What is Hemp?
Hemp is a variety of plant species Cannabis Sativa. In appearance, Hemp is stout and has slender cane-like structures. It is farmed due to its many industrial uses; such as in textile, oils, and CBD products. It is often mistaken for marijuana, which had devastating effects on the reputation of hemp (as will be shown further on). Though both Marijuana and hemp are cannabis plants, hemp only contains a small amount of the psychoactive compound THC. Therefore, hemp does not induce ‘high’.
Currently, hemp is utilized in products under strict government regulation. This was not always the case. Hemp has been a part of human society for millennia, and its benefits have been well acknowledged from prehistoric times, according to history.
The Rise of Hemp
The Prehistoric times
Ancient Asia influenced the initial discovery and utilization of hemp. The first records of hemp’s usage originated from central Asia, in particular through cave paintings discovered in the Oki Islands of Japan from 8000 B.C. Hemp played a large role in ancient Japanese culture, it was used for clothing, food and also hailed as a spiritual aid. In China, old records of Chinese medical practices from around 2737 B.C. depict hemp as a treatment for ailments like malaria, gout, and rheumatism. around 100 B.C, China began to use hemp for paper-making.
On the other side of Asia, hemp had a similar role in the Indian subcontinent, from improving the quality of medical practices to having religious significance. Ayurveda, a holistic and alternative Indian medicine; explored the medicinal benefits of Hemp as early as 2000 – 1000 BC. An ancient religious book of Hinduism known as “The Rigveda”, even goes as far as to label hemp as an ingredient of an elixir for immortality called “Soma”.
The Middle Ages
Hemp made its way to European countries through the Roman colonization and remained there on after. By 400 A.D. Hemp was a well-established crop in Europe and it became one of the most economically and socially important crops. Germans, Vikings, and Franks used hemp to make sails, paper, rope, and clothes from it.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, Hemp became central in the society of England, knights would drink hemp beer, people cooked with hemp butter, and nearly 80% of clothing was made with hemp. It was also during this time that the English word ‘hempe’ officially came into use. With the dawn of hemp-paper production, King Henry VIII passed an act demanding that all landowners sow a quarter acre of hemp, or they would be heavily fined. His daughter, Queen Elizabeth followed his lead and passed an act stating that 60 acres or more should be dedicated to farming hemp.
The Early Modern Era
Hemp was introduced in North America by the first English settlers during the 1600s. In Jamestown, one of the first permanent English settlements in America, every household was required by the decree of King James I to grow 100 Hemp plants for export.
Hemp continued to grow in popularity in America during the 1700s, with many of the American founding fathers advocating its benefits. According to the Mount Vernon tourism website, George Washington grew hemp on his estate in Mount Vernon.
Back in Europe, Hemp maintained its importance and by the 1800s it was so essential that it even had an impact on sparking a war In 1807, Napoleon signed a treaty with Russian in which he urged the Czar to cut off the legal hemp trade with Britain. The reason being that the Russian hemp was essentially what kept the British soldiers afloat during the Napoleonic wars. The Czar refused and Napoleon invaded Russia
The Fall of Hemp
In the 20th century, the hemp industry saw a dramatic shift in hemp had a similar role in Hemp’s demand and public perception. At the start of the 1900s, all seemed well. In 1916, the USDA even published a report titled “Hemp Hurds as Paper-making material” which stated that hemp can produce four times more paper than trees.
It was in the 1920s that the U.S Government began to perceive Hemp as a narcotic. The origins of this innovative concept can be traced back to Harry Anslinger, a US Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner. In 1929, Anslinger claimed cannabis to be a “devil drug” and urged its use to be prohibited.
The U.S Government increased its resolve to fight against drugs such as marijuana, and although hemp and marijuana are from a different variety of cannabis, hemp too was swept away in the tide of prohibition. In addition, in 1937, the marijuana Tax Act was passed. This caused hemp sales to be heavily taxed so that consumers opted for plastic and nylon instead. The hemp industry heavily declined and as a result, society missed out on potential innovations that used hemp.
One such innovation was an environment-friendly car by Henry Ford. Built-in 1941, this experimental car was made of hemp fiber and ran on hemp or vegetable oil. Because of the pretty powerful gasoline industry, which wanted to keep alcohol taxes high while lowering gasoline prices, the vehicle was never able to gain momentum. This coincided with the prohibition of alcohol and hemp in the 1920s.
From 1942 to 1945, the U.S. Government temporarily reversed its stance on hemp when they realized the importance hemp had on the war efforts; Hemp was used to creating a rope for the U.S Navy fighting in WW2. The department of agriculture started to heavily promote hemp. The government released a pro-hemp documentary called ‘Hemp for Victory’ encouraging farmers to grow hemp in support of the war. During these three years, 400,000 acres of hemp were planted all over America.
However, after the war was over, the U.S. government reverted to its prior opinion of hemp. The hemp industry continued to decline and gave way for the nylon and plastic industries to grow more powerful. Hemp farming was banned in 1970. Hemp was listed as a “Schedule 1 Drug” in the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it was just as dangerous as heroin!
In 1985, the U.S Government approved hemp to be used for pharmaceutical purposes. Marinol, a CBD drug, was created to treat nausea, vomiting in cancer patients, HIV/AIDs, and anorexia. Despite this small change, Hemp remained prohibited in the USA till 2004. After 30 years of being prohibited, the U.S. allowed businesses to import dietary hemp products. Later on, in 2007, two Dakota farmers were granted the license to farm hemp. This has not been allowed for the last 50 years. This incident is officially what marks the comeback of hemp into American society.
In 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill, which stated that CBD products containing 0.3% or less THC content can be sold legally within the US and also, allowing industrial hemp to be farmed again. The Legalisation of hemp increased interest in this crop and products made from hemp, especially CBD oil. The return of hemp has opened up the potential for new products, such as the hyper-popular CBD wellness products, and hemp oil for soaps and paints. In recent years hemp’s potential as a sustainable alternative in the textile industry is being explored. In 2019, Levi’s created a ‘cottonized’ hemp fabric, this innovation could transform the clothing industry.
With the changes of the 21st century, it seems that brighter days are dawning once more on this versatile crop and the future looks even brighter. While hemp may not be the ‘sacred’ plant that grants immortality, as the ancient societies once believed, it is still a powerful plant and its potential seems to have no horizons.
If you are interested in learning more about hemp, or the CBD industry, reach out to us with your inquiries. We’ll be happy to provide you with all the information you seek.