Thanks to the rising popularity of CBD, hemp has practically become a household name. Most people are aware that hemp is now legal in the U.S. after almost a century of prohibition. But did you know that the history of hemp dates back some 8,000 years?
Check it out.
The History of Hemp
Were you aware that hemp has been found on every continent in the world?
In 1977, Carl Sagan—renowned astrophysicist, astronomer, and astrobiologist—suggested that hemp was very likely the world’s first cultivated agricultural crop. He even went so far as to imply that cannabis likely led to the development of civilization itself.
Hemp has roots in ancient civilizations that span through time to our modern 21st-century lives. Let’s take a crash course to discover hemp’s lengthy history.
Early History of Hemp
The earliest records of hemp date back to around 8000 BCE when hemp fibers were discovered in pieces of pottery unearthed from an ancient settlement that is now modern-day Taiwan.
Hemp was actually so prevalent in early Asian civilizations that the Chinese once called their country “the land of mulberry and hemp.” Hemp seeds were used as a source of food in ancient Chinese civilizations, and hemp was considered one of the “five grains” in ancient China—along with soybeans, wheat, rice, and barley.
The passing of time saw the cultivation of hemp spread throughout the world. In ancient India between 2000 BCE and 800 BCE, hemp was mentioned in the Atharvaveda (one of four ancient Hindu texts known as the Vedas) as one of India’s five sacred plants.
By 600 BCE, hemp had made its way to Russia, where its fibers were used to make rope. Archaeologists discovered hemp seeds and leaves in a jar in Germany dating back to 500 BCE. In Greece, hemp rope was discovered that dated to 200 BCE.
The world’s oldest piece of paper was made from hemp fiber and discovered in ancient China in a tomb close to Xi’an that dated back to 140-87 BCE.
Hemp and the New Era
Hemp cultivation continued going strong into the new era. In 570 AD, a French queen was buried in clothing produced from hemp fiber.
By 850 AD, Vikings were using hemp to produce textiles and rope for their ships, as it was a fiber strong enough to hold sails on long ocean journeys. It’s also suggested that hemp was used by the Vikings to relieve pain and aid women during childbirth.
In England, hemp cultivation dates back to 800 AD. By the 16th century, King Henry VIII made it mandatory for farmers to plant hemp crops for fiber to produce textiles for battleships. During this time, the British Navy was so dependent on the plant for maritime textiles that farmers were fined if they didn’t grow hemp.
Hemp History in the U.S.
Records indicate that hemp made its way to North America in 1611, where it was brought to the colony of Jamestown and grown for several purposes, including making paper, rope, and oil for lanterns. It’s suggested, however, that hemp likely existed in the New World long before European settlers arrived. In the 16th century, French explorer Jacques Cartier wrote that the land was full of hemp.
By the early 1700s, it was mandatory for U.S. farmers to cultivate hemp, with those who didn’t comply required to pay a fine.
Founding father George Washington once said, “Make the most of Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere.”
Thomas Jefferson was another founding father that supported hemp production, saying, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”
Hemp production was so important in early U.S. history that the Declaration of Independence itself was written on paper made from hemp.
For almost 200 years, hemp production flourished in the U.S. In 1850, there were some 8,400 hemp farms in the country, with each producing about 2,000 acres.
By the 1930s, hemp production in the U.S. changed drastically. In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed, which taxed all cannabis sales and heavily discouraged the cultivation of the plant. During this time, virtually all hemp production in the U.S. ceased.
In the 1940s, hemp was needed by the Department of Defense for rope and fiber to support World War II. A film called Hemp for Victory was created that once again encouraged hemp production in the U.S. During World War II, there were over one million acres of hemp cultivated in the Midwest by U.S. farmers to support the war.
By the 1970s, hemp laws changed again with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act, which made all forms of Cannabis sativa illegal, including hemp. In fact, hemp was categorized as a Schedule I Substance, deemed more dangerous than heroin and cocaine.
For almost 50 years, hemp remained illegal in the U.S. The 2014 Farm Bill changed everything when hemp cultivation was legalized under pilot programs throughout the U.S. History was made again with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the list of the Controlled Substances Act, essentially legalizing hemp and products derived from it.
It’s safe to say no other plant in the history of mankind has such a story.