is the history of hemp? Hemp has a career reaching far into
the prehistory of humanity, and a resume that covers part of
that from 8000 BC to the current day. However, to
start to tell you that history, we will first
have to define what "hemp" is, and what it is not.
What is Hemp?
The word 'hemp' has had
multiple connotations throughout the years. During the
middle ages (400 AD - 1400 AD...roughly), "hemp" denoted
any kind of plant primarily harvested for the use of its
fiber. During the age of exploration (1200 AD - 1700 AD)
and the subsequent expansion of European trading,
plants encountered naturally earned the term "hemp"...and
so we have a variety of plants bearing that name including Indian
Hemp (Corchorus capsularis) (Jute),
Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum),
Bow String Hemp (Sansevieria cylindrica), Sisal
Hemp (Agave sisalana), Mauritius Hemp (Furcraea
gigantea), and Manila Hemp (Musa textilis).
Cannabis sativa is just one more in a long chain
of plants to bear the same moniker. If you define 'hemp'
specifically to relate to Cannabis sativa, you
still run into the misunderstanding between hemp and marijuana
(marihuana). Marijuana is an artificial variant of the
Cannabis species, specifically crossbred to maximize
the production of psycho reactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
and minimize the other non psychoactive cannabinoids
such as cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabigerol
(CG). The trait for this is recessive, and therefore does
not exist in substantial numbers in wild varieties
or in former cultivated feral hemp (aka 'ditch weed').
Any marijuana grown must be kept far away from standard
Cannabis, as crossbreeding would greatly reduce
the efficiency of the plants to produce THC in the
large amounts suitable for psychoactive effects. THC levels
in industrial hemp vary from 0.1% to 0.4%, depending on
the specific harvesting nature (Oil, seed, or fiber).
Marijuana THC levels vary between 4.0% and 20.0%, depending
on the particular variety.
produces little THC, and industrial variants cultivated for
fiber and food stock are actively bred to minimize
THC production. This is not only because of ethical considerations,
but the energy used in the creation of THC is wasteful in a
plant primarily used as a fiber crop, and such energy is
better suited towards actually growing the fibers/seeds the
plant is harvested for. It has been estimated that to get
the required THC blood saturation level (2-3%) to obtain a 'high'
from industrial hemp, you would have to smoke a joint the
size of a telephone pole...needless to say you would asphyxiate
yourself before you ever accomplished your goal. Even though
THC stores over weekly periods in fatty tissues, it is very
unlikely to cause psycho reactive effects if under the critical
concentration, and is of limited effect once removed from the
bloodstream, which occurs in a matter of hours.
is currently divided into 3 species in prevailing opinion: C.
Sativa (Industrial variant), C. Indica (Persian/Indian
variant), and C. Ruderalis (Asian variant and quite
probably the original species). It is a member of the Cannabaceae
family, with its closest biological relative being Humulus,
also known as Hops, used in beer flavoring.
Onward March of History...
So with that clarification,
lets begin. Hemp (Cannibis sativa) is a very
old plant that has been in continual use by human civilization
since at least the invention of pottery around 10,000 years
ago. One of the oldest known artifacts of early human prehistory
is a small piece of hemp fabric that miraculously survived over
8,000 years of weathering, stark testament to just how important
this plant has been...not to mention its durability. Below
is a short timeline of some of the more memorable events in
Various forms of fiber-bearing plants, (among them Cannabis) are
incorporated into the first agricultural communities
and used in the creation of various cloths, clothes, and utensils,
such as rope. Minor scraps of the cloth and the civilizations
that created them survive even to this day in various museums
and dig sites around the world.
The term cannibis is older then the current version
written in Latin. The first version of the word was originally
coined in a far earlier civilization, the Sumarians, from around
3200 BC as K(a)N(a)B(a), phonetically translated from cuneiform,
the original form of the word having entered the Indo-Semitic-European
language base. It is one of the oldest root words known in current
The first written record of cannabis is supposedly penned
by one of the early Chinese emperors, Shen-Nung
in Shen-nung pen ts'ao ching (Divine Husbandman's Materia
Medica), an early medical book. Shen-Nung himself is the
presumed author, but the true account was probably
penned by a lower court physician, and the dispute has
never been conclusively settled by historians.
Zoroaster the Persian founds theZoroastrian
religion and writes the text of Avesta.
Among the religious declarations and rules are practical working
knowledge about over 10,000 herbs and medicinal plants.
Hemp happens to be at the top of the list.
As the Roman empire begins its slow decline, the Chinese are
back at it again, creating paper from a combination of hemp
and mulberry bushes and creating among other things, paper money.
The technological lead of the Chinese over the West continues
for over 1,200 years as the dark ages hit Europe, only to recover
during the Renaissance.
With Europe still locked in the dark
ages, the new
Islamic/Arabic empires become the Chinese' new competitors,
and create Europe's first paper mill utilizing hemp and various
reeds becoming a new center for scientific thought.
Europe finally drags itself out of the dark ages and enters
the age of exploration, sending out such intrepid adventurers
Columbus, and Amerigo
actually was more of a fraud then an explorer but was resurrected
by an obscure German mapmaker who used the name 'America' to
describe the new world...funny how history works out). As part
of the economic and military buildup of the time (80 years
war), Queen Elizabeth I orders all land owners with 60 acres
or more to grow Cannibus or face a £5 fine. King Philip
of Spain, not to be outdone, orders Cannibus grown
throughout the Spanish empire from present-day Argentina to
Oregon. The conflict reaches a head in 1588 with the battle
of the Spanish
The Dutch get in on the exploration boom and create a sizable
trading empire known as the 'Golden Age'. The hemp trade factors
heavily into their profits.
New World gets into the act when Jamestown
various bits of legislation ordering all farmers to
grow Indian hemp seed (Apocynum cannabinum), later
made mandatory in 1632. Hemp becomes a staple of the region
and is frequently used for barter and trade. During times
of shortage, farmers are sent to jail for not growing
The 13 British colonies in the New World erupt in
revolt and declare themselves independent of the British Empire,
creating among other things, the United States. Washington's
men would have frozen at Valley Forge (They nearly did, as it
was) except for the sparse resupplies of food and clothing,
the majority of which was made from local hemp. In 1776 Thomas
cordage, iron, timber, and tar as the US' 4 essential resources,
but quips "Hemp florishes even to rankness, we do not want for
cordage." Thomas Jefferson writes the first draft of the Declaration
of Independence on hemp paper. The second draft (the version
released on the 4th of July) was also written on hemp paper.
The final draft signed by the founders is copied from the
2nd draft onto animal parchment.
Thomas Jefferson, ever the prolific writer, mentions hemp in
his journal in regards to the (then) current state of agriculture
in Virginia in order to influence future policy:
"The culture [of tobacco]
is pernicious. This plant greatly exhausts the soil. Of course,
it requires much manure, therefore other productions are deprived
of manure, yielding no nourishment for cattle, there is no return
for the manure expended...
"It is impolitic. The fact well established in the system of
agriculture is that the best hemp and the best tobacco grow
on the same kind of soil. The former article is of first necessity
to the commerce and marine, in other words to the wealth and
protection of the country. The latter, never useful and sometimes
pernicious, derives its estimation from caprice, and its value
from the taxes to which it was formerly exposed. The preference
to be given will result from a comparison of them: Hemp employs
in its rudest state more labor than tobacco, but being a material
for manufactures of various sorts, becomes afterwards the means
of support to numbers of people, hence it is to be preferred
in a populous country."
In addition to Jefferson,
The newly elected US President, George Washington, sets duties
on hemp farming to help encourage the domestic industry.
Dominion (aka Canada) follows suit, offering various incentives
and premiums to local farmers to encourage hemp production.
11 years later the extra supplies and equipment comes in handy
during the war
of 1812. During
the course of the war, the Americans manage to sack York, now Toronto.
The British and Canadians retaliate by burning Washington D.C.
and the Executive mansion. After the war the quick whitewashing
done to cover the burns on the building earns it the new
name 'White House'.
With the British Empire robbed of the 13 colonies, Australia
becomes the new dumping ground for undesirables, criminals,
and the lower classes of British society. The new people
have a rough start with two long periods of famine. The settlers
survive the times by eating virtually nothing but hemp
seeds and leaves for protein and roughage, respectively. *Approximate
The industrial age, begun around 1780, starts to come out
in full swing. Petrochemical industries start to boom and the
decline of hemp begins. New woodpulp paper is introduced, tropical
fibers compete for durability and cost, and steamships start
to replace sailing vessels. Hemp, being rather labor intensive
in comparison, fades from the economies of the world for over
A new pulping process capable of processing hemp fiber
and converting the hurd into various papers and plastics is
invented by USDA scientists Dewey Lyster and Jason Merill, making
hemp economically viable once again. The USDA issues bulletin
No. 404 listing increased production and superior quality as
advantages to using hemp hurds for paper pulp.
George Schlichten invents
a new machine capable of stripping the fiber from any plant,
leaving behind pulp, which he dubs the "decorticator". Henry
Timken, a wealthy industrialist who invented the roller bearing,
meets with him to discuss future investment plans. Timkin is
impressed with the design and promptly offers Schlichten 100
acres of farmland to grow hemp and test the machine.
- 1938 AD
The petrochemical and timber
industries start to organize a media campaign to squash
the "new" product before it can threaten their industries.
Newspaper maganate William
Randolph Hearst in particular launches a campaign against
marijuana with such savory titles as "Marihuana Makes Fiends
of Boys in 30 Days" and "Hasheesh Goads Users to Blood-Lust,
create terror of the killer weed from Mexico". Hearst's papers
also fuel racial stereotypes of the time, combining the two
topics. Various articles speak of "marijuana-crazed negroes"
raping white women and playing "voodoo-satanic" (aka Jazz) music.
DuPont is granted a
patent to manufacture new "plastic fibers" from the German industrial
corporation I.G. Farben, obtained as part of the reparations
payments from WWI. A few years down the road I.G. Farben gets
into the chemical business in a more serious way...and starts
manufacturing Zyklon-B gas, used to murder millions in various
death camps scattered around Germany and Poland.
The US Congress passes the Marijuana Tax act of 1937, banning
the production of hemp within the US. The following year
Canada also prohibits production of hemp under the Opium and
Narcotics Control Act. Over the next 45 years the hemp ban spreads
throughout the West due to similar politics and economic interests.
runs an article on the so-called "billion-dollar crop" (Keep
in mind that this was an era where a million dollars was an
unspeakably large amount of money). Alas the article had been
written in the spring of 1937 before the anti-hemp legislation
had been passed.
Mechanics introduces Henry Ford's new plastic car, manufactured
from and fueled by hemp (an early biodiesel variant). Hoping
to break the petroleum industries' monopoly of control on his
company, Ford illegally grows hemp for over a year.
Japanese invasion of the Philipines cuts off the US supply of
Manila hemp, among other vital resources. The US government
immediately disregards the previous ban and distributes over
400,000 pounds of hempseed to farmers in order to limit the
supply gap as much as possible. Farmers are required to attend
the propaganda classic movie Hemp
President John F. Kennedy forces Federal Bureau of Narcotics
head Harry Anslinger into retirement after Anslinger attempts
to censor the work of Professor Alfred Lindsmith, author of
The addict and the Law. Years after the assassination
in 1963, Kennedy associates claim that the former president
used Cannibus for back pain and was considering supporting
legalization in his second term.
Canadian government legalizes the growth of industrial
hemp for commercial purposes, issuing a license to Health Canada.
The province of Novia
Scotia completes a study of the North American market for hemp,
valued at $28 - $30 million (US dollars), with annual increases
of $8 -$10 million per year.
of this date, 4 states have passed legislation to permit production
of industrial hemp for research and commercial purposes;
Hawaii, Maryland, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Legislatures
in 5 other states (Illinois, Montana, Vermont, Virginia, and
California) have passed declarations asking for a change in
federal policy on the issue. However, the Federal Controlled
Substances Act overrules the state laws. Hemp-based products
are legally sold within the United States, but the manufacture
of the base ingredient for the products is still deemed illegal.
(This timeline has been
researched by cross-referencing various hemp information sites,
The Emperor Wears no Clothes, Wikipedia.com, Encyclopedia
Britanica, The North American Hemp Council, and other sources
that were verifiable through multiple channels. This does not
strive to be a complete list of all historically relevant occurences,
and everyone is encouraged to research this for yourself and
come to your own conclusions. Any inaccuracies are unintentional,
and will be corrected, granted that verifiable information is