Hemp will not get you high but might save the world

A brief history of hemp

Never has there been such a controversial and politically fraught plant as hemp. Originally from the Indian subcontinent, hemp has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years, mainly for its strong fibres and medicinal uses. The first evidence of its use was unearthed in China, where hemp fabric from as far back as 1122-249 B.C. was discovered. In Britain, its use as rope and fabric can be traced back to before the Romans. During the British Empire, hempen rope was integral to the voracious fleets of ships that conquered the world. For centuries, governments around the world legislated for its production, unfortunately more often than not for its contribution to patriotic war efforts. It also clothed, healed, nourished and provided canvases on which to write. However, up until the last few decades, it has been mired in a shroud of mythology and misinformation, stultifying its inexorable positive contribution to both people and planet.

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Unsurprisingly, much blame for this impediment can be placed at the feet of the United States. The problems stemmed from an epic error in botanical distinction. As is well documented, marijuana and hemp are part of the same family: Cannabis sativa. The former gets you high, whereas it would take an exorbitant amount of hemp to have any psychoactive effect. In fact, hemp should rightly be understood as anti-marijuana as it contains the cannabinoid compound called CBD that blocks the psychoactive effect of THC in the nervous system. This was all lost in translation by the U.S drug authorities, and the two were lumped together, despite the federal government’s efforts to distinguish their differences. Thankfully, vast swathes of the world haven’t failed to notice the nuances so patently obvious in science, and now 31 countries have legislated for the industrial growth of hemp. The U.S. is now effectively playing catch up, and at the start of 2015 the House of Senates agreed to an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, which now excludes industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The world’s largest hemp consumer can now legally contribute to its production, according to state law.

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Hemp is a miracle crop

Once the fog of misinformation clears, what stands before us is one of the most versatile multi-purpose plants of the temperate world. With over 25,000 recorded end products, some enthusiasts claim hemp is a miracle crop. Hemp grown in Britain is processed into an impressive array of natural products, such as insulation, biodiesel, paper, horse bedding, and the non-woven converting industry, which supplies automotive companies.

Not only does hemp make great products, but it also has hugely significant benefits for the environment. The Eden Project states that hemp is “a potential flagship crop for the 21st century” due to the minimal damage and actual benefits that its growth has on the planet. For example, hemp is six times stronger than cotton, and can be grown with 10% the water of this conventional crop. Hemp can be used as bio-diesel or biomass fuel and is carbon neutral because any CO2 created in its burning is offset by the carbon being absorbed in growing. It can also be made into concrete that locks up more carbon than is released in its production. It is also a no-brainer in the production of paper, where trees cut down to make paper take 50 to 500 years to grow. Hemp can be cultivated in around 100 days, with a yield of up to four times more paper over a 20-year period. There is also evidence that suggests that hemp is an excellent rotation crop, which has an ability to reduce pests and weed growth and also improve the yields of the primary crop. Furthermore, any product made from timber or petroleum can be sustainably derived from hemp, including plastic. And the list goes on.

THTC speaks truth to power

No wonder there has been so much effort made by the powerful to demonise and silence hemp as it is a panacea to so many of our contemporary ills, created by governments and corporations whose very existence and policies are called into question by the versatility of hemp. And this is where my friend’s clothing clothing company THTC, the UK’s award-winning ethical brand fits in, by utilising one of the world’s most political plants to speak truth to power through its ethos and designs. Established in 1999 by brothers Gav and Dru Lawson, THTC is an ethically driven clothing label that produces eco-friendly and politically conscious street wear that brings thought-provoking issues such as climate change, sustainability, fair working wages and social mobility to the forefront of fashion.

Their designs effectively invert how hemp was once used during war efforts by slowly tying a hemp noose around corporate imperialism, government greed, wealth inequality and human rights violations. Never has it been cooler to literally wear your politics on your sleeve.

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What can you do when the world feels like it’s gone mad?

Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland, a brown civil rights activist from Chicago, was found dead in a police cell almost two weeks ago. Although the facts around her death remain unclear, what is painfully obvious is she is another innocent victim of police brutality. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that US police killings are headed towards 1,100 this year, with black Americans two times as likely to die. It doesn’t seem like institutional racism and the oppression of black people that has been raging across The Land of the Free for hundreds of years is coming to an end any time too soon. As her family and friends mourn the senseless barbarity that so swiftly and needlessly eradicated her existence, many of us are left wondering what to do when the world feels like it’s gone mad.

Erdogan Guzel

Erdogan Guzel

Around the same time of Sandra’s killing, a group of teenagers opened fire with a machine gun on a busy street in Wood Green, North London. Erdogan Guzel, father of two, was shot dead whilst drinking coffee with his friends on a Friday evening. Reports suggest that he was an unintended victim caught up in a turf war between rival gangs. Again, another life obliterated within seconds. His wife is in pieces, and his children will grow up with only memories of their father and for what? What was going through the kids’ heads as they picked up the machine gun? What leads people to have such disregard for life?

These deaths have forced me again to question how have we got here and what, if anything, can I do about it. For the last two years I have been purposefully disengaging from activism and politics. Instead, I’ve worked tirelessly on healing myself. I’ve been processing my own tragedies and sometimes-questionable life choices whilst trying to develop a philosophical understanding, which enables me to understand my relationship with myself and others. I’ve stopped watching the news, stopped reading the papers, and hardly ever go to any political protests. Years of immersing myself in battling against the needless immiseration of vast swathes of the world’s population had made me angry, and I came to the realisation that this wasn’t going to help anybody.

Why am I telling you this? Because when we are faced with needless killing, racism, war, occupation, climate change, poverty, abuse, violence, corruption and the list goes on, ultimately we all have a choice with how we can process these ills. Often people give up; they embed themselves in a state of denial or self-imposed ignorance as they can’t cope and feel like that there is nothing that can be done. Although this is a totally understandable reaction, there is a great deal that we as individuals and communities can do, with minimal effort and often no cost.

What we can control is ourselves. We have the power to choose to be good people, to be compassionate, patient and understanding. We can be tolerant; we can listen and extend ourselves to others. We might not be able to afford to donate to charity, or even to volunteer our time to projects or organisations. However, we can smile at people on the street, we can check if our neighbours are alright, we can be kind to strangers. We can buy a homeless person a sandwich, or sit and have a chat. We can stop and ask the person crying silently on the train if there is any way we can help. We can boycott corporations that we know are involved in human rights violations and we can sign petitions. These are all things that are within our control. These are things we can do to stop ourselves from feeling paralysed and the ripple effect of acting in this way, is immeasurable.

#SayHerName #SandraBland #WhatHappenedtoSandraBland #SandySpeaks

Repoliticizing As the Bombs Drop on Gaza

#J19 London protest against Israeli aggression in Gaza

#J19 London protest against Israeli aggression in Gaza

As the bombs drop on Gaza, and people’s lives are torn apart, it feels slightly self-indulgent to discuss my feelings on reintroducing myself into the world of activism. The death toll today is around 425 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. And today has seen the highest amount of casualties in Israel’s latest offensive against a largely defenceless population that has no army, and is blockaded by land and sea. The Gazans live in what has been described as an open-air prison even by the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron, despite his staunch and unwavering support for Israel. However, writing is the healthiest way I can express how I have been experiencing such horrors, whilst always remembering that my suffering is nothing in comparison to those being bombed mercilessly by Israel. Please excuse me if my writing is slightly incoherent, for I feel weak, angry, disappointed, frustrated and a deep sense of sorrow. My thoughts may be more of a ramble, and may be coarse and disjointed.

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On Death

Beautiful TrishLittle did I know what I decided to next share with you would be about death. I guess that’s where the word tragedy really starts to make sense, as it imbues the depth of sudden loss. It also suggests the devastation and confusion that follows, as we try to fathom why our lives have suddenly been reminded of their fragility and impermanence, and forever marked by a loved one’s passing.

Trish was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. We hung out together for the six months that I was in northern California, and although I didn’t know her well, she left an indelible impression on me. She filled every room, every space, with a brightness, which was both infectious and inspiring. She emanated love, compassion, understanding, patience and made you feel like the world was and could be harmonious and peaceful. She was sexy, sassy, naughty, cheeky and fun. She was a creator, a doer, and gave heartfelt hugs. We shared the same birthday, and joked about the trials and tribulations of being a Virgo. The last time I saw her, we hugged goodbye and she told me she loved me. I replied, “I love you too. See you soon.”

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You’re so thin. You look great!

Like many women who can afford one, I’ve had an issue with eating since I was a kid. In the past, I used food as a weapon against my mum. She made some choices in life that I didn’t understand, so I protested them through food. We were raised vegetarians, and I hated vegetables. I was always the last one sat at the table, pushing sprouts around the plate, after having covertly yet forcefully given most of it to my siblings.

This was all during the 80s, when famine was rife in Ethiopia, and my mum was a fervent political activist. She would say to me, “Layla, think of the starving kids in Africa.” To be fair, at the time, saying stuff like that meant nothing to me. I’d spent time in Africa as a young child, hence my name, but I couldn’t relate to not having food. I couldn’t understand the meaning behind starving. Growing up in rural Dorset, I also didn’t know many Africans either.

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A state of unknowing

A juncture is a space of unkowing laden with opportunity.

A juncture is a space of unkowing laden with opportunity.

So, what do you do then?

This is a question that often crops up in those perfunctory small-talk conversations that you are either forced or cajoled into by societal norms. Right now, I am struggling with my response, and London is not the kind of place where people want to hear that you simply don’t know.

Before I went travelling in the Americas, I had a strong sense of identity. I was studying a master’s in Human Rights at a prestigious university; I was heavily involved in political activism, and was respected for my contribution to the international solidarity movement’s efforts to delegitimise the racist state of Israel. I had purpose, I had direction and I had passion for a cause. I had a home, a fat cat that snored at the end of my bed, a wardrobe, a personal trainer and the semblance of a fairly stable life in London.

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Let’s talk about sex

Provecho!

Provecho!

I have been thinking about this post for a while. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it since I embarked on my trip to the Americas over a year ago. I am now back in England for a stint – blimey, it sounds like I am in prison – and so will spill my thoughts on sex in the heart of a country that swings from one extreme to the other when it comes to matters of the bedroom.

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