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  • Writer's pictureAngie Roullier

The Heavy Lifting Power of Hemp


Cannabis is a bioaccumulator by nature. In fact, it is a hyperaccumulator, along with sunflowers and mustard plants. Cannabis has the capacity to absorb metals and other toxins from soil by drinking them in through their roots, where it is then moved and stored in their stems and leaves.

One of my favorite examples of this was an Italian sheep farmer that

discovered in 2008 that his land had been poisoned by dioxin, a toxic chemical that is extremely difficult to break down once it is in the environment. Dioxin can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.[1]

This toxin, known to be stored in the fatty tissue of animals, had been leaking from a large steel plant in the area, which prompted the Italian government to test this farmer’s livestock for the contaminant. With the tests coming back positive, he was forced to slaughter his entire herd of 600 sheep.

Not willing to give up on his land, the farmer implemented the idea to plant hemp for its bioaccumulating skills in hopes that it would save his farm. Not only would the hemp rid his part of the planet of toxins in the dirt, but the garbage-grabbing crop could also be burned later as biofuel. Although time consuming, this method can provide a natural fuel source.[2] 

But buyer beware, as this fact warrants caution. Yes, it’s very cool that this plant can clean the dirt but think about all of those toxins contained within a plant that may end up being harvested for human consumption (CBD). If the processor isn’t careful, the heavy metals could (and sometimes do) make their way into that CBD tincture or gummy that you are so fond of. Always check the test results, better known as a COA (certificate of analysis), for any heavy metals.

On a positive note, I have heard of many farmers that plant hemp for the first couple of seasons to clean their own land, and then have the plants destroyed. After a few rounds of hemp, their dirt is squeaky clean, and they can plant with the confidence of a clean end product.

I couldn’t bring this topic to a close without a nod to two true pioneers of the hemp industry. The first is a daughter to a New Jersey clothing designer by the name of Barbara Filippone, who is responsible for taking hemp fiber way beyond rope and grain sacks.

At the age of 17, she was working with Indian companies that were importing clothing to New York. She worked with designers and importers to properly showcase the beauty of hemp fabrics, and this in turn led her to the sweatshops in India. Upon witnessing the deplorable conditions that rendered its workers ill and rapidly aging from the exposure to the chemicals used to process the fabrics, Barbara looked for a better way.

The opportunity to continue her work beyond the factories of India came in the early 1990s, when she hitched her wagon to the company Earth Goods, and again in 2002 when she started her own company, EnviroTextiles, with the help of her daughter.

According to her interview with Jeremy Briggs at Hemp Frontiers, “EnviroTextiles has developed numerous 100%-hemp woven and knit fabrics and blends, including hemp/cotton, hemp/silk, and hemp/tencel (Hempcel ®). They also supply yarn, fiber, and the highest quality hemp t-shirt offered today.”

Her passions stem from what she witnessed in the sweatshops as well as her love of fabrics from her mother, and with those in mind, she has championed two equally important advancements. Firstly, she has created many industry changing processes for turning hemp fiber into fabric and is also setting the bar for eco-friendly, natural textiles by creating a new labeling system.

The other advancement takes her beyond the idea of “organic,” into fibers that are raised with integrity, and by proxy leaving what returns to the earth clean.

Barbara believes that “Recycling is a temporary solution for something that we don’t know how to dispose of.” She’s not wrong.33 34  

The other crusader of hemp is Chris Boucher. It was a fateful day in 1990 when Chris found himself being asked by Jack Herer, the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, to sign a petition to legalize hemp, and his whole world changed. Not knowing what hemp really was, he asked Jack to explain it to him. Hours later, after going chapter by chapter through his book, Chris was inspired. “‘Let’s change the world. This is the greatest environmental product commodity ever grown.” And it was American. “It was really the roots of America, how we were successful in commerce and global commerce and shipping and so forth and so on.” Tells Mr. Boucher during a 2022 interview with Eric Hurlock.[1]  

In those days you could only get your hemp from China, Poland, or Romania, so Chris took it upon himself to create an American-made resource. In 1994, with the USDA’s blessing, Chris became the first person to legally grow hemp in the United States in decades. His meager crop of just a couple of acres was located in Brawley, California, at the USDA Research Station. But with or without permission, local narcotics agents soon came along and destroyed his first crop before he could harvest it.

As a true pioneer, Chris just kept plugging away. He co-founded the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), imported the first CBD oil into the United States, and co-wrote the legal opinion “Hemp CBD is legal in all 50 States” in 2012, which still influences legal battles today.[2]

However, cannabis history groupies be warned when striking up a conversation with this trailblazer. Mr. Boucher considers “industrial” to be a dirty word when applied to hemp. In the same interview, Chris goes on to explain his disdain for the term. “Well, because hemp started as an environmental movement. We wanted to clean up the soil. We could do the fiber, the fabrics and oil and food, and it was one of the best environmental crops we knew of compared to any other crop that existed.  So a group of people, people that I knew, liked the name industrial. And to us, it sounded like a toxic, polluting name--industrial. It doesn’t sound environmental.”[3] 

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