Forward-thinking people are looking to the past for ways to create a sustainable future for people on this planet. An ancient plant has a long history of use throughout the world for many purposes. This plant, the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa L.), holds the potential for restoring the earth’s soil and supplying a range of goods for humans and animals in ways far less destructive than current methods. Here’s a look at hemp’s history, its current uses, and the hope possible for our future. First, let’s clarify what exactly hemp is and is not.
Hemp: Cannabis, but not Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana both are cannabis plants. The key difference is the amount of THC, the chemical that produces psychoactive effects associated with a “high.” Hemp is cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent of THC content per dry weight. All parts of the hemp plant can be used, from its chemical components and natural processes to its seeds, stems, roots, leaves, and flowers.
Hemp Production & History
Though hemp is experiencing a surge in popular discussion across the United States, the plant and its many uses have long been known in this country and across the globe. Hemp is literally woven into the origins of the nation, as well as the history of humankind. Below is an abbreviated timeline of hemp through the ages.
- The oldest fabric remnant, a 9,000-year-old hemp-weaved fabric, was uncovered by archeologists in Turkey.
- Hemp was one of the earliest crop plants, grown in China since about 4000 B.C. for textiles and food. Cannabis seeds for food were mentioned in many ancient Chinese texts.
- The world’s oldest piece of paper still intact was made about 150 B.C. in China, completely out of hemp.
- During the Middle Ages and Viking era, hemp was important throughout Europe, used to make canvas sails, ropes, and other textiles.
- In Colonial America, property owners were required to grow hemp in several colonies, and the U.S. Constitution was drafted on hemp paper.
- Hemp production flourished in the United States until Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, which made growing hemp expensive for farmers.
- During World War II, the U.S. government organized a “Hemp for Victory” campaign encouraging farmers to grow hemp for the war effort.
- In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made all cannabis, both marijuana, and hemp, illegal.
- 2018: The U.S. Congress passes the 2018 Farm Bill, removing hemp from the Controlled Substance Act and legalizing industrial hemp production.
Industrial hemp is allowed in most of the country, technically; the laws in all but three states and the District of Columbia allow cultivation of hemp for commercial, research, or pilot programs. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the states are still working on how to permit hemp cultivation practically. Each state is authorized to create a state industrial hemp program, which the USDA must approve. Despite the murky regulatory areas, farmers, researchers, and other growers are embracing the chance to legally grow hemp, for a variety of reasons and uses.