Unlike other states, which are reliant upon the restrictions of the 2013 U.S. Farm Bill requiring state permission as well as university oversight, Colorado farmers are free to grow hemp provided that it contains less than .3 percent THC.
With large bundles of stalks and seeds on display, one booth stood apart from the others at a 2015 cannabis industry convention in Denver. The creators of Nature’s Root joined in the gathering, quietly transforming the face of U.S. agriculture by selling some of the first hemp products grown on American soil in nearly 60 years.
Colorado’s first legal hemp crops, harvested in 2014, have now resulted in the release of hemp products onto the marketplace made with hemp grown in the U.S. The Colorado Hemp Project, based out of Sterling, created the Nature’s Root body care line. It all started with a desire to cultivate hemp for the healing powers of the cannabinoid CBD, but shifted gears into the realms of body care, paper and plastic. This fluctuation in direction came when the first crop, starting as 45 pounds of hemp seed, resulted in a mixed offering of 15 different hemp cultivars.
“Some were 3 feet tall, others were 10-12 feet tall, some had super thick stocks, some had no leaves branching out, some had nothing but huge branched out leaves, it was completely different,” Danielle Billings, co-founder of the Colorado Hemp Project, explains.
With such a mixed offering, those behind the project knew they wouldn’t be able to achieve the consistency required for hemp extracts used for supplements. So, for their first product the project turned towards topical applications.
The scrubs and lotions created by Nature’s Root are crafted with hemp-infused coconut oil alongside other organic ingredients such as shea and cocoa butter. They leave skin feeling incredibly soft and moisturized and the sore muscle rub is excellent for pain relief.
“You’re getting Omegas, you’re getting all of the amazing moisturizing effects, UV ray protection effects, all the good things that hemp has in the seed and in the flower that it provides for your body,” Billings says of the body care line.
The Colorado Hemp Project’s first harvest, derived from 2.5 acres, resulted in 22 pounds of hemp – broken down into 3,000 pounds of fiber, 1,000 pounds of flower and 2,000 pounds of seed. Products such as the paper and plastic the project is now producing are derived from the hemp fibers processed into a pulp. Nature’s Root products, salves, lotions and scrubs, are created using the flowers and seeds of the hemp grown on local farms.
While the semantics of growing the crop for fiber or flower initially designated hemp from cannabis, the distinction between the two grows murkier as hemp flowers are harvested for supplemental healing. Essentially the same plant, the inclusion of more than .3 percent THC is the arbitrary designation that changes the plant’s name from hemp to cannabis.
“Cannabis sativa L is a plant. It’s not two plants like a majority of the people believe it to be,” Billings explains. “It is one plant that has different features. Over hundreds of thousands of years it has been used for industrial, supplemental and medicinal uses. There are benefits of the plant that are for industrial and there are benefits of the plant that are supplemental and medicinal. It depends on the type of cultivar you have and the purpose you are growing it for.”
Last June the project also harvested the first of its supplemental CBD offerings, grown in 1 million square feet of greenhouse space, in order to produce pills, patches, tinctures and dabs.
“We only need five percent of American farmers to grow hemp in order to sustain the United States,” Billings says of hemp’s promises in terms of job creation and profits. “At the end of the day our goal is to have every state be legalized with hemp.”
Bodhi Urban works on research and development for the project in terms of genetics.
“I’m developing more agricultural strains that are accepted at the .3 range,” he said during the month leading to harvest. “The further I take these new males and incorporate different generations, multiple pollinations, it just opens up consistency and stabilization to where more seeds will be consistently tested at that percent. So, it’s a time thing. I’ll take a male, I’ll pollinate it with one particular female and then I’ll get seeds from that and take those females and hit them with the same pollen just to continue the process.”
Billings sees the products produced by The Colorado Hemp Project as supplemental additions to a daily health regime.
“I think that [industrial hemp] can be used in a supplemental way, I think that THC is essential,” she says when explaining the applications of hemp versus the medical applications of cannabis. “I think hemp is the best supplement to get people on track and balanced as far as their body period. It will help with inflammation, it will help with so many things, sleep and cancer, but you can’t necessarily say that it heals it, because what really heals it is THC and CBD as a team. You can’t say that one or the other does it independently, because really, it’s the team that does it. So I think our goal with helping people nutritionally and health-wise with the hemp is really more of a supplemental way, versus a complete healing way because you really need that medical side. That THC is a god, it helps people.”
Billings also looks forward to the many applications for industrial hemp as the project continues to move forward. They are currently at work on a business enterprise using hemp fibers to create supercapacitors, the size of a pinky nail and 500-1,000 times more efficient than a graphene battery, that can power electronics, including cell phones and electric cars.
“It’s going to revolutionize the way that we drive, the way that we do energy, the way that we do everything, off of these hemp supercapacitors,” Billings says.
For now, the transformative healing of hemp crafted by Nature’s Root can be purchased online and at select Whole Foods markets.
“Supplements from hemp and the CBD and CBG and CBV that you can get out of hemp is an everyday use that is a non-psychoactive way for people to feel better,” Billings says. “This is not going to get you high, it’s going to actually help your body function better.”