What Is Hemp?
You’ve likely heard the name before, and chances are that you’ve even come into contact with a product made from it, but how much do you really know about the fascinating history of the hemp plant?
From its ancient applications to its fraught legal history to the modern-day struggle of those who believe this infinitely useful plant is the key to saving the planet, the story of hemp is inextricably intertwined with the story of human beings. Learning about it can actually reveal quite a bit about us!
Cannabis Sativa L.
When most people think of hemp, they make an immediate connection to marijuana, and while it’s not a totally misguided association, there are distinct differences between the two that must be drawn.
Both industrial hemp and psychoactive cannabis are members of the Cannabis sativa species. They are both dioecious plants that share an iconic seven-pronged leaf. Both have the same aromatic terpenes, and both contain psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
But while the average Sativa or Indica marijuana plant can produce flower buds containing between 25-30% THC or more, hemp flower generally contains <0.3% THC and does not have psychoactive effects.
Though the two plants are closely related, they should not be confused with each other. This misguided belief stems from the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, a piece of legislation brought on by a moral panic about the negative effects of drug use, which led to the aggressive taxation of commercial cannabis farming, effectively destroying the American hemp industry.
Some believe this act to be the work of ultra-wealthy industrialists, who saw hemp as a fatal threat to their fortunes, but we’ll get into that later. For now, let’s look at exactly why someone with large investments in pretty much any industry might not want industrial hemp to be legal.
What’s So Great About Hemp?
Simply put: Pretty much everything! The unique properties of the hemp plant give it a tremendous array of useful applications that are almost too numerous to name.
Hemp is said to have 50,000 different uses and benefits, with every last part of the plant having a practical application in either commerce, industry, health, or nutrition. It can be made into clothing, building material, paper products, eco-friendly plastic, medicines, food, and much more. Oh, and it’s one of the fastest growing plants on planet Earth.
Here are just a few of the innumerable ways in which hemp and hemp flower can help humanity:
Hemp fiber can be made into a wide variety of fabrics, including silk, denim, suede, twill, and muslin. It’s known to have three times the strength of cotton, while a hemp crop requires far less water to grow a similar amount of viable material for fabric production.
Yes, hemp can be used as a green alternative to traditional concrete. Hempcrete, as it’s known, is lightweight yet strong, provides considerable insulation, and is highly energy efficient. It’s also resistant to fire, water, and pests, all while being totally non-toxic.
The legendary American carmaker and innovator, Henry Ford, once built an automobile entirely out of hemp, which also ran on hemp oil. The body of the car was reportedly 10 times stronger than steel, the material from which many car bodies are still made today.
Food and Drink
That hemp oil that Ford’s cannabis car ran on? You can eat it, too! In fact, the seeds of the hemp plant are so rich in nutrition -- it is dense in Omega-3s, 6s, and 9s and is a complete protein -- that they are considered to be a superfood. Hemp food products include milk, oil, tea, cheese substitute, crackers, and protein powder.
One of the most popular ways that hemp is used today is in the production of legal CBD products, such as CBD oil and CBD hemp flower. CBD has been studied for a wide array of health benefits, often with encouraging results, but as it has yet to be approved by the FDA for these uses, it is currently sold under a banner of the positive effects it can have on a person’s mood and as a stress reliever.
Paper and Plastic
Hemp can be used as an eco-friendly alternative to paper and plastic products. Hemp crops are far faster to grow than trees, and hemp paper is longer lasting than traditional paper, while requiring very little to no chemical processing. Hemp plastic is 3.5 to 5 times stronger than oil-based plastics and is totally biodegradable.
Hemp is considered to be a great carbon sink, meaning that it is excellent at extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven to absorb carbon dioxide better than any other commercial crop. It is also excellent at soil remediation, which means that it has the ability to remove toxins from soil and groundwater, leaving the earth healthier than it was before the crop was planted.
The History of Hemp
Now that you know just how miraculous and almost impossibly versatile hemp and hemp flower are, it’s time to learn about the plant’s long and storied relationship with humankind, which dates back thousands of years, if not even longer than that.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that hemp may have been among the very first plants ever to be cultivated by human beings. To get a better idea of this amazing plant’s connection to our story, let’s take a look back at some of the earliest civilizations to have harnessed its powers.
Evidence of the domestication of the hemp plant can be traced back to the Neolithic period, where it was cultivated for thousands of years by Chinese farmers, who were the first to learn that the plant was dioecious (meaning that it produces both male and female organisms). Some of the uses of the hemp plant in ancient Chinese culture were in the creation of pottery, textiles, paper, and rope.
The ancient Egyptians were also fond of all forms of the cannabis plant. Anthropological evidence and historical records point to both medicinal uses of psychoactive cannabis, as well as the use of smokable hashish for religious ceremony and practical uses of hemp as a textile. It’s even believed that the Great Pyramids were built with the aid of hemp rope.
Around 1,200 B.C., the hemp plant found its way to Europe, where it was used in a number of civilizations, including ancient Greece and Rome. It eventually became one of the most important crops on the continent. It quickly became a commonly used material in the creation of paper, rope, cloth, sails, and even beer, which was said to be among the favorite beverages of knights during the Middle Ages.
The crop became so integral to European industry that legislation was eventually signed by the likes of Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth, and King Philip of Spain that hemp farming would be mandatory for all landowners.
Coming to America
The widespread use of hemp in Europe meant that the crop would be among the first of the Old World materials to find its way onto American soil. In fact, Christopher Columbus’ ships were all outfitted with hemp sails and ropes.
European laws requiring landowners to grow hemp found their way over the Atlantic, as well. A number of colonies in early America were compelled by law to produce the crop, which was used for a wide variety of purposes, including the creation of the paper that early iterations of the Declaration of Independence were drafted on.
Several American presidents were even reported to have cultivated hemp, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.
20th Century Troubles
Hemp continued to be widely used in American industry for many years, up until the aforementioned Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, which levied extremely punitive taxes on all commercial hemp farmers, and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which changed the legal status of hemp and getting it on the list as a Schedule 1 substance with the DEA.
It is believed by some that timber industrialist William Randolph Hearst and other ultra-wealthy Americans like Andrew Mellon and the Du Pont family were responsible for the demonization and the eventual prohibition of hemp and hemp flower in America.
While these claims are disputed, the effects of late-1930s anti-cannabis legislation nonetheless removed hemp from American industry in the 20th century, save for a brief period during World War II when the USDA created the “Hemp for Victory” program to aid in the war effort.
2018 Farm Bill
Over the course of the next several decades, efforts to legalize hemp and hemp flower were met with only mild success. Hemp Industries v. DEA allowed for hemp foods and body care products to be sold in the U.S. in 2004, and hemp licenses were granted to a pair of North Dakota farmers in 2007. But it wasn’t until the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill that the hemp plant was finally removed from the Controlled Substances Act.
Not only does the signing of this landmark piece of legislation mean that farmers across the country can begin cultivating hemp, it means you can even grow your own.
The 2018 Farm Bill has opened the door for modern industrial hemp cultivators to begin harnessing the miraculous power of this multifaceted plant. Legal CBD products, for example, have erupted in popularity in recent years, with many users championing the positive effects of CBD hemp flower and all of the various other CBD-based products now on the market.
With its potential to redefine industries, reduce consumption, and heal both the planet and the human body, industrial hemp and hemp flower should only continue to grow in popularity and production from here forward.
Interested in Hemp and CBD?
Now that you’re up to speed on the amazing power of the hemp plant, check out Golden Eagle Farms for a wide selection of all-organic CBD hemp flower, CBD topicals, and hemp farm gear!