Cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of the 113 potentially beneficial plant-based cannabinoids found in hemp plants. Those investigating the numerous potential benefits of CBD soon learn that most CBD products available to the average consumer are derived from the aerial parts of industrial hemp. Although hemp is a member of the plant species, Cannabis sativa L., hemp oil products do not cause intoxication.
After decades of prohibition, the federal government recently lifted the restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp. Thanks to the Agricultural Act of 2018, it is once again legal to grow hemp crops in all 50 states. That’s a significant step in the right direction; hemp has prevailed throughout history as an extraordinarily versatile crop.
Ancient Civilizations Thrived on Hemp Cultivation
As one of the earliest domesticated crops, hemp has been used throughout the ages as a source of food, textiles, and herbal medicine. While ancient Chinese Emperor Shen Nung1 is credited for teaching his people to cultivate hemp for cloth in the 28th century BC, archaeologists found remnants of hemp cloth in Mesopotamia (now Iran and Iraq) that dated back to 8,000 BC. It is commonly believed that hemp arrived in Europe in 1,200 BC, and quickly spread throughout the ancient civilizations.
Our ancient ancestors found multiple uses for every part of the plant, from the seeds to the roots. Just a few of the many significant ways hemp was used throughout ancient history included:
- A food source – highly nutritious hemp seeds were eaten cooked, raw, ground into flour, and were pressed for oil
- Weaving fabric – created from the strong fibers of the plant, hemp-derived cloth is credited for ending the need to wear animal skins as clothing
- Creating Paper – crushed hemp fibers were first used for paper by the ancient Chinese as a cost-effective alternative to writing on silk
- Twisting or braiding for rope – hemp rope and twine are resistant to mold and the potentially damaging effects of seawater
- As herbal medicine – ancient China is also credited as the first culture to recognize the potential health benefits of hemp. First used for pain relief in 2737 BC, through the ages, and across multiple cultures, hemp has been used to alleviate numerous health concerns.
Hemp Was Once a Required Crop
It was the Puritans who first brought hemp seeds to colonial America. Hemp was used to create the sails, ropes, and caulk used on British sailing vessels. Due to the high demand for hemp, British Colonies were required to grow hemp crops to create products intended for British consumption.
Early American Presidents Washington and Jefferson were both known to have grown hemp on their land. In Colonial America hemp was still a required crop, and at least three colonies used hemp as a form of legal tender. Anyone who did not grow hemp on their land was fined.
Hemp cultivation prospered until the mid-1930s. Hemp was so widely used in the US, that some historians believe competing industries that considered hemp a threat to their livelihood (paper, pesticides, and oil) began a campaign to directly associate industrial hemp with its cannabis cousin, marijuana.
The Taxation and Criminalization of Industrial Hemp
When the Marijuana Tax Act was signed to law in 1937 to minimize marijuana use, the government also imposed heavy licensing restrictions and hefty taxes on hemp farmers, raising the cost of cultivating industrial hemp. The resulting financial burdens made hemp farming significantly less profitable.
While hemp farming fell out of favor during the 1930s, at that time hemp and marijuana were still recognized as individual plants with significantly different properties. That changed with the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, which specified cannabis, rather than marijuana, as a schedule one drug. With the reclassification, hemp could no longer be grown in the US without a permit from the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency). Since that time, industries relying on industrial hemp were forced to use imported hemp.
The Revival of a Renewable Resource
Not only is hemp a versatile commodity, but hemp crops are also an ecologically-friendly, renewable resource. This hearty plant grows up to 16 feet in height within a few months in a variety of climates. A single crop can yield up to 8 tons of dry stalks per acre. These fast-growing plants are even used to clean contaminated soil. Just a few of the many beneficial products that are currently created with industrial hemp include:
Tree-Free Hemp Paper
While today hemp is used primarily for specialty paper, a single acre of industrial hemp produces as much paper as up to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year span. While it can take 20-80 years to grow a tree, hemp plants mature within four months. Hemp paper is more durable than the paper made with wood pulp and does not turn yellow or crack with age. Using more domestic hemp for paper production could significantly reduce deforestation. The fibers used in hemp paper can also be used to create fiberboard and insulation.
Nutritious Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are a significant source of protein, vitamin E, minerals, and essential fatty acids. A single serving of hemp seeds (three Tbs) contains 11 grams of proteins and will add a significant amount of soluble and insoluble fiber to your diet. Hemp seeds can also be used to create hemp flour and hemp milk. Hemp seed oil can be used for cooking and as an ingredient in natural skin care products. It’s important to remember that CBD is extracted from the stalks and stems of the plant, not the seeds. Hemp seed oil does not contain CBD.
Hypoallergenic Hemp Fabrics
While many people are familiar with the use of strong, durable hemp fibers for the creation of rope, twine, and burlap, far fewer realize that hemp fibers can be used to create soft, durable, comfortable fashions that are more absorbent than cotton. While cotton crops typically require the use of a significant amount of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, hemp crops do not. Fabrics made from hemp are breathable, non-irritating, hypoallergenic, and have the look of classic linen that softens with wear.
Biodegradable Hemp Plastics
Unlike petroleum-based plastics, hemp plastics are biodegradable. While it can take 1,000 years for common plastic to decompose in landfills, hemp bioplastics can decompose within five years. Nearly anything that can be made with petroleum-based plastic can be made from hemp. For now, most commonly used hemp bioplastics are plastics that are reinforced with hemp, which cuts back on the use of petroleum, but the use of hemp in place of nonrenewable resources is encouraging. Hemp bioplastic is shown to be 2.5 times stronger than polypropylene plastic. Hemp can also be used in the production of biofuels and ethanol.
Industrial Hemp Cultivation on American Soil
While hemp has been grown in a significant number of states for research and pilot programs since the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, it was the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized the cultivation of hemp crops in all 50 states. As the production of domestic hemp increases, product manufacturers will no longer have to rely on imported crops, potentially providing substantial economic benefit for our country.
Hemp is still used in many industries. Today, we better understand what our ancestors discovered long ago. We know why hemp fibers are strong, we recognize the specific nutrients in hemp seeds and have identified the elements that give hemp oil the potential to influence our health.
To learn more about this fascinating communication system, your endocannabinoid system, and the many potential health and wellness benefits of hemp CBD, download The Ultimate CBD User Guide at CBDistillery. While there, consider taking a look at our selection of quality, fairly priced hemp oil supplements. All CBDistillery products are grown from non-GMO hemp seeds using organic farming methods and third-party verified for quality, purity, and potency.
The Thistle. (2000, September). Volume 13, Number 2