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Have you noticed a lot of hemp-based products making an appearance in your local shops recently? Does it suddenly seem like hemp, or hemp-based derivatives like CBD oil, are everywhere?

There’s a simple reason for this – hemp is now at the forefront of one of the most important and rapidly growing agricultural and industrial markets that has emerged for decades. If you’re seeing it being used everywhere, it’s because it can be used for almost anything - depending on the form you use it in, its versatility is incredible. From food and beverages to bioplastics, construction, textiles, paper and biofuels, hemp can be used in almost any industry.

In fact, it’s the world’s most sustainable natural resource.

And the plant itself has numerous properties that make it an incredibly versatile, sustainable and planet-friendly crop to grow and use.

Hemp can be grown legally in the UK as long as it contains only a trace amount of psychoactive components, although its current cultivation of hemp is quite small – estimated as no more than 810 hectares by the British Hemp Association (BHA) – it’s particular versatility means it offers over 10,000 diverse industrial applications, some of which we examine here.

Do you know them?

Biofuel

Hemp can produce nearly four times as much oil per acre as the current preferred source of biodiesel, soybeans. Hemp could soon be the plant of choice for making diesel fuel from a renewable source.

Paper

Turning hemp into fibre is probably its oldest recorded use and this process is now being used to replace tree-based paper products.

Construction

Construction is an area where hemp is particularly widely used. A whole range of sustainable building products are being made from all parts of the hemp plant for use in restoration and new build projects. And because hemp is a carbon sink, building with it provides an opportunity to capture and store CO2 in the very fabric of buildings.

Hempcrete is a new particularly exciting new product created when the hemp plant’s woody core is combined with a lime binder to make a bio-composite which is cast or sprayed into the walls of newly built houses to be used as a non-structural wall infill that provides all the insulation a building needs.

Textiles

Denim brand Levi’s has found a way to make hemp fibres soft and able to blend with cotton in a way that uses significantly less water than the process used to turn hemp into its regular, more rough and ready material.

In the future, hemp-based fabrics that look like cotton, denim, wool and athletic leisurewear could now be expected.

Hemp, sustainability and the circular economy

Another company that is embracing hemp, and one that is a little closer to home, is Yorkshire-based bed manufacturer Harrison Spinks. Hemp fibre – created from the bast fibre that grows on the outside of the plant – is used by Harrison Spinks as part of their mattress fillings because its strong, is naturally hypoallergenic, antibacterial and resistant to mildew and bedbugs, which keeps your mattress fresh, clean and hygienic. It’s also excellent at regulating the body’s temperature – hemp is ten times more absorbent than cotton, thanks to its hollow structure which helps draw moisture away from your body while you sleep, meaning you remain cool, fresh and undisturbed during the night.

As the most vertically integrated bed and mattress business, Harrison Spinks believe in using materials in their mattresses that can be recycled, either as a component for a new mattress or to create something else and they are always looking for new ways to do this. Their goal is to create a mattress that is fully part of the ‘circular economy’ – where resources are kept in use as long as possible, then recovered and regenerated into other materials and products at the end of their original lives.

Harrison Spinks produce 30% of the natural materials used in the company’s mattresses, growing them on their privately-owned farm, where they also have grazing pasture for their flock of 600 sheep – also used to provide material for the mattresses.

Consumables

There are 120 chemical compounds, known as ‘cannabinoids’, naturally occurring within the cannabis sativa plant. The best known one is probably THC – which, thanks to its psychoactive properties, induces the high that people feel from ingesting weed. Gaining ground in popularity however is cannabidiol - CBD for short – thanks to its numerous potential health benefits. It has recently been at the centre of a wellness trend that has swept through the West.

CBD is believed to help with epilepsy, neuropsychiatric disorders, cancer and other conditions, and it believed to have anti-acne and anti-inflammatory properties. Most commonly consumed as an oil dropped under the tongue, CBD also comes in the form of gummy sweets, capsules, ointments and e-liquids for vaping.

CBD’s explosion in popularity has also led to a proliferation of products infused with the oil, including everything from toothpaste and shampoo, deodorants and sanitary products, as their manufacturers look to cash in on the wellness craze that has powered sales of CBD.

It’s also making its way across the beauty industry, featuring in mascara, face creams, lip balms and bath bombs. CBD products have increased by a massive 99% and purchases have nearly doubled in this year alone.

Pharmaceutical

Of course, the most famous derivative of the Cannabis sativa plant is marijuana, which looks set to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry as its use as a medical treatment increases, and as more countries legalise its use for medicinal purposes.

Medical marijuana can be used to treat a huge variety of conditions including, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, eating disorders including anorexia, multiple sclerosis, nausea, pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

CBD regulation

While the UK has a number of regulatory agencies which could oversee this area, including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), these organisations are often under resourced, so it can be difficult for them to provide the right oversight, particularly as the CBD market is so big.

Having developed from something of a novelty to a £300 million market in just over three years, it’s perhaps not surprising that CBD’s retail demand has outpaced its regulation. However, some rules to govern its use under UK law have been put in place. Any claims made about medical benefits are strictly forbidden – CBD is only considered medically beneficial when given in clinical doses. Any CBD oil with any measurable amount of THC in it – more than 0.2% - must have a licence from the Home Office. However, this latter rule is often broken, as demonstrated by the CMC report referenced earlier, and thanks to a combination of global media coverage and the recent hype and popularity surrounding the growth of the wellness industry, retail CBD products are already inextricably tied to medical benefits in the public’s view.

While regulations surrounding its use may still be a little up in the air, its extensive applicability is not in doubt, as we’ve hopefully demonstrated. This versatility and industry-rattling disruption is what we will be exploring at the next Clarion event on 20 November, which is all about hemp and its many uses. We’ll be bringing together a range of businesses, all of whom are making waves within the construction, agriculture and health and medical fields thanks to this wonder plant and its rapidly emerging market.

If you’d like to join us at this lunchtime roundtable on 20 November for what will undoubtedly be a fascinating conversation, please contact Caroline Broad on caroline.broad@clarionsolicitors.com

Disclaimer: Anything posted on this blog is for general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any general or specific matter. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further information. Please contact the author of the blog if you would like to discuss the issues raised.