History of Hemp

While you may just now be hearing about hemp due to its increased popularity for health benefits, hemp has actually been in use since ancient times and has a rich and interesting history. In fact, hemp was the first known plant to be domestically cultivated and is dated back as far as 8000 B.C. in its use of weaving hemp fiber. Want to hear more about the history of hemp? Keep reading to learn more!

History of Hemp

Henry VIII required the cultivation of hemp to provide materials for the British Naval fleet. It was used at the time to construct battleships, riggings, pendants, pennants, sails and other components. Hemp was even used to create maps and bibles.

Many cultures viewed hemp as a gift from the Divine spirit and was often used during ceremonies. It was burned as incense, ingested for meditation purposes, smoked for enjoyment or made into clothing to use during the ceremonies.

Both Washington and Jefferson grew hemp and spoke about their hemp farming experiences in their farm diaries. Ben Franklin even owned a mill that made hemp paper.

Harvesting Hemp

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Americans were legally obligated to grow hemp during the Colonial Era. Cannabis was considered legal tender in America and could be used to pay your tax bill for over 200 years. In fact, between 1763 and 1767 you could actually be jailed for not growing cannabis.

When Rudolph Diesel produced the engine in 1896, it was assumed that the engine would be fueled by various fuels, especially vegetable and seed oils. Henry Ford saw the potential and started a biomass conversion plant that produced hemp fuel. These types of fuels are no longer available, instead relying on oil-related industries.

Reefer MadnessSeeing how it could become a financial threat, competing industries of hemp such as the petrochemical market and the paper industry, came out against hemp and began a smear campaign by linking it to the drug marijuana. They released propaganda films such as Reefer Madness that related hemp to excessive sex, violence and threatened the safety of women and children. If you’d like a big of strange entertainment, you can watch Reefer Madness here.

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (originally spelled marihuana) placed much stronger regulations and restrictions on the sale of cannabis as a drug. The extremely high tax on marijuana made it financially impossible to grow industrial hemp. Some believe that the act was put into place to reduce the size of the hemp industry by competing industries.

Hemp for VictoryWhen World War II came along and the Japanese attacked Pearl harbor it cut off supplies of hemp fiver from the Philippines. The USDA produced a film called Hemp for Victory (you can download the movie here) in hopes that it would encourage farmers to grow hemp to support the war effort. The government in fact overrode its own ban on hemp and distributed over 400,000 pounds of hemp seed to U.S. farmers who produced 42,000 tons of hemp fiber annually to support the war effort. However, as soon as the war was over, hemp processing plants were quietly shut down by the government.

Even though the government acknowledged that industrial hemp and marijuana were two distinct varieties of Cannabis, they passed the Control Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 and industrial hemp was now lumped together with marijuana and made to be illegal.

As the demand for hemp increases and new uses for it continue to be discovered, our government will have to answer for keeping a completely drug free plant out of the hands of American farmers and consumers. Until the government lifts this ridiculous ban on growing hemp, we will surely never see the huge benefit it can potentially provide to our health, economy and planet.

Since the 1970’s:

  • The government has learned that hemp seed is lower in saturated fats than any other vegetable oil.
  • It has been found that hemp seed can create a tofu-like curd that can be spiced to taste like chicken, steak or pork…a great protein source.
  • Hemp seed is recommended as a nutritionally balance food for pets and farm animals.
  • Researchers at the Medical College of Virginia discover that cannabis is incredibly successful for reducing the size of many types of tumors, both benign and cancerous.
  • Thousands of products are now available to purchase including food products, health and beauty, clothing, building materials and other items.
  • Hemp is now a $450 million industry every year.

You can join in on even more hemp history fun during Hemp History Week. In 2014 Hemp History Week is June 2-8.



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