The hemp plant has been around since the dawn of time, earliest traces date all the way back to 8,000 BCE.1 So why is it only relatively recently making headlines? Understanding the history of hemp will help you form your own opinions about the plant.
For reference please note that hemp (non-psychoactive) and marijuana (psychoactive) are different plants, but both are in the cannabis family. Although they are different, in some points in history, they have been lumped together.
Hemp usage dates back long before the common era. Artifacts show it was used as rope and clothing. Ancient jars full of hemp seeds and leaves have also been found. It was legally required to be grown in several early American colonies, and King Henry VIII fined English farmers if they refused to grow it.
Cannabis was mentioned in the book Provings of Cannabis Indica in 18592 by Dr. O’Shaughnessy.
In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug act was passed by US congress. This act required accurate labeling of various pharmaceuticals, including those made with hemp or cannabis.
During this time the Mexican Revolution caused an influx of immigration from Mexico. This is when people started calling cannabis ‘marijuana’, because Mexican immigrants used it for recreation, and that’s the word they used.
In 1916 the USDA published a study showing that hemp can produce 4 times more paper per acre than trees.3
During the 1920’s, alcohol was prohibited, making it very difficult and expensive to obtain. For many looking to relax after a long work day, marijuana was an easier, more affordable alternative.
In 1925, the International Opium Convention banned the export “Indian Hemp Hashish” during their meetings regarding opium.4 Hashish is a highly concentrated marijuana product containing high levels of THC. This convention did not ban industrial, or European hemp fibers, which do not contain enough THC to be psychoactive or to be considered marijuana.
In 1930 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was created to control recreational drug use. The FBN was lead by Harry J. Anslinger, who made many unfounded claims about the effects of cannabis.
The Marijuana Tax Act placed a huge tax on all cannabis sales in 1937. Dr. William C. Woodward of Michigan testified against it stating, “…The burden of this bill is placed heavily on the doctors and pharmacists of this country”5
The Marijuana Tax Act passed, despite opposition from doctors. The act made it illegal to purchase any kind of cannabis (hemp or marijuana) without being registered with the IRS and paying a high tax on it.
There are many claims that this tax act was supported by newspaper conglomerate William Hearst, and that he saw hemp as a threat to paper. Hearst had very large investments in paper and lumber during this time, and his newspaper was unfortunately known for sensationalism.
In 1942 the promotional wartime film Hemp for Victory was released by the US Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to grow as much hemp as possible to support war efforts. This promotion temporarily paused the Marijuana Tax Act.
The LaGuardia Committee released the first publication on the effects of marijuana in 1944, as prepared by the New York Academy of Medicine. The report concluded, “The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marijuana smoking in New York City is unfounded.”6
The report concluded with 13 points basically stating that the claims of crime and violence surrounding the plant were not true. Anslinger didn’t agree with their findings, and stated that anyone studying the plant would need personal permission from himself.
With wartime efforts to produce as much hemp as possible now over, the market for hemp began to decline due to strict regulations. During this time efforts to squash out any kind of cannabis, be it hemp or marijuana, was back in effect.
In 1957 the last crop of hemp was harvested in the United States by the Matt Rens Hemp Company.7
Throughout the 60s marijuana use became highly prevalent in the counterculture movement. Unfortunately, the rise of marijuana usage did not help educate the public about the difference between hemp and marijuana.
In 1969 Leary v. United States overturned the Marijuana Tax Act under the logic that the act required self incrimination. This ruling brought forth the Controlled Substances act, which rolled out in the 70’s.8
The Controlled Substances Act places all cannabis, including hemp, in the same drug category. Before this act passed, hemp and marijuana were considered different from one another, unfortunately, this act legally removed that distinction.
A study from 1988 discovered cannabinoid receptors in the brain of a rat.9 This study used THC, CBD, and CBG to demonstrate their findings. Results were conclusive, “The criteria for a high affinity, stereoselective, pharmacologically distinct cannabinoid receptor in brain tissue have been fulfilled.”
In 1992 anandamide, which is part of the endocannabinoid system, was discovered in humans.10 Anandamide is a lipid that carries messages to CB1 & CB2 receptors. This discovery created a snowball effect in which many other components of the endocannabinoid system were discovered.11
Hemp food and skin care products became protected by the Ninth Circuit Court in the 2004 lawsuit Hemp Industries Association v. Drug Enforcement Administration.12 Manufacturers of these products had been carrying out business as usual until 2001, when the DEA announced they were banning these products. In the end, the courts sided with the Hemp Industries Association, and business continued as usual.
In 2007, the first farmers in 50 years were granted a licence to grow hemp in North Dakota.13 Hemp growth in North Dakota has continued to flourish since then.
2010 – Today
Research on cannabidiol continues to roll out. In 2010, 80 studies were published to the US National Library of Medicine. Over 300 studies were published in the year 2018 alone. Search results on pubmed.gov for “cannabidiol” now total over 2,200.
President Barack Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 which removed federal restrictions on growing industrial hemp so it can be researched.14 It also allows states to create their own research programs for studying the benefits of hemp cultivation.
In 2015 the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 was introduced to the Senate, but hasn’t moved past introduction.15 A similar act, The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 also has been introduced to the Senate, and has yet to move forward.16
In 2016 the USDA granted select hemp farms in Colorado the first USDA Organic certification for hemp, only to redact it. The USDA also released Instruction: Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp Production, this Instruction outlines the USDA’s policy on certifying hemp as organic.17
Hemp’s future is looking bright. The 2018 Farm Bill has been passed through the house and senate, and has been signed by the President.18
The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp and hemp extracts, better known as CBD oil, federally legal on December 20th, 2018.
The Future of Hemp
We believe hemp CBD oil is on it’s way to becoming a household product that can be found alongside similar plant extracts such as turmeric and moringa. Hemp grows very easily, so we hope home gardeners will find it to be a wonderful addition to their flora. The FDA currently only approves of Epidolex, we hope in the future they will approve of all natural hemp CBD oil for medical applications as well.
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