Every animal species on Earth has at least one plant that it relies on. After millions of years of evolution, the animals that survived to the present era have done so by developing a deep, codependent relationship with some piece of flora or fungi.

Humans are no different. The story of our development and civilization has been shaped by the plants we have consumed and cultivated. Our food, medicine and shelter all depended on our ability to understand these ancient systems.

When it comes to hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.), much of this knowledge is lost to time. The worldwide stigmatization of cannabis as a dangerous narcotic in the 1930’s had a chilling effect on our collective understanding of its healing properties.

In particular, we have only recently established the distinction between the psychoactive chemicals in the plant such as THC and non-psychoactive chemicals such as CBD.

Ireland first regulated against cannabis use in 1934, and only in 2019 recognised the use of THC as a medicine. Products containing CBD are sold widely in health food stores but face continued doubts about their eventual regulation.

The Hemp Cooperative believes in educating the Irish public on the benefits of hemp, and particularly the potential we have as an island to make good use of this incredible resource.

The most important task is therefore to cut through a sometimes-emotive debate and establish a clear basis of facts about the plant to assist legislators and businesspeople alike.

Our Bodies

Hemp has been used as a medicine for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The earliest known Chinese pharmacopoeia (Shennong Bencaojing, c. 100AD) specifically mentions the curing properties of hemp.

The popularisation of Hemp in more modern times is an example of folk remedies and word-of-mouth cures directly informing the development of the modern scientific method. An Irish physician, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, observed the healing properties of Indian Hemp during his travels in India during the 1840’s, for conditions such as epilepsy and neuropathic pain.

His research led to a swift uptake of hemp being used as a medicine worldwide, and by 1851, the third edition of the United States pharmacopeia listed hemp extract among its medicines.

Relatively little research took place between the tarnishing of hemp’s reputation in the early 1930’s and the 1990’s.

The same process-based scientific inquiry that gave us aspirin synthesized from willow bark and tamiflu from star anise was never applied to hemp, until recently.

Thanks the work of pioneers like Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and L.A. Matsuda in the 1990’s , the significance of the endocannabinoid system, present in all animals, is finally starting to become clear.

Even preliminary studies of the endocannabinoid system show how important it is for our ability to process memories and regulate our own metabolism.

There is still no overall medical consensus on how effective cannabinoids are in treating disease and injury. It will take years of rigorous testing before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.

However, the Harvard Health Blog states that some of the strongest evidence comes from its use in treating intractable childhood epilepsy.

“In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and in some cases it was able to stop them altogether.”

It is clear even to the layman that the study of the medical benefits of hemp is still in its infancy, and that as our understanding grows, so will the range of uses in all aspects of society.


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Our Mind

One of the most striking developments in recent medical history has been the fresh perspective brought to discussions of mental well-being.

Although still in its early stages, the destigmatization of mental illness and emphasis on therapeutic treatments is a vital first step to improving our quality of life as a whole, especially in a rapidly changing world.

While there is no one factor that can be cited as the reason for good mental health, the positive benefits of CBD in this area are tentatively coming to light.

A study published in 2018 was conducted at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. It used an fMRI scanner to analyse the results of controlled doses of CBD on specific areas of the brain.

The study shows that CBD has the potential to normalise reactions in the parts of the brain that “are critical to the pathophysiology of psychosis”.

This doesn’t necessarily indicate that CBD can ‘cure’ psychosis, but gives a very positive signal that CBD’s potential in this area should be intensely studied.

Research is in its very early stages, but there’s a growing school of thought which surmises that an inclination to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can be prompted by a deficiency of natural cannabinoids.

A Vanderbilt School of Medicine study from 2017 ‘reported anxiety-like and depressive behaviors in genetically modified mice that had an impaired ability to produce 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), the most abundant endocannabinoid. When the supply of 2-AG was increased by blocking an enzyme that normally breaks it down, the behaviors were reversed.’

This fascinating research shows that hemp could play a vital role in our future understanding of our own minds.


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Our environment

Although hemp has been used by humanity for at least 10,000 years that we know of, and almost certainly longer, we may never have a greater need for it than now.

There is no denying that our ecosystem is in crisis. The dangers posed by rapid temperature rise and soil degradation have no easy solutions.

However, hemp could prove to be a vital part of the toolkit that we will need to survive and thrive as a species.

This change will have to be implemented on several different levels if it is to be effective.

The most obvious is through the growing of hemp itself. All plants that sustain themselves by photosynthesis sequester carbon dioxide.

Hemp is a high biomass plant, and has a far greater potential to absorb carbon in its stalks and roots than most commercial crops. Its average growing time of 4 months means it can sequester more C02 proportionally than a traditional forest can.

In addition, hempcrete, a mixed of processed hemp hurds and lime, is a versatile building material that can be made free from carbon impact.

Although hemp is not native to Ireland, its ability to sequester carbon more efficiently than agro-forestry, gives a great reason to prioritise planting more native, ecologically diverse forests instead of single-tree non-native forests.

Hemp should not be grown as a monoculture, and is by no means free from the problems caused by industrialised agriculture.

One of the Hemp cooperatives most important roles therefore becomes providing support to a hemp industry that’s sustainable and innovative, while still being commercially viable.


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