Cannabis has been grown and cultivated by mankind for thousands of years, and grew wildly for many years before. Finding uses in textiles, paper, nutrition and medicine, the plant has been credited with properties and uses that have more of a positive environmental impact.
What was once an underground industry is blooming into the public eye. With legal cultivation of cannabis in hemp picking up, what will the environmental impact of cannabis start looking like?
Some of the earliest uses for the cannabis plant were for the creation of textiles and clothing. China was at the forefront of this and hemp fabric is commonly used to this day for things like army uniforms. Hemp derived textiles are believed to be more environmentally friendly when compared to cotton, which requires more water and pesticides during the cultivation.
Hemp paper dates back to around 200 B.C. According to those who crunch the numbers, an acre of hemp plants is able to produce the same amount of paper as 10 acres of trees over a 20 year period. Hemp grows much faster than trees and requires much less processing, which means that fewer chemicals are used. To add to this benefit, hemp paper can be recycled more times than that of wood paper.
The Ecological Benefits
It has been noted over the years that cannabis plays a part in improving soil health. The long taproots of cannabis seem to reduce the levels of chemicals and metals found in soil. In fact, it is so good at this that hemp was planted in Chernobyl to help with the nuclear cleanup.
Due to their lengthy taproots, they also add to the stability of the land by preventing soil erosion often caused by strong rainfall, land movement and overfarming.
The cannabis plant has much to give back to the environment in which it finds itself growing, especially when done so fairly in a regulated manner. However, the illegal cannabis market doesn’t worry too much about the environmental footprint it creates. An underground industry meant that most crops were grown indoors – and there are downsides to this.
Crops grown indoors require plenty of electricity to keep growing. They need intense lighting for long periods. On top of this, they require other equipment such as ventilation systems, heaters in the winter and dehumidifiers.
This obviously takes a toll on a growers electricity bill which in turn requires a large source of fossil fuels – which we don’t have. Some black market growers go so far as to use generators as a way of going unnoticed.
Lots of Water
Cannabis may be more water friendly when compared to cotton or almonds, a large outdoor grow op still uses copious amounts of water. A single plant can gulp up to 2.3 litres a day, which really starts to look worrying when you think about how long a grow cycle is and how many plants a single grower may have in his tent.
Other Than That
On a smaller scale, cannabis has natural mechanisms of defence which means less reliance on pesticides and fertilisers. However, when it comes to large scale commercial growing – these measures will likely be used to ensure crop safety. As many of us know, this can easily contribute to the destabilisation of surrounding ecosystems.
Where to From Here?
Those taking on commercial cannabis cultivation will need to be mindful of their operation and stick to best practice where possible.
Those growing indoors can minimise the environmental impact of cannabis by collecting and reusing water, soil and other natural ingredients where possible. Outdoor grows are better for the environment, that is if pesticides and fertilisers are used at a minimum.
As the industry grows, regulatory boards will need to be put into place to monitor the negative impacts of this crop on the environment. While simultaneously increasing the positive impact the plant can have on the world around it.