Don’t let me be misunderstood – why we’re waking up to the benefits of hemp

In our new sustainability series, we talk to Byron hinterland locals doing great things for our planet.  

Hemp Collective, run by Mullumbimby locals Maxine and Mike Shea, produce hemp hair, body and pet care products.

Their business is growing and it’s all down to changing consumer preferences. As Maxine explains, there's an increasing awareness of the benefits of hemp as well as growing consumer support for sustainable products and business practices.  

It was when Maxine was diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumour nearly nine years ago, the couple stumbled across hemp. 

“It’s a non-cancerous tumour but it sits on my pituitary gland.  It was causing depression, severe headaches, fluid retention and terrible fatigue. I just knew something wasn’t right,” Maxine said. 

“Long story short, within three months I had brain surgery. Once the mass was out, I was a hundred times better, but unfortunately it grew back quickly. Mike started researching natural therapies and we kept coming across hemp. We thought, 'what an amazing plant, it actually has the potential to heal me' and it was from there our journey with hemp really started. 

“We’d been living in Mike’s home country of New Zealand and holidaying in Mullum and Bruns for years. We wanted some downtime so I could focus on my health and thought it would be great to live in Mullum - we’ve always found it a really healing place. The move all happened really quickly with a rental and my son getting into school straight away. 

“I’ve changed a lot of different things with lifestyle, stress levels and diet but I’ve had very marginal tumour growth during that time. It has definitely been a tool for my health journey. Ultimately, I know my own body and it has worked for me.

“We just fell in love with hemp and thought there was a real market opportunity for good quality products. Not just internally but also externally, so we started with hair and body care. I’ve come from an education, sustainability and zero waste background and wanted to thread that through the business,” she said. 

Hemp Collective doesn’t just say they have a commitment to sustainability. They offer very little plastic across their product range and can demonstrate a sustainable and transparent supply chain.  

“The only plastic we use is on our labels for our tins and droppers, but we are in the process of looking at ways to change that. The Pet Shampoo Bar is enclosed in a thick cardboard tube and the human shampoo and conditioners are sold in refillable tins,” Maxine said. 

“We’ve really thought about our ingredients, packaging and supply chains. It has been both time consuming and challenging. For example, with our conditioners, we thought we were palm oil free, but after checking with all our suppliers and going through all their ingredients a small component used to make the product contained palm oil. That’s when we ended up moving to a certified sustainable palm oil supplier,” she said. 

To understand why hemp is so misunderstood, you have to look at United States' history. Before the early 1900s, cannabis was available in pharmacies across the United States to treat a variety of medical ailments. But when a global opium crisis broke out in the early 1900s, governments around the world started to crack down on drugs and cannabis and indirectly hemp were caught up in it. There’s a great summary here. 

Basically, hemp just gets a bad wrap because of it’s cousin THC, but hemp contains very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), less than 0.3%.

Hemp is both versatile and eco-friendly. Hemp fibre is used in the production of paper, textiles, rope, sails, clothing, plastics, insulation, dry wall, fibre board and other construction materials. Hemp seed oil is used as a lubricant and base for paints and varnishes, as well as in cooking and beauty products. 

“With the hemp seed, we press it and get hemp seed oil as well as protein and flour for baking,” Maxine said. 

In the Hemp Collective's pet range, they've combined Australian hemp seed oil and chia seed oil together, which can help as a supplement adding magnesium, calcium and all the goodies that come in with the hemp seed oil Omegas into your pet's diet.

“We definitely need to be doing more hemp education and having mainstream products such as the shampoo bars made of hemp, we’ve had amazing results with general awareness. People are starting to realise it’s so nourishing and hydrating and it can be made into loads of different things,” said Maxine. 

“For the past half century, many people around this area tried to get hemp off the ground. We’ve seen locals who invested lots of money into hemp, but they were just too early to the market and failed. I feel like we’re starting to get over that hump now and there’s now much more openness to hemp products. 

“Awareness isn't hard in the Northern rivers. You have so many open minded people here who genuinely think differently and that’s why we’ve had such strong local support for our hemp products.

“Gen Z is definitely more aware of the impact of their purchases and want to support more purposed brands with sustainable ethics,” Maxine said. 

Check out the Hemp Collective range

Know of a sustainability superstar in the Byron hinterland? Let us know! 

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