Local fin manufacturer Scarfini is using hemp and bamboo to make a composite fin and the CSIR’s BioComposite Centre of Competence in Port Elizabeth is researching using hemp in automobile and plane parts as the pressure on those industries to use biodegradable products grows.

If you drive a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, there is a good chance that cannabis has even found its way into your car’s door panels and dashboard.

You may already be wearing cannabis, with hemp fabric being used by international designers such as Donatella Versace, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan in their ranges and local labels Bastion, The Joinery, Dark Horse, Veldt and even kiddy clothing brand Eco-Punk all taking advantage of the positive qualities of organic hemp fabric.

Hemp fibre, prized for its fineness, strength and recyclability, has even found its way into bibles, banknotes and cigarette papers.

Many hardware stores are also peddling cannabis as it is not uncommon to find eco-hemp ropes, twines and even plumbers’ hemp, which is used to seal connections, on their shelves.

So, with more and more cannabis finding its way into medicine cabinets, food, houses, cars, cosmetics, paper, and even plastics, it is amazing to think that more money and energy has been spent on eradicating it from the planet during the failed “war on drugs” than spent to fight just about any other war.

Industrial hemp was kept illegal with the assistance, and in some cases insistence, of the petrochemical, paper and cotton industries who saw it as competition and used marijuana abuse to justify banning the whole plant. This makes as much sense as banning corn products because some people make moonshine liquor out of the plant.

Cannabis, whether it was used industrially, medicinally or recreationally, was banned in just about every country around the world and still it is coming back stronger than ever and in ways never before imagined. Maybe we should just accept that it belongs here?

With close to 40 countries now growing low-THC industrial hemp, South Africa is falling behind, but we have the potential to catch up and overtake many of them.

We have the space, the climate, people needing jobs and the industrial capabilities to become a world leader in the use of renewable resources such as hemp.

We know we cannot necessarily compete with the “cheap and nasty” giants, but if we build “Made in South Africa” as sustainable, natural and organic-produced in a Fair Trade co-operative environment, we have the potential to really shine and set a leading example to the world.

The economic benefits will come too. The retail food and fibre hemp industry in the US has grown to R5 billion a year in the past 10 years.

An article from the Shanghai Daily tells how China plans to bring one million people out of poverty, using hemp, by 2020.

In Europe, Australia and Canada, eco-friendly houses are being built and hempcrete can help alleviate some of the housing challenges we face, while creating many new jobs.

Farms would need to grow it, factories to process and manufacture the products, and many new retail brands to market hemp will be needed, all boosting the green economy.

Many states in the US, as well as in Canada and soon Uruguay, are also collecting vast sums in tax revenue from medicinal and recreational use of the plant, and rural communities are becoming sustainable again through growing cannabis to meet the growing demand.

We believe it is time to re-evaluate this abundant resource, allow the indigenous people to use it as they always have and apply modern science and processing methods to let it reclaim its rightful place as the premier eco-resource as demand for natural and organic products grows worldwide.

The word “canvas” comes from the same root as the word “cannabis”, and even our Afrikaans word for shirt is… “hemp”, so this is part of a positive move back to working with nature for our survival, instead of trying to dominate it.

You can discover cannabis on the big screen at the Labia on Orange Street at 6pm on Saturday. As part of the inaugural Cape Town Eco Film Festival, Hemporium will be hosting the premiere of Bringing it Home, the latest industrial hemp documentary produced in the US, which shows the history behind the criminalisation of the plant, right up to contemporary uses and the current situation around the world.

* Tony Budden is the marketing director of Hemporium, He will participate in a Q&A session and audience discussion after the screening of Bringing It Home on Saturday. For more information on the festival, see – tickets at or the Labia box office at 021 424 5927.

Cape Times

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