History of Hemp in The World – A Start to Finish Guide

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Cannabis Definition: “Cannabis (/ˈkænəbɪs/) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae. The number of species within the genus is disputed. Three species may be recognized: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis; C. ruderalis may be included within C. sativa; all three may be treated as a subspecies of a single species, C. sativa; or C. sativa may be accepted as a single undivided species. The genus is widely accepted as being indigenous to and originating from Central Asia, with some researchers also including upper South Asia in its origin.”

History of Hemp in the World

Welcome to our on the exploration on the history of hemp in the world. This article is brought to you by Spring Creek Labs, a U.S. Based CBD Manufacturer and Private Label CBD Product Fulfillment Company.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family. Any good article on cannabis requires some clarification of terms. What is cannabis? What about marijuana? What is the difference between hemp and marijuana? What is CBD? What is the difference between recreational and medical marijuana?

All marijuana and hemp are cannabis, but not all cannabis is marijuana. Some of it is hemp. That’s enough riddles. 

All the plants that we know as marijuana or hemp are cannabis. The difference is the THC levels in the plants and their ultimate use. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the 113 compounds found in cannabis plants that are known as cannabinoids. Some of these chemicals appear to affect the body in various ways.

Hemp History in the World

THC is the chemical that has the psychoactive effect. It gets you high. Others, like CBD (cannabidiol), don’t get you high, but may affect your health.

Hemp has little or no THC. It looks and smells like marijuana or pot, but no matter how much you smoke, it won’t make you intoxicated. 

Marijuana has varying amounts of THC. Traditional strains, like the ones smoked until about the 1990s, were relatively low in THC. Today, there are some strains that have 100 times the THC that the “old school” strains did. For those of you look to smoke marijuana, that’s not as awesome as it might sound. While there is not a single recorded death from an overdose of marijuana, it might blow your mind. Since Colorado legalized marijuana, the majority of marijuana-related emergency room visits are from people who thought they could handle the pot they bought, but they got “too high” and were freaking out.

Hemp is used for industrial purposes, from making cloth and rope to plastics and fuel. In fact, Henry Ford made cars in the 1940s almost entirely from hemp plastics and “glass”. It even ran on hemp diesel. Today, hemp is everywhere. It has become part of the norm in cosmetics, household goods, and even in some health-related products. 

Throughout this article on the history of hemp in the world, we’ll use cannabis to denote hemp or marijuana. If you see hemp, it means we’re talking about the no-THC, industrial version of cannabis. Marijuana will refer to the THC-version that is used for recreational or medicinal purposes. 

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The Early Origins of Hemp

The story of the history of hemp in the world goes back thousands of years. Cannabis originated in Central Asia. It’s generally thought to have started in India. Most scholars point to the foothills of the Himalayas as the starting point. 

Its use in medicine dates back over 5,000 years. The THC and other compounds help alleviate pain, make arthritis better, and generally make people feel nice. There is some scholarly speculation as to whether marijuana was an ingredient when the holy anointing oil referenced the Hebrew version book of Exodus.

History of Hemp in America

22 Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 “Also take for yourself quality spices—five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane, 24 five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hint of olive oil. 25 And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.

– Exodus 30:22-25 NKJV.

About 2900 BC, the Chinese Emperor FU called cannabis a popular medicine. By 100 AD, the Chinese had found over 100 uses for cannabis as medicine. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all knew about cannabis and its medicinal properties. 

The Japanese were cultivating hemp in the pre-Neolithic period. On the Oki Islands, archeologists have found evidence of cannabis dating back to 8000 BC. Hemp fiber imprints were found in pottery from Neolithic age China.

More recently, hemp was brought to the New World by the Spaniards to make rope and medicine. It was used to make paper by the Colonial Americans. In fact, the US Constitution is written on hemp paper.

Use of the drug for recreational purposes was rare and abuse was even more rare right up to Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s.

History of Hemp in China

Viewing the subject generally, it may be added that the moderate use of these drugs is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use practically produces no ill effects. In all but the most exceptional cases, the injury from habitual moderate use is not appreciable.

The excessive use may certainly be accepted as very injurious, though it must be admitted that in many excessive consumers the injury is not clearly marked. The injury done by the excessive use is, however, confined almost exclusively to the consumer himself; the effect on society is rarely appreciable. It has been the most striking feature in this inquiry to find how little the effects of hemp drugs have obtruded themselves on observation. — Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, 1894-1895

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History of Hemp in the World: Prohibition

For better or worse, prohibition is an important part of the history of hemp in the world. The prohibitions of the early 1900s were not the first attempts to ban the plant. In the 1300s, the empire of Joneima in Arabia, Soudoun Sheikouni banned its use. In 1787, the King of Madagascar made it a capital offence to use marijuana. 

These prohibitions are likely in response to the Muslim ban on intoxicants that is part of that faith. Napoleon banned the use of cannabis by his soldiers during his invasion of Egypt Syria. As it arrived in the New World, slaves smoked marijuana even though the plants were brought over for industrial uses. It was banned in British Mauritius in 1840 and British Singapore in 1870. 

In the United States, hemp was widely cultivated right up to 1937. As an industrial product, it was used for everything from medicines to rope, paper, and cloth. The Founding Fathers grew hemp on their own lands and used it on their farms.

There’s also evidence that it was used by them for aches, pains, and illness as it was a very common medicine.

History of Hemp Prohibition

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act made cannabis and hemp illegal. There’s a great deal of debate as to why hemp was caught up in the law, except that hemp, as a source of plastics, fuels, paper, rope, etc, was an economic threat to the very wealthy oil industry. By taking hemp off the shelves, it made more room for synthetics made from oil.

Despite the change in the laws, the US government soon found itself having promoted the cultivation of hemp during World War II for rope, uniforms, canvas, and more. Throughout the Midwest and Kentucky, as well as some New England states, hemp was being grown again for the war effort. 

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Cannabis and Mexican Immigrants

“I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions.”

This sentiment was offered by Harry Anslinger, the U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics from 1937-1962, whose views still influence today’s drug war.” – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/marijuana-and-immigration_b_3387546 

In 1910, the Mexican Revolution forced many Mexicans to cross the border into the United States for safety and freedom from war. 

This movement causes the same type of fear and response that it does today. Marijuana was tied to Mexican immigrants because there was a much larger marijuana culture south of the border. Marijuana was widely used recreationally. 

When those Mexican immigrants arrived in the United States, they were maligned, as you can read from the above statement, culminating in 1937 with the total prohibition of all forms of hemp.

Cannabis History in Mexico

The arrival of the Mexican immigrants in the 1930 was even more terrifying in the midst of the Great Depression. With millions of Americans out of work, the last thing the government could allow was the arrival of a huge number of workers willing to work for low wages and live in poor conditions. This compared to the Americans who were leaving behind the Roaring twenties when prosperity seemed to fall from the trees. 

Everything stayed the same until the late 1960s. Marijuana was seen, during that time, as a menace with hipsters and junkies using marijuana on their way to the degenerate hell they were destined for.

When the hippie generation and the Vietnam War protests started, marijuana was counter-culture. The parents of the hippies, the Greatest Generation, were the first to live with illegal marijuana. Pot became a way to rebel against the establishment. Marijuana was everywhere. 

It continued to be around, but as that generation grew older, most of the former hippies began to see the “wisdom” of prohibition. After all, the Baby Boomers were now the most powerful generation, and they were as interested in rebellion as their parents had been.

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History of Hemp in the World: Legalization

Legalization and Prohibition is an important part of hemp history in the world. In the United States, all cannabis, both marijuana and hemp, were made illegal in 1937. Since then, and particularly most recently, laws have been changing rapidly both in the US and around the world. 

Legalization Outside the US

Canada, South Africa, and various other nations have legalized marijuana completely. This allows the government to not only regulate quality and content, they’re also able to tax the drug heavily, contributing to coffers everywhere.

Most of South America has kept it illegal, but has decriminalized it. Usually, as in some American cities, small qualities for personal use are simply not legally enforced or are a misdemeanor.

hemp based product pic 22

Medical marijuana is more widespread. In most cases, a patient gets a medical card from a medical marijuana doctor. They are then able to buy marijuana from special dispensaries that are highly regulated and taxed. Australia, most of South America, and much of Europe recognize the medical use of marijuana.

As of 2021, countries that have legalized medical use of cannabis include Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Cannabis Legalization Inside the US

The situation in the US is extremely fluid and fast moving. For example, within the last 24 hours of writing this passage (February, 2021), the state of New Jersey made marijuana legal for recreational use after the voters of the state overwhelmingly voted for it in November of 2020.

Presently, the US federal government has maintained marijuana illegality. It’s a felony to possess, grow, sell, and distribute marijuana. 

Hemp, however, is legal. Thanks to the Trump Administration, the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp production legal. While this might not be seen as a huge change since many states were already allowing hemp cultivation, it opens the doors for interstate transportation, banking, and more. 

At this time, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have made all marijuana legal for adult recreational use. Six states have kept marijuana 100% illegal, whereas other states, like Wisconsin, allow certain cities to decriminalize it. 

The only way to know for sure is to check your local laws regularly. Often, marijuana enforcement is a patchwork of laws and also depends on the local tone of law enforcement and governing officials. 

History of Hemp in the World

Because of the Tenth Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, states can create laws that “violate ” federal law, as long as nothing crosses state lines legally. In other words, as long as Colorado maintains its marijuana business within its borders, the federal government is very hands off. The only enforcement inside the states by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been to pursue businesses that are both illegal at a federal and a state level.

Cannabis Prohibition and the Tenth Amendment

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 (The Commerce Clause):

“[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;”

The intersection of these two portions of the Constitution and their effect on industry in the states is fairly complex, but suffice it to say, the federal government has respected the laws of the states as long as no attempt to legally spread marijuana was attempted by state authorities. Anyone moving marijuana from a legal to an illegal state is seen as committing a personal offense prohibited by both states’ laws and are prosecuted as such.

Hemp Legalization in the US

All the above discussion about marijuana legalization should be separated. Hemp is defined at the federal level as cannabis plants with less that 0.3% THC. Anything over that is considered marijuana. 

For hemp growers, this is problematic. Millions of plants have been grown, but the plants tested too high for THC. Entire crops have to be destroyed, even though medical authorities recognize that less than 1% THC has no psychoactive effects. 

Hemp in the United States is legal at the federal level, although most states regulate it heavily. In many cases, one needs a special license to grow it, process it, or sell it. Every batch needs to be tested to prove that THC levels are low enough. 

History of Hemp in the World

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Cannabinoids and the Human Body

Human use is an important part of the history of hemp in the world. Human cannabis consumption has been so extensive that our bodies have literally created a system of receptors that respond to the compounds in the plant called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Healthline offers an excellent, brief explanation of the ECS:

“The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring THC, a well-known cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis.

“Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS. But so far, we know it plays role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including:

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Memory
  • Reproduction
  • Fertility

History of Hemp in the World

“The ECS exists and is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis.”

While we’ll look more closely at the ECS in the Medical Uses of Cannabis portion of this series, it’s important to note what its existence means. The fact that the ECS exists is evidence that human interaction with cannabis was so widespread, ubiquitous, and natural that our bodies actually created a system to utilize the compounds in the plant.

Not only did humans smoke, eat, and use cannabis as medicine, but the animals that we hunted and domesticated ate the plant. Everything we ate contained some of the cannabinoids that we are only now rediscovering.

It should be noted that this shouldn’t conjure an image of stoned cows and people wandering around in the past. Most cannabis has very low levels of THC. We were experiencing the totality of the plant, not just consuming it for fun.

Given that these compounds were as natural in own bodies as water and vitamin C, it prompts the question, how many of our modern ailments can be prevented by putting cannabis back into our diet? 

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Medical Use of Cannabis

Throughout this section, we’ll separate hemp from marijuana.

In this section, hemp is defined as being federally legal, less than 0.3% THC content. In other words, it has no psychoactive effects, no matter how much is consumed. Hemp is 100% legal in every state and territory because federal law has made it so.

Marijuana, in this section, refers to cannabis with high enough THC content to cause a physical effect. In this case, marijuana is only legal in the states that have passed local laws.

Medical marijuana refers to limited programs that allow the use of marijuana derivatives in a myriad of forms to be used for certain conditions. That list of conditions varies state to state and requires a physician’s prescription.

Compounds In Cannabis

To date, 113 compounds have been identified in cannabis. The two most famous, THC and CBD, aren’t made directly by the plant. In order to get these compounds, the cannabinoids need to be decarboxylated, or heated, to convert the compounds.

Here is a list from Leafly of the major compounds before decarboxylation:

  • CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
  • THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
  • CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
  • CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
  • THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
  • CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
  • CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)

Here’s the list of the compounds are decarboxylation…

  • CBG (Cannabigerol)
  • THC (Δ9–tetrahydrocannabinol)
  • CBD (Cannabidiol)
  • CBC (Cannabichromene)
  • CBGV (Cannabigerivarin)
  • THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)
  • CBDV (Cannabidivarin)
  • CBCV (Cannabichromevarin)

Only one of these compounds gets you “high,” THC. Many of the rest have no “known” effect; it should be noted that we don’t know the effects yet. Because hemp was caught up in the marijuana ban for nearly a century, scientists haven’t been able to study it well.

That’s why every day, we seem to hear about a new use for hemp for our health. Most of those claims are related to CBD. See our article on the Benefits of CBD for more details on this. 

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