Hemp Throughout The Years—A Retrospective On Centuries Of Cannabis

Humans have lived with hemp for thousands of years. In fact, it’s one of the first plants we cultivated during the first agricultural revolution

The history of hemp is long and complicated. The plant has been a dietary staple in ancient cultures, it’s been grown by presidents, and it’s been illegal. Few other weeds can boast such an eclectic resume. 

Keep reading to find out more about the exciting history of cannabis, and learn some fascinating hemp facts on the way.  

What Is Hemp?

Cannabis terminology can be pretty confusing for those unfamiliar with the plant. Like, what exactly is hemp, and how is it different from marijuana? 

When people refer to hemp, they’re referring to a specific variety of the flowering herb called cannabis. What people often call marijuana is also a variety of cannabis. The difference between the two comes down to how much THC is present in a particular cannabis plant. 

THC is a compound called a cannabinoid found in cannabis that, when consumed, induces the infamous high we associate with using marijuana. How much THC a cannabis plant can contain and still be considered hemp depends on where in the world you live. In the United States, the 2018 Farm Bill officially determined that cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC per dry weight can be considered hemp. 

Hemp Vs. CBD

While there’s a limit to how much THC can be present in hemp, hemp plants are often chock full of a different cannabinoid—the non-intoxicating CBD. In the past decade, CBD has become an extremely popular ingredient in wellness products due to its various potential medicinal benefits

CBD can be found in hemp, but hemp and CBD aren’t the same thing. So, if you’re in the market for CBD, be wary of products labeled hemp oil or hemp extract as they may not actually contain the cannabinoid. 

History Of Hemp Use In The Ancient World

CBD is a relatively recent discovery, but humans cultivated hemp long before we knew anything about cannabinoids. 

Scientists speculate hemp originally comes from Eastern Asia, in the regions we now call Mongolia and China. 

According to archeologists, the ancient cultures who inhabited this area cultivated hemp as far back as 8,000 BCE. The stringy bast fibers found in the plant’s stalks were woven into some of the earliest clothing adorned by humankind, and the amino-acid-rich seeds were an essential grain in ancient Chinese diets.  

How Hemp Spread Across The Globe

Hemp spread south from China to the Indian subcontinent, wherein around 2,000 BCE, we first started to see the plant used for its psychotropic and intoxicating effects on a large scale. Eventually, Hindu travelers from these regions would introduce cannabis to Africa. 

The nomadic Scythian peoples who inhabited the Great Steppe would spread hemp cultivation from Asia to Europe. Hemps bast fibers would become instrumental in European textile production, creating the ropes and sails necessary to fuel the Age of Discovery. During this time of European exploration, Spanish conquistadors brought hemp with them to the Americas as they began early colonization efforts. 

History Of Hemp In America

Hemp was essential for early American colonists, and British law actually compelled American settlers to grow the crop. For centuries, hemp remained a critical part of the American economy and was even cultivated by the founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. 

However, things took a turn in the early 20th century. In 1937, America essentially banned cannabis by passing the Marihuana Tax Act, grinding hemp production to a complete halt, despite vocal objections from the American Medical Association and American farmers. 

Hemp remained illegal until 2018, when the most recent iteration of the farm bill federally legalized hemp, allowing for a new generation of farmers to cultivate the crop.

The Future Of Hemp

When we look at cannabis cultivation over the course of all of recorded history, it becomes apparent that the plant’s prohibition only makes up an incredibly small chapter. Today, cannabis is legal for recreational use in 18 states, and according to the Pew Research Center, an overwhelming 91% of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. 

At this point, it seems complete cannabis legalization is an inevitability. Looking at the progress cannabis reform activists have made in the last decade alone, it’s not unreasonable to think that cannabis will be as commonplace as alcohol in the next ten years, with Uber delivering weed and CBD on Amazon. 

What do you think the state of cannabis will look like in 2032? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter.

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