By Rita Bratovich
Is hemp the answer to everything that’s wrong in the world today?
We may find out at the Hemp Health And Innovation Expo 2018. Now in its third year, the expo is aimed at increasing understanding and promoting benefits of hemp and cannabis in all their potential applications.
Founder Michelle Crain, who has been in the hydroponics business for 25 years, was inspired to create the Expo in 2016 after attending similar events during overseas work-related trips .
Another impetus was witnessing first-hand the benefits of alternative medicine experienced by various family members dealing with cancer.
Raised awareness about medicinal cannabis, through partial legalisation and media coverage, is already being reflected in interest in the Expo.
“It’s got a bigger demographic now – it’s surprising but the event attracts a lot of elderly people,” explains Crain. “They’re all at that stage where, you know, a lot of people are over taking pharmaceutical medicines and they’re looking for something, in their eyes, it’s greener, it’s healthier, it’s not so harmful to other parts of their bodies.”
Much of the expo is designed around providing information and clearing misconceptions.
To that end, it will feature a symposium with speakers who include medical professionals, growers, nutritionists, advocates and retailers. There will also be a panel with an opportunity for audience members to ask questions.
The list of local and international exhibitors represents every possible use of hemp and cannabis: beauty and body products, clothing, health supplements, food, pet products, hydroponics, education and information, workshops, horticulture and more.
Doctors will be available to advise people about prescriptions. The Medical Cannabis Users Association (MCUA) and Australian Cannabis University will provide mini information sessions and answer questions.
There will be demonstrations and opportunities to sample food and body products, as well as workshops and entertainment, and it will be family friendly.
“The nice thing about Rose Hill is that it’s got a lot of green space, so we have an outdoor musician and an indoor musician…people can grab something to eat, have a coffee, sit on the lawn…”
Crain says the police have visited each year but there’s never been any trouble. They come, look and go away.
That’s why she wants people to know more about hemp and cannabis.
“Change will only come as people get educated and understand, because then they’ll ask for the change,” she says.
In fact, hemp has been used around the world for centuries. It was only prohibition introduced during the 1930s in the US (then followed off the cliff by other countries) that stained hemp and cannabis with its bad reputation.
And yet, it is truly a wonder plant: growing it doesn’t damage soil – it actually prevents top soil erosion; it propagates easily, uses 1/6th the amount of water that cotton uses, is highly sustainable, can create biodegradable plastics that are strong, durable and have a carbon offset; it is one of the best digestible plant proteins. These are just some of the reasons why Lauchlan Grout and a business partner created Hemp Farms Australia in 2013.
The Queensland based primary production company grows, cultivates, processes and distributes industrial hemp.
“I just couldn’t believe the amount of sustainable uses for it that weren’t actually being used… I just could not get it past my head how inefficient and unsustainable cotton production is compared to hemp,” says Grout, describing his initial reaction to learning about hemp. “Hemp produces 250% more fibre than cotton, and 600% more fibre than flax using the same amount of land…If we compare it to the paper and pulp industry, a single acre of hemp can produce 4 times more paper than one acre of pine trees, within 90 days instead of 35 years. No other plant on earth is capable of producing as much paper as hemp per acre, and it’s a lot stronger, more durable and the fibre is a lot purer than that of wood.”
Grout also owns Therabis, Australia’s first approved hemp based pet food supplement.
While conditions in Queensland are not normally ideal for growing hemp, Grout’s company has engineered a seed to adapt. He feels there’s a lot of potential for the industry here and will be speaking at the expo about all aspects of farming hemp.
The current buzz is around the medicinal use of cannabis and the government’s slow relinquishing of legal constraints. Dr Teresa Towpik is a vehement crusader for legalisation of cannabis. It’s an abrupt about-face after being a long time sceptic and subscriber to the notion of cannabis as dangerous, addictive and a gateway drug. Extensive research and observation converted her.
“Traditionally, we as doctors tend to be suspicious of anything that promises so much, but I believe that cannabis is not just a fad,” says Dr Towpik. “We know that CBD formulations are extremely safe, it’s probably one of the safest medicines known to humanity…CBD formulations only – they should be available over the counter from health food stores, chemists and so on, and anything with high THC should be on prescription – that’s what I’d like to see.”
Cannabidiol (CBD) can treat a huge range of ailments including chronic and acute pain, irritable bowel, cystic fibrosis, allergies, and much more.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and is used more cautiously but has been demonstrated to also be effective in many ailments.
A lot of doctors are reluctant to prescribe because they don’t know the procedure, are dubious or don’t have time to read available literature.
It’s a problem Dr Teresa Towpik is hoping to solve by creating an online course providing information and instructions.
“There’s still a lot of paperwork but to me, it’s worth it because I can see the results even within that short period of time,” she says.
She believes all the negative things come from making it illegal and pushing it into the black market.
“I strongly believe in education and awareness. Prohibition, in my opinion, is the most ineffective, primitive, expensive way of controlling it.”
Mischa Esquilant agrees. He and his wife, Irena, are strong campaigners for hemp and legalisation of cannabis.
Esquilant owns a hydroponics business in Bondi Junction, Lux Cuttings and Irena owns We Are Lux, a high end retailer of vaporisers, cleaning equipment and hemp beauty products.
With hydroponics, plants are grown in nutrient enriched water, usually indoors.
Esquilant sells hydroponics equipment to people growing orchids, and chillies or tomatoes for international competition. Although hydroponics is ideal for growing cannabis, he never discusses or gives advice regarding it – he always uses vague, general terms.
If it were to become legal, however, hydroponics would be ideal for growing medicinal cannabis for chronic ailments. It’s an issue Esquilant finds frequently confronting.
“The saddest thing is – and it kills us, it breaks our hearts but we have to tread carefully – we get a lot of people who come in with terminal illnesses, and of course once they get to the point where they want to consider medicinal cannabis, they don’t have the lifespan left to do a six or seven month grow,” he explains.
It’s heartbreaking because many of these people are desperate and some turn to the black market where they deal with unscrupulous criminals and impure substance.
There’s also a lot of misconception about who recreational users are – they cover a wide demographic including affluent professionals who are well educated and often don’t drink alcohol or smoke tobacco. A big push for legalisation comes from this segment who would prefer safe, clean, legitimate cannabis.
Esquilant is exhibiting at the expo so that he can present this alternate image. He sees his business as a model: professional, respectable, transparent. His staff wear uniforms and are well-informed; he keeps up to date with the latest information and equipment; he discourages use of hormones or chemicals to stimulate growth. He has an honest, visible brand.
There is so much economic potential in this industry, Esquilant feels the government is leaving money on the table.
“Regulation and legalisation – which we really, really want – you know, it does wonders for the economy, it does wonders for [destroying] the black market, it does wonders for the consumer – I mean it’s a win, win, win, win situation for absolutely everybody. There is no downside to it.”
May 12-13. Rosehill Racecourse – Exhibition Centre – James Ruse Drive, Rosehill. $0-$120 (VIP). Tickets & Info: www.hhiexpo.com.au