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Hemp History

The history of the industrial use of cannabis goes back many years. For example, the Chinese grew hemp 4500 years ago for textile fiber. They also used the seed as food. The spread of cannabis took place from China to the Middle East and the Mediterranean area and, subsequently, to Europe, probably via nomadic peoples.

Starting around the year 600, the Germans, Frankish tribes, and Vikings produced rope, cloth, and garments from hemp fiber. In the Middle Ages, most people wore hemp sandals. Many farmers grew hemp on a small scale.

Since the Middle Ages, the industrial use of hemp has seen a number of peaks:

17th Century

The sails and lines on the first ships that sailed the world’s seas are woven from braided hemp fibers. In the 17th century, hemp is first used on a large scale in industrial products in the Netherlands. During its peak years, the area around the Zaan river produces 60,000 rolls of sailcloth. Workers wear hemp clothing and Rembrandt sketches on paper made from hemp.

During the Dutch Golden Century, the United East India Company (Dutch: VOC) encourage the cultivation of the hemp plant. After wood, hemp is the most important component in shipbuilding.

19th Century

Up until the industrial revolution in the 19thcentury, the production of hemp fiber was difficult and labor-intensive. Once alternative materials such as cotton, jute, wood pulp, and artificial fibers are produced, the importance of hemp cultivation for textile, rope, and paper decreases. Ships powered by engines replace sailing ships. In shipping, iron and steel replace natural fibers.

20th Century

Hemp gains importance again in World War II. This cheap, stiff fiber is quite welcome in the war industry. Hemp fiber is used for parachutes, uniforms, tarps, and tent cloth, among other things. The American government encourages farmers to grow hemp. View this propaganda film from that era immediately after the war, the US forbids cultivation again (they had done this previously as well, in 1937). This happened due to lobbying pressure from the petrochemical industry, the wood trade, and the trade-in cheap textiles.

In Europe, too, hemp is displaced by cheaper fibers such as cotton as soon as the world market once again becomes accessible after WWII. The increasing popularity of synthetic fibers after 1945 ensures hemp’s downfall as a raw material for industrial products in the entire western world for the time being. Growing hemp for fiber and seed production is rehabilitated at the European level in 1989.

Hemp Facts and Statistics

Here is a list of general facts about hemp

• Hemp is thought to be the first domestically-cultivated plant, with evidence of hemp fabric dating to 8,000 years ago found in Turkey (former-day Mesopotamia). Other evidence suggests cultivation further back by two or more thousands of years.

• The word hemp has been used in the past in Europe to describe other fiber plants, including sisal and jute.

• Beer hops (Humulus genus) are a close cousin of genus Cannabis, both of which fall under the family Cannabaceae.

• Hemp was not always treated as the same as marijuana by the U.S. government.

• The word “marihuana” (now marijuana) was coined in the 1890s, but not used until the 1930s by the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics (replaced by the DEA) to refer to all forms of cannabis.

• According to the documentary “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High” (available at YouTube), the first marijuana law in the United States was enacted in 1619, in Jamestown Colony, Virginia, and actually required farmers to grow hemp. Benjamin Franklin used hemp in his paper mill – one of the country’s first – and the first two copies of the Declaration of Independence were supposedly written on hemp paper.

• In parts of the Americas, hemp was legal tender and could be used to pay taxes.

• Hemp paper is stronger than wood-based paper and can withstand more folding. In general, hemp has the strongest natural fiber of any source.

• Hemp paper hundreds of years old (found in museums) has not yellowed and is thus a high-quality paper of archival quality.

• Hemp can grow nearly anywhere in the world, in many types of soil — even in short growing seasons or in dry regions — and helps purify soil as well as kills some types of weeds

• Hemp can grow without pesticides. The crop has also killed some weeds, purifies soil, and is suitable for rotation use, due not only to its short harvest cycle (120 days).

• Hemp is a high-yield crop. One acre of hemp produces twice as much oil as one acre of peanuts, and nearly four times as much fiber pulp (for paper) as an acre of trees.

• Hemp paper is naturally acid-free and does not yellow as quickly as tree pulp-based paper.

• Hemp has the strongest (and longest) plant fiber in the world, resistant to rot and abrasion, and was in long use before DuPont patented nylon in 1937. It was used for ship rigging, military uniforms, parachute webbing, baggage, and more.

• Because of its strength, hemp fiber can be used for composite materials that could be used to make anything from skateboard decks to car and stealth fighter bodies.

• A hemp composite material (with limestone and water) forms a type of concrete (hempcrete) that can be used for home building, at 1/9th the weight. It also acts as insulation and repels some vermin.

• Levi jeans were originally made from hemp sailcloth (and rivets), for gold miners in California, who would fill their pockets with gold.

• By the 1800s, the state of Kentucky produced about half of the industrial hemp in the U.S. The first hemp crop there was planted in Boyle County in 1775.

• Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, created a plastic car in 1941 which ran on hemp and other plant-based fuels, and whose fenders were made of hemp and other materials. Ford had a plan to “grow automobiles from the soil.” (Note: a company in France is experimenting with a similar vehicle in the current day.)

• Despite the active Marijuana Tax Act and the official federal government stance on hemp and marijuana, the U.S. Army and the Dept of Agriculture jointly produced a 1942 film, “Hemp for Victory,” encouraging farmers to grow hemp for the country’s effort in World War II — particularly for textiles and rope, imports of which had been cut off by war. Over 100,000 acres of hemp were growing in the U.S., but all related permits were canceled when WW II ended.

Source: Online Masters In Public Health

Hemp FAQs

Is industrial hemp the same as marijuana?

No. Even though they are both Cannabis sativa L., Industrial hemp is the non-psychoactive, low-THC, oilseed, and fiber varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp has absolutely no use as a recreational drug.

Where in the world is industrial hemp grown?
Hemp is grown in … Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine.

Is hemp legal to grow in the United States?

YES! Thanks to the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act (Farm Bill) hemp is non longer a controlled substance. However, hemp will still be regulated and can only be grown with a permit. Each state will have to submit their program to USDA for approval or have passed legislation to remove hemp from the state-controlled substances act and allow for application through the USDA’s program,

How can hemp be used as a food?
Hemp seed is a highly nutritious source of protein and essential fatty oils. Many populations have grown hemp for its seed — most of them eat it as `gruel’ which is a lot like oatmeal. The leaves can be used as roughage. Hemp seeds do not contain any THC and they do not get you `high.’

Hemp seed protein closely resembles protein as it is found in the human blood. It is fantastically easy to digest, and many patients who have trouble digesting food are given hemp seed by their doctors. Hemp seed was once called `edestine’ and was used by scientists as the model for vegetable protein.

Hemp seed oil provides the human body with essential fatty acids. Hemp seed is the only seed that contains these oils with almost no saturated fat. As a supplement to the diet, these oils can reduce the risk of heart disease. It is because of these oils that birds will live much longer if they eat hemp seed.

With hemp seed, a vegan or vegetarian can survive and eat virtually no saturated fats. One handful of hemp seeds per day will supply adequate protein and essential oils for an adult.

What are the benefits of hemp compared to other food crops?
Hemp requires little fertilizer and grows well almost everywhere. It also resists pests, so it uses little pesticides. Hemp puts down deep roots, which is good for the soil, and when the leaves drop off the hemp plant, minerals and nitrogen are returned to the soil. Hemp has been grown on the same soil for twenty years in a row without any noticeable depletion of the soil.

Using less fertilizer and agricultural chemicals is good for two reasons. First, it costs less and requires less effort. Second, many agricultural chemicals are dangerous and contaminate the environment — the less we have to use, the better.

Hemp has been used to feed many populations in times of famine. Unfortunately, because of various political factors, starving people in today’s underdeveloped countries are not taking advantage of this crop.

How can hemp be used for cloth?
The stalk of the hemp plant has two parts, called the bast and the hurd. The fiber (bast) of the hemp plant can be woven into almost any kind of cloth. It is very durable. In fact, the first Levi’s blue jeans were made out of hemp for just this reason. Compared to all the other natural fibers available, hemp is more suitable for a large number of applications.

Here is how hemp is harvested for fiber: A field of closely spaced hemp is allowed to grow until the leaves fall off. The hemp is then cut down and it lies in the field for some time washed by the rain. It is turned over once to expose both sides of the stalk evenly. During this time, the hurd softens up and many minerals are returned to the soil. This is called `retting,’ and after this step is complete, the stalks are brought to a machine that separates the bast and the hurd. We are lucky to have machines today — men used to do this last part by hand with hours of back-breaking labor.

Why is it better than cotton?
The cloth that hemp makes may be a little less soft than cotton, (though there are also special kinds of hemp or ways to grow or treat hemp, that can produce a soft cloth) but it is much stronger and longer-lasting. (It does not stretch out.) Environmentally, hemp is a better crop to grow than cotton, especially the way cotton is grown nowadays. In the United States, the cotton crop uses half of the total pesticides. (Yes, you heard right, one-half of the pesticides used in the entire U.S. are used on cotton.) Cotton is a soil damaging crop and needs a lot of fertilizer.

How can hemp be used to make paper?
Both the fiber (bast) and pulp (hurd) of the hemp plant can be used to make paper. Fiber paper was the first kind of paper, and the first batch was made out of hemp in ancient China. Fiber paper is thin, tough, brittle, and a bit rough. Pulp paper is not as strong as fiber paper, but it is easier to make, softer, thicker, and preferable for most everyday purposes. The paper we use most today is a `chemical pulp’ paper made from trees. Hemp pulp paper can be made without chemicals from the hemp hurd. Most hemp paper made today uses the entire hemp stalk, bast and hurd. High-strength fiber paper can be made from the hemp baste, also without chemicals.

The problem with today’s paper is that so many chemicals are used to make it. High-strength acids are needed to make quality (smooth, strong, and white) paper out of trees. These acids produce chemicals that are very dangerous to the environment. Paper companies do their best to clean these chemicals up (we hope.) Hemp offers us an opportunity to make affordable and environmentally safe paper for all of our needs since it does not need much chemical treatment. It is up to consumers, though, to make the right choice — these dangerous chemicals can also be used on hemp to make a slightly more attractive product. Instead of buying the whiter, brighter role of toilet paper, we will need to think about what we are doing to the planet.

Because of the chemicals in today’s paper, it will turn yellow and fall apart as acids eat away at the pulp. This takes several decades, but because of this publishers, libraries and archives have to order specially processed acid-free paper, which is much more expensive, in order to keep records. Paper made naturally from hemp is acid-free and will last for centuries.

How can hemp be used to make bio-fuel?
The United States government has developed a way to make this automobile fuel additive from cellulosic biomass. Hemp is an excellent source of high-quality cellulosic biomass. One other way to use hemp as fuel is to use the oil from the hemp seed — some diesel engines can run on pure pressed hemp seed oil. However, the oil is more useful for other purposes, even if we could produce and press enough hemp seed to power many millions of cars.

Why is it better than petroleum?
Biomass fuels are clean and virtually free from metals and sulfur, so they do not cause nearly as much air pollution as fossil fuels. Even more importantly, burning biomass fuels does not increase the total amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. When petroleum products are burned, carbon that has been stored underground for millions of years is added to the air; this may contribute to global warming through the `Greenhouse Effect’, (a popular theory that says that certain gases will act like a wool blanket over the entire Earth, preventing heat from escaping into space.) In order to make biomass fuels, this carbon dioxide has to be taken out of the air to begin with — when they are burned it is just being put back where it started.

Another advantage over fossil fuels is that biomass fuels can be made right here in the United States, instead of buying them from other countries. Instead of paying oil drillers, super-tanker captains, and soldiers to get our fuel to us, we could pay local farmers and delivery drivers instead. Of course, it is possible to chop down trees and use them as biomass. This would not be as beneficial to the environment as using hemp, especially since trees that are cut down for burning are `whole tree harvested.’ This means the entire tree is ripped up and burned, not just the wood. Since most of the minerals which trees use are in the leaves, this practice could ruin the soil where the trees are grown. In several places in the United States, power companies are starting to do this — burning the trees in order to produce electricity, because that is cheaper than using coal. They should be using hemp, like researchers in Australia started doing a few years ago. (Besides, hemp provides a higher quality and quantity of biomass than trees do.)

What other uses for hemp are there?
One of the newest uses of hemp is in construction materials. Hemp can be used in the manufacture of `press board’ or `composite board.’ This involves gluing fibrous hemp stalks together under pressure to produce a board that is many times more elastic and durable than hardwood. Because hemp produces a long, tough fiber it is the perfect source for press-board. Another interesting application of hemp in industry is making plastic. Many plastics can be made from the high-cellulose hemp hurd. The hemp seed oil has a multitude of uses in products such as varnishes and lubricants.

Using hemp to build is by no means a new idea. French archeologists have discovered bridges built with a process that mineralizes hemp stalks into a long-lasting cement. The process involves no synthetic chemicals and produces a material that works as a filler in building construction. Called Isochanvre, it is gaining popularity in France. Isochanvre can be used as drywall, insulates against heat and noise, and is very long-lasting.

`Bio-plastics’ are not a new idea, either — way back in the 1930’s Henry Ford had already made a whole car body out of them — but the processes for making them do need more research and development. Bio-plastics can be made without much pollution. Unfortunately, companies are not likely to explore bio-plastics if they have to either import the raw materials or break the law. (Not to mention compete with the already established petrochemical products.)

Hemp Nutrition

Hemp can feed the citizens of the Earth, provide critical components to human health, and revitalize our bodies! And if that’s not enough to convince you, check this fact: Of the 3 million-plus edible plants that grow on Earth, no other single plant source can compare with the nutritional value of hemp seeds.

Typical nutritional analysis of shelled hempseed
Calories/100 g – 567
Protein (Nx5.46) – 30.6%
Fat – 47.2%
Saturated fat – 5.2%
Monounsaturated fat – 5.8%
Polyunsaturated fat – 36.2%
Carbohydrate – 10.9%
Oleic 18:1 (Omega-9) – 5.8%
Linoleic 18:2 (Omega-6) – 27.56%
Linolenic 18:3 (Omega-3) – 8.68%
Cholesterol – 0.0%
Total dietary fiber – 6.0%
Vitamin A (B-Carotene) – 4 IU/100 g
Thiamine (Vit B1) – 1.38 mg/100 g
Riboflavin (Vit B2) – 0.33 mg/100 g
Vitamin B6 – 0.12 mg/100 g
Vitamin C – 1.0 mg/100 g
Vitamin D – 2277.5 IU/100 g
Vitamin E (dl-A-Tocopherol) – 8.96 IU/100 g
Sodium – 9.0 mg/100 g
Calcium – 74.0 mg/100 g
Iron – 4.7 mg/100 g

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