Hemp, a strain of Cannabis sativa, is often misunderstood yet it’s benefits date back thousands of years. Commercially, the market for hemp is on the rise and is a global market. Hemp, CBD, and marijuana (cannabis) are cousins. They are all related but not the same. The history of hemp is intertwined with rich culture, medical, industrial, and product consumption.
What is Hemp?
The words “hemp” and “cannabis” tend to be talked about interchangeably. While they are not the same thing, both are strains of plants that come from Cannabis sativa. Hemp plants have multiple uses, depending on the part of the plant that is being utilized. Clothing, paper, and more can be created from the stems and fiber of the plant. Lesser known products include, hemp concrete and bioplastics. Seeds of the hemp plant make hemp oil and some food products. Cannabidiol, or CBD, comes from the flower buds. CBD has its own market and purposes. Only traces of THC, best known for the marijuana “high”, are naturally found in the hemp plant. Products from hemp do not cause the psychoactive effects of marijuana since the traces of THC are so low.
Origins of Hemp - A Timeline
Before addressing the timeline, it needs to be understood that history is ever evolving. Archaeologists are continuously discovering and unearthing previously unknown history. This is a living timeline, meaning that dates are continuously being added. Not just new and modern dates, but thousands of year old dates as well. Before the unearthing of the neolithic village in Taiwan, Hemp was thought to have started around 8,000 BCE, not 10,000 BCE. The true wonder of learning history is that it is continuously being learned and relearned. One account, from the royal family will possibly be very different from a peasant family during that same time period. As the Earth’s history is rediscovered, our timeline for events grows. History is meant to be learned through translation, a debate many historical scholars still argue over. Below is a short timeline of Hemp, but there are many dates not included that are of smaller Hemp victories.
Taiwan, where a neolithic village was discovered by archaeologists in Yuang Shan, included a pottery piece with a hempen cord. A stone beater, used to pound hemp, was also found.
Scraps of clothing, unearthed in Mesopotamia, were discovered to be made from hemp fiber. Here, history suggests that Hemp became the first plant cultivated by humans.
In a neolithic site, Zhejiang Province, hemp and silk textiles were found. It is believed that Hemp was widely used in China since hemp cloth was discovered throughout China.
Rope used in the construction of the pyramids was hemp, as it’s effectiveness was noted in pyramid texts.
Evidence, found in China, suggests it was the first to use hemp seeds, and hemp extracts in food. Carbonised Hemp fruit and remains of consumed hemp were excavated in Liangzhu province.
Widely thought to be used long before it was first recorded by Emperor Shen Neng, hemp and cannabis were used in China.
Hemp items, in Microlithic burial pits in Inner Mongolia, were discovered as they were part of the burial process.
One of the oldest written books, Shu Chingi, records that Shantung Province warlords heavily relied on hemp. Uniforms, bows, helmets, buckles, and clothing were all woven with hemp cord and then hardened by vinegar.
2,000 BCE. - Hemp has begun to be utilized worldwide.
A Hemp weaving industry, economically self-sufficient, was started by the Shang Culture.
Sacred Hindu text, Atharvaveda (Science of Charms), identified the hemp plant as “Sacred Grass”. According to the text, “Sacred Grass” (hemp) was one of the five plants of India deemed sacred.
Scythians, nomadic Iranian originating people, raid territories in Europe. Hemp was heavily relied on for crops that were planted in their new territories.
Trade routes and migrants from Asia bring Hemp to Greece and Russia. Continuing into Europe, Hemp becomes a staple that is heavily harvested.
Hemp rope, found on Greek ships, suggested through ancient texts that hemp was superior to conventional ropes.
The Roman Empire begins to record more uses of Hemp from carbonised Hemp seeds from Pompeii to cannabis pastries for parties. Marijuana and hemp were also used by Nero’s army.
Although traces of Hemp products were found around 140 AD., Old Buckeham Mare recorded the first cultivation of Hemp in Britain in 400 AD.
Buried with Hemp cloth draped over her, French Queen Arnemunde shows that Hemp was a precious luxury in Europe.
Vikings used and relied on hemp for many things. It is thought that during this time, Hemp was introduced to Northern America.
1490 AD. - Hemp is deemed witchcraft by the Pope.
Christopher Columbus begins his journey with sail cloth and rope made from Hemp.
1533 - 1545 AD.
Hemp, in Britain and ordered by King Henry, was to be tilled ¼ acre out of 60 acres. During 1545, a shortage of Hemp started across countries. There was little left over for trade after immediate needs were met.
During the great sailing age, “canvas” was derived from “cannabis” because of the vitality of Hemp.
Jamestown English settlers were the first to begin cultivation of Hemp in the New World.
As trade routes grow stronger, King James includes Hemp in the “Book of Rates” which was used for commission and commodity of trade items.
Hemp clothing was used by Pilgrims in New England as the negative feelings between England and America began to grow. Clothes from England became too expensive so the spinning of hempen began.
Colonies in America, such as Virginia, by law, required farmers to grow hemp. Prison time or severe fines were enforced if farmers did not grow Hemp.
Hemp became legal tender. At times, it was more valuable than cash.
Dutch Hemp paper was used for the drafting of both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
1842 - 1850
The medicinal properties of Hemp and marijuana begin to be investigated by scientists throughout Britain and the USA.
Marijuiana takes the stage worldwide. Propaganda, studies, and governments try to regulate consumption. The Marihuana Tax Act begins prohibition, making Hemp difficult to continue to produce. There was a gray area between Hemp and marijuana.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour ends the Hemp supply from the Philippians to the US. During World War II, “Hemp for Victory” became a campaign for millions of acres of Hemp to be planted to aid in the war effort.
Confusion begins as the Controlled Substances Act categorizes marijuana and Hemp as the same.
Medicinal research using cannabis is banned by the Ford administration.
Despite the increasing drug war in America, imports of Hemp seed and Hemp oil begins to happen.
2004 - 2007
The Hemp Industries Association in the USA fights and wins protection of Hemp products such as food and body products. North Dakota receives the first Hemp license since the downfall during prohibition.
The US Farms Act legalizes industrial hemp. Hemp and CBD industries begin to soar.
Past, Present, and Future
History is often thought as something of the past. The past is just a part of history, as it is ever evolving, and our present and future are very much included in our history. Hemp, although recently rediscovered in modern times, has been a part of human lives since the beginning. Its multiple uses have built and crippled nations, yet Hemp continues to be a part of human life. As far as the future goes, it will be a journey for sure.