Cannabis has become increasingly mainstream in recent years, with legalization continuing to spread and public opinion shifting. Most people are familiar with conventional uses like recreational and medicinal consumption. However, there may be some untapped potential unconventional uses for cannabis.
Read on to learn how some people are using cannabis to help the environment.
Using Cannabis to Clean Contaminated Soil
One of the most exciting potential uses being researched is using cannabis to clean polluted soil through a process called phytoremediation. This involves using living plants to absorb and remove toxins and contaminants from soil and water.
The Power of Hemp as a Phytoremediator
Hemp is emerging as an ideal plant for phytoremediation. Its fast growth cycle and dense root system make it effective at absorbing contaminants. Hemp also exhibits tolerance and even thrives in soils polluted with heavy metals, excess nutrients, pesticides, crude oil, and other contaminants.
Research has shown hemp is effective at removing toxins, including cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, zinc, arsenic, and uranium. Some studies have seen hemp remove heavy metals at concentrations over 100 times greater than other plants.
Real-World Applications Already Underway
Phytoremediation with hemp is moving beyond the laboratory and being used in the real world. In Chernobyl, hemp has been planted to clean radioactivity from soils around the damaged nuclear reactor. Colorado has successfully used hemp to remediate pesticides, hydrocarbons, and dioxins at container plant nurseries.
More applications are being explored, like using hemp near mining sites, landfills, factories, and other contaminated areas to naturally extract toxins. As research continues, phytoremediation with hemp has huge potential to clean polluted soils globally.
Absorbing Carbon Emissions with Hempcrete
Another unconventional use being developed for cannabis is as a carbon sink. Hemp can be used to create sustainable hempcrete building materials that absorb and trap carbon dioxide.
How Hempcrete Works as a Carbon Sink
Hempcrete is made by mixing the inner woody core of the hemp plant with a lime-based binder and water. The carbon that was absorbed by the hemp plant while growing gets locked into the hempcrete.
Hempcrete hardens into a lightweight, breathable material that has excellent fireproofing, insulation, and humidity regulation properties. Using hempcrete for construction, whether in walls, floors, roofs, or other uses, sequesters carbon and keeps it out of the atmosphere.
Real Carbon Mitigation Potential
Studies have found hempcrete can absorb more CO2 per cubic meter than even timber. With 10% of new construction using hempcrete, one estimate found it could reduce CO2 emissions by 100 million tons per year. With more applications and greater scales, hempcrete has the opportunity to make construction into a carbon sink industry rather than a major emissions source.
Developing Plant-Based Plastics from Cannabis
Plastics are another huge contributor to climate change, given that most are produced from fossil fuels and do not biodegrade. Some innovators are exploring how cannabis could enable more sustainable plant-based plastics.
The Possibilities of Hemp Bioplastics
By using hemp stalks/fibers alongside other plant materials like cellulose from trees, manufacturers can create plastics that are carbon-negative or carbon-neutral alternatives to traditional petroleum-based plastics.
Hemp plastic has qualities like durability, moldability, and lightweight that make it suitable for uses ranging from bags and packaging to consumer goods and even car parts. It biodegrades much more quickly than conventional plastics.
Scaling Up Production and Applications
Hemp bioplastics are still in the relatively early stages of development and are not yet widely used. More research to maximize performance and efficiency, as well as investments to scale up production facilities, will help drive adoption. If costs come down and volumes ramp up, plant-based hemp plastics could start replacing oil-based plastics across many products and use cases.
Harnessing Versatility for Additional Applications
From cleaning polluted soil to sequestering carbon in construction to developing sustainable plastics, cannabis is showing promising potential in some unconventional applications beyond just consumption.
An Increasingly Valuable Industrial Crop
The same properties that make the cannabis plant effective in these applications, like fast growth, resilience, and absorption abilities, also make it a hugely valuable industrial crop outside of these specific use cases. Cannabis can sustainably provide textiles, livestock feed, biofuels, nutritious oils, and more.
Still Just Scratching the Surface of Cannabis
Researchers continue studying and discovering new ways cannabis could help create more sustainable products and processes across industries. We may still just be scratching the surface when it comes to the versatility and potential unconventional applications of the cannabis plant.
The recent momentum toward cannabis legalization and acceptance will likely accelerate innovation, research, and real-world deployment of unconventional uses. As stigma fades and cannabis becomes mainstream, its untapped potential is set to be unlocked across more industries and in novel ways we haven’t conceived of yet. The unconventional could become conventional when it comes to cannabis.