An Introduction to The History and Uses of Hemp

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Hemp has a very long history, thousands of years in fact. It's estimated that humans have been growing and using hemp for over 9000 Years, and it has a pretty good safety record, with not one recorded case of a death due to using hemp.

It's actually quite hard to believe that over the last few decades hemp has been demonised to the point where it can be very difficult to get a licence to grow it in many countries around the world.  This is ironic as it was actually one of the most valuable crops ever produced for many countries.

In the UK hemp was grown from at least Elizabethan times right through to the middle of the 19th century. Some historians argue that without hemp Britain would never have extended its Empire across the world.

Hemp was used for construction of naval vessels and as the British Empire grew, the demand for the plant increased.  During World War II, farmers in the US were forced to grow hemp in order to help with the war effort. “Hemp For Victory” was the slogan and the U.S Government persuaded farmers to grow over a quarter of a million acres of the crops by threatening fines and imprisonment if they refused to cooperate.

It's claimed by some observers but the US would not have won the war against Germany if not for the increase in production of hemp to use for cloth, ropes, oil and many other military applications.

The link is to the original USA “Hemp For Victory” production and is an excellent primer as to why it should perfectly legal to grow hemp.

So where did it all go wrong for hemp?

WW2 american farmers growing hemp
The United States Government encouraged farmers to grow hemp to help win the war.

When the war ended, many industries paid lobbyists large sums of money to persuade as many people as possible that hemp was equivalent to marijuana. The real reason for the lobbying was that it was far too useful. Hemp’s potential was seen as a massive threat by the heads of large industries because no one can  patent hemp!

The Propaganda machine was fired up and within a few years the public perception of hemp was changed drastically. From the nations best friend during in the war, it became an enemy of society and the confusion has remained for a long time.

The result of decades of industry lobbying, propaganda and misinformation is that the whole subject of hemp is now surrounded by controversy and misunderstanding.

So let's quickly clarify one important fact, hemp is not marijuana and will not get you high.

Industrial hemp cannabis sativa contains a very low proportion of THC tetrahydrocannabinol.

THC is the cannabinoid responsible for euphoric feelings and is the reason that cannabis is illegal in most countries across the world.  Due to its low concentration of THC, industrial hemp does not cause people to feel high and some strains of industrial hemp are high in CBD (cannabidiol) which actually has the opposite effect, and can help people to feel relaxed and calm.

So, to the point,  poor hemp has been demonised because of its incorrect association with marijuana, and that is why so difficult to obtain licenses to grow this super useful plant.

Who loses while hemp is illegal? And who wins?

Society actually loses a lot by outlawing hemp. It has thousands of applications and uses and can replace or reduce the use of many harmful alternatives.

Could it actually be that the reason hemp is illegal is not because of fears about addiction or psychoactive effects but because it is so useful and so beneficial in so many different areas and applications?

For an answer to this question we may be wise to simply follow the money, so let's quickly have a look at some of the major industries that would be negatively affected if hemp growing was to be legalised across the world.

Oil, timber, cotton and pharmaceuticals.  If we just look at those four Industries we already have a fairly good idea that some very powerful people may be involved in the blocking of hemp farming. And remember, hemp can be grown almost anywhere, it is drought and disease resistant, requires little  attention as it grows, and can reach full maturity in as little as 12 weeks

Why is the timber industry afraid of Hemp?

Hemp fiber makes excellent paper, it is also an extremely environmentally friendly way to produce the finished product. If we compare hemp fiber to wood pulp for instance, tree plantations that take 20 years to mature only produce 25% of the fiber per acre that a field of hemp will produce in only 12 weeks.  

The first dollar bills were printed on hemp and even the basis of government in the USA, the US Constitution was written on hemp paper.

Why is the cotton industry afraid of hemp?

Hemp has the strongest naturally occurring fibres in plant kingdom. It has traditionally been used for making the sails of ships and also the canvas covers that were used on wagons and tents(the word “canvas” is actually derived from “cannabis”).

The first pair of jeans ever made were made from hemp. The production of cotton uses 16% of the worlds pesticides, pesticides that harm bees, birds and destroy delicate ecosystems with the runoff from the fields. This ultimately affects wild animal fertility and freshwater biodiversity.

Hemp is extremely disease and pesticide resistant and uses  approximately 50% less pesticides per kilo of product produced.

It takes approximately 5000 gallons of water to produce enough cotton to make a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans vs 300 - 500L of water to grow enough hemp to manufacture the same items.

Why is the oil industry afraid of hemp?

Forget fossil fuels! you can run your car on hemp oil! It's a fact! Henry Ford powered over 4000 cars using fuel that was produced from only 10000 acres of hemp.

Ford also created a natural biodegradable plastic for his “cars from the soil” project.  The body of his hemp plastic car was reportedly 10 times stronger than steel.

So, we can build cars from hemp instead of plastics created from fossil fuels and we can also run those cars on ethanol derived from hemp. It's obvious to see why the petrochemical companies may be a little concerned about widespread adoption of hemp cultivation.

Why are pharmaceutical companies afraid of hemp?

Medicine can sometimes kill! It's a fact. Incorrect diagnoses and errors made during prescribing and administering medication are estimated to account for over 400.000 deaths per year in the U.S alone.

Now, what if a solution existed? A plant that has been used as a medicine for over 4000 years by many cultures around the globe? Hemp is that plant, and researchers are only just beginning to rediscover the old remedies and discover new potential uses for hemp derived cannabinoids.

For several decades it has been very difficult for researchers to get a licence to study hemp due to legal restrictions. That is now changing and pharmaceutical companies are very worried. One recent study showed that opioid painkiller use reduced by over 40% in States that had legalized medical marijuana. That equates to money being taken away from the pharmaceutical giants.

So what else can hemp be used for?

So far, we have seen that hemp has a long history of being used by humans. In addition to medicine, clothing, building materials and paper, it also has hundreds of other applications. Below you will find a few benefits listed which add to the argument for  legalizing this remarkable plant:

America's energy requirements could be 100% fulfilled if just 6% of the arable land was planted with hemp.

Hemp produces 1000% more methanol than corn per acre and hemp fuel produces far less toxic combustion byproducts than methanol.

Hemp can be used to manufacture varnishes and paints and to manufacture inks. All such products exhibit extremely low toxicity compare to products made using fossil fuels.

1 acre of hemp can produce over 10 tonnes of biomass in around 100 days. It is the number one biomass crop on the planet.

When hemp is used in construction projects the resulting buildings are low energy, non-toxic,durable and environmentally friendly.

Lime + hemp fibre and water produce a super strength building compound which is stronger and more flexible than concrete. New companies are emerging which specialise in using large 3D printing machines that can print a full house using a specially created liquid fibre material made from hemp. The printed dwellings also have excellent insulating benefits.

Hemp and hemp oil are superfoods! Our bodies cells require Omega 3 6 and 9 to function properly and hemp is extremely rich in these nutrients.

Body products and cosmetics produced with hemp provide natural moisturisation, improve circulation, and nourish the skin.

CBD(cannabidiol) extracted from hemp oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, anti-anxiety  benefits, and is being researched for a wide range of other medical applications.

Hemp oil and hemp seeds are extremely high in plant protein as well as being high in fibre.

Hemp oil can be used to substitute for oil and petrol in every cosmetic product that is manufactured.

The environment would benefit substantially if we switch to fuel derived from hemp , its non-toxic,  and has an extremely low impact on the environment.

Plastics made from hemp are non-toxic and biodegradable.

Both humans and animals can benefit from a diet rich in hemp and feeding products and dietary supplements are now available for horses cows dogs and many other animals.  The waste biomass material can be used as bedding.

The purpose of this article was to provide a brief overview of the history and uses of hemp. I urge the reader to do their own research into this amazing plant. It has been suppressed for too long and humanity needs it to return. It offers sustainable solutions for many of our problems and does so in a way that does not destroy our planet.