The History of Hemp - 101
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What 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.

Natural Cannabis 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.

Biologically, Cannabis 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.

The 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 hemp history.

8000-7000 BC

          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.

3200 BC

          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 use today.

2700 BC

          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.

550 BC

          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.

0-100 AD

          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.

1150 AD

          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.

1563 AD

          Europe finally drags itself out of the dark ages and enters the age of exploration, sending out such intrepid adventurers as Sir Francis Drake, Fredinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci. (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 Armada.

1500-1600 AD

          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.

1619 AD

          The New World gets into the act when Jamestown Colony passes 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 hemp.

1775-1783 AD

          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 Paine lists 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.

1791 AD

          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.

1801 AD

          The 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'.

1800-1820* AD

             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 timeframe

1850 AD

          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 60 years.

1916 AD

          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.

1917 AD

               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.

1936 - 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.

1936 AD
               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.

1937 AD

          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.

1938 AD

               Popular Mechanics 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.

1941 AD

          Popular 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.

1942 AD

          The 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 for Victory.

1962 AD

          US 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.

1998 AD

          The 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.

2004 AD

          As 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,, 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 provided.)



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