Hemp History

10,000 Years & Still Making History


Introducing Hemp To The World
          Humans emerged some 250,000 years ago. So, in comparison, agriculture is a fairly recent concept as it began only a little over 10,000 years ago. Traveling back to the end of the first ice age, archaeological studies have concluded that the source plant for the CBD compound, Cannabis Sativa, was most likely one of the first crops planted by ancient man. Carl Sagan* seemed to think that Hemp may have actually been the world’s first agricultural crop, and led to the development of the civilized world.

         Moving forward in time to temperate climates such as Asia — Cannabis Sativa was pre-adapted to flourish in the fertilized soils around manʼs early settlements and quickly led to domestication of the plant. Hemp was harvested by the Chinese 8,500 years ago (Schultes and Hofmann 1980). Throughout history, Cannabis Sativa has been a versatile fiber source used for paper and cloth. It was also used for medicinal applications, and to a limited extent, utilized as an oilseed crop. Seeds and Cannabis oil were found to have been a food source in China as early as 6,000 BCE. Two thousand years later, in 4,000 BCE, evidence of textiles made from Hemp (Cannabis) was found in both China and Turkestan. This ancient source of textile fiber was introduced to western Asia and Egypt, and was to show up in Northern Europe somewhere between 1000 BCE and 2000 BCE.

         Around that same time, Bhang (dried Cannabis leaves, seeds and stems) is talked about in the Hindu sacred text Atharvaveda (Science of Charms) as “Sacred Grass”, which is a sacred plant of India. It was used as medicine and in Shiva rituals. Around 100 BCE, Hemp rope appeared in Greece, Hemp paper is invented in China, and Cannabis psychotropic properties were included in a botanical, chemical and pharmacological reference list that was believed to be put together by a Chinese man named Pen Ts’ao Ching called “The Herbal”. By 900 to 1,000, techniques for making paper from Hemp were being learned by the Arabs and the Italians were using ropes made of Hemp on their sailing ships. Hemp rope and seeds were transported to Iceland by 850 by the Vikings. There was widespread Hemp agriculture happening in Europe in 500. Hemp was now known around the world.

         In 1533, Englandʼs King Henry VIII fined farmers if they did not raise Sativa for industrial use. Almost one hundred years later, The New World settlers in Jamestown, Virginia began growing Hemp plants. Once the plant proved its usefulness, NOT growing Hemp in Virginia became illegal. By 1545, Hemp was in South America, Chile, and North America. China’s Li Shih-Chen writes of the antibiotic and vomit preventing effects of Marijuana in 1578. In 1764 Medical Hemp appears in The New England Dispensatory. By the 1800ʼs, Cannabis plantations flourished in Mississippi, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Nebraska, New York, and Kentucky due to the strong demand for sailcloth and rigging ropes (Ehrensing 1998). In 1896, a man named Rudolph Diesel produced an engine that he planned to run off of vegetable and seed oils, especially Hemp. Hemp is superior to petroleum. This would become a threat to petroleum companies in the foreseeable future.

         Besides being used as fiber and paper, Hemp was being used as a drug. It was found in pharmacies and in the general store. Before aspirin was discovered, Cannabis tincture was the base for almost all patented medicine. Cannabis was even added to the list of The U.S. Pharmacopeia, a well known and respected collection of medicines and dietary supplements. This freedom of use lasted until the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Because of the revolution, there were a lot of Mexican immigrants coming to America who introduced recreational use of Marijuana (Spanish slang for Cannabis) instead of it being used in a medicinal way. Perhaps, because of this, in 1914, The United Statesʼ Harrison Act stated that the use of Marijuana was a crime. However, in 1919, when the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture, sale, or distribution of alcohol the officials suggested that Marijuana was an attractive alternative. This led to increased use of Marijuana in a recreational sense. Legal, not legal — no wonder the country was somewhat confused.

Throughout The 1900’s, American Agriculture Versus Industry

          When the U.S. congress ended alcohol prohibition in 1933, the prohibition of Marijuana was soon to follow. Now, the American public needed to be convinced that Hemp was the Devilʼs drug. So, in 1936, the propaganda film Reefer Madness* was made to cause American youth to be frightened by Cannabis. And, many other films followed with similar movie propaganda. In response to Congress passing the Marijuana Tax Act to criminalize Cannabis, Dr. William C. Woodward, both a physician and an attorney for the AMA, testified to Congress, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that Marijuana is a dangerous drug” and warned that a prohibition “loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis.” Congress ignored his comments, more than likely because of the monetary and political influence of William Randolph Hearst* and other powerful men of that time. A part of the testimony for Congress to pass the 1937 act had been influenced from articles in newspapers owned by Mr. Hearst. He had money interests in the timber industry and logging companies. Hearst manufactured his cheap, yellowing tree-pulp newsprint that had replaced quality Hemp paper in the late 19th century. Hearstʼs paper production involved Dupont’s chemical-drenched tree pulp paper. Hearst Newspapers were known for their sensationalist stories. Hearst hated many; poor people, black people, chinese, hindus, and all other minorities. Most of all, he hated Mexicans. Pancho Villa’s troops smoked Cannabis and had reclaimed some 800,000 acres of prime timberland from Hearst in the name of the Mexican peasants. Hearst had planned to make a huge amount of money by deforesting their vast timber holdings. He feared his paper could possibly be replaced by low-cost, high quality paper made from Hemp. Hearst supported prohibitions of any kind — he insisted that Cannabis be included in all anti-narcotics bills. Cannabis wasn’t a narcotic, but that didnʼt matter. His thoughts were to have Cannabis in any form to be completely removed from society, doctors, or industry. It was threatening his profits.

         Dupont* was against Hemp for a similar reason. Hemp fiber was a far superior fiber to the new nylon fiber Dupont was producing. Hemp fiber was also less costly to produce than nylon fiber; therefore, lowering nylon fiberʼs value. Both Dupont and Hearst would incur large financial losses if Hemp was not kept illegal. They decided to stop this threat by getting Hemp to be completely outlawed. Tabloid sensationalism (via Hearst’s newspapers) convinced members of Congress and the public of the dangers of Hemp using the relatively new word “Marijuana”. At this point Cannabis – Hemp and Marijuana – was successfully 100% illegal and NO further medical studies were done for nearly 30 years world wide due to America’s demonization of this drug.

*Reefer Madness

         Essentially, the entire group of elites and special interest groups of that time — dominated by Dupont — was an impressive group of wealthy business cronies making huge profits. As a group, they were systematically taking over fuel and fossil fuel products, a range of chemicals, food production, fiber, and the government. This was so that they could make sure that no more commercial Hemp was ever grown in the United States to compete with their many chemical based products. Dupont was developing cellophane, nylon, and dacron from fossil fuels and had patents on many synthetics — becoming a leader in the development of paint, rayon, synthetic rubber, plastics, chemicals, photographic film, insecticides and agricultural chemicals. In 1937, Dupont filed its patent on nylon. Nylon is a synthetic fiber that took over many of the textile and cordage markets that would have gone to Hemp. At that time, more than half the American cars were built by GM, guaranteeing Dupont an ongoing outlet for his paints, varnishes, plastics, and rubber — all which could have been made from Hemp. Along those lines of monopoly, all GM cars would be designed to use tetra-ethyl leaded fuel, which contained additives that Dupont manufactured. Competition from Hemp had been successfully eliminated until World War II.

  • HempWarPoster
  • Henry Ford's Hemp Car Poster

         When World War II began in 1939, U.S. scientists from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIAʼs wartime predecessor, started to develop a chemical substance that could break down the psychological defenses of enemy spies and POWs. The OSS scientists experimented with various compounds and ultimately selected a potent extract of Marijuana as the best “truth serum.” The Cannabis mixture was given the code name TD, meaning Truth Drug. When injected into food or cigarettes, TD helped relax the reticence of uncooperative interrogation subjects. In a big way, Hemp came into focus during World War II because of need. Other industrial fibers, often imported from overseas, were in short supply and had supplies of Filipino Hemp and Indian jute had been cut off by Japan. Our bulk war supplies were dwindling. Cannabis was necessary for rope for naval towlines, cordage, webbing for parachutes, thread for shoes and clothing for our soldiers. Why was Hemp chosen over synthetics? Hemp grows quickly (ready to harvest in 4 months). Not only is Hemp exponentially durable, with fibers that are longer and stronger and more porous and mildew-resistant than cotton, it can be grown in a range of soils and requires few pesticides. It can typically yield 3-8 dry-fiber tons per acre. Thatʼs four times what the average forest can turn around. Because fibers were so desperately in such short supply during World War II, the U.S. government temporarily re-legalized Hemp cultivation so American farmers could grow it for the war effort. The government allowed more than 350,000 acres (550 square miles) of Hemp to be cultivated during World War II. In an effort to encourage farmers to grow Industrial Hemp for the War effort, and prove their patriotism, a film was made and circulated, called “Hemp For Victory”.

         Before 1989, this Hemp for Victory film was relatively unknown. The United States government denied ever having made such a film. The United States Department of Agriculture library and the Library of Congress told all interested parties that no such movie was made by the USDA or any branch of the US government. Two VHS copies were recovered and donated to the Library of Congress on 19 May 1989 by Maria Farrow, Carl Packard, and Jack Herer. The only known copy in 1976 was a 3/4″ broadcast quality copy of the film that was originally obtained by William Conde in 1976 from a reporter for the Miami Herald and the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church of Jamaica. It was given in trust that it would be made available to as many as possible. It was put into the hands of Jack Herer by William Conde during the 1984 OMI (Oregon Marijuana Initiative). The film, 20 years later, is now available. As it was made by the US Government, it is public domain and is freely available.

         As we mentioned, possessing and transferring weed was first criminalized in 1937. And even though Cannabidiol (CBD) doesnʼt get people “high”, its relation to Marijuana has kept it illegal. After World War II, competition from synthetic fibers, the “Marihuana Tax Act”, and increasing public anti-drug sentiment resulted in fewer and fewer acres of Hemp being planted, and none at all after 1958.

Traveling Toward the Future

         The American Office of National Drug Control Policy commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a comprehensive study of the medical effectiveness of Cannabis therapeutics in 1997. The IOM concluded that Cannabis is a safe and beneficial medicine. They went on to say that patients should have access, and the government should expand research and development on this drug. The federal government totally ignored their findings and refused to enact these recommendations. As a matter of fact, the United States government did the opposite. President Clinton continued the Regan and Bush “war on drugs” era, and campaigned to arrest and prosecute medical Cannabis patients and providers in California and elsewhere. By 1999, North Dakota and Hawaii were not successful in the attempt to legalize Hemp farming. The U.S. DEA did reclassify dronabinol (an alternative medicine with quite a few side effects not found in CBD) as a schedule III drug, making the medication easier to prescribe while Marijuana itself continues to be listed Schedule I as having “no accepted medical use.” Under President G.W. Bush (2001-2009) the American federal government intensified its “war on drugs” targeting both patients and doctors across the state of California.

         That was Americaʼs stance until 2009 when President Obama made progress toward stopping the extremely unsuccessful 20-year “war on drugs” initiated during the Regan administration. He said that individual drug use was a public health issue, and it should be treated that way. Under his guidance, the United Statesʼ Justice Department announced that federal prosecutors will no longer pursue medical Marijuana users and distributors who comply with state laws. 2010 Proposition 19 to legalize Marijuana in California was placed back on the ballet. However, just weeks before the November California election on Prop. 19, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that federal authorities would continue to enforce U.S. laws that declare the drug as illegal, even if voters approve the initiative, saying “we will vigorously enforce the (Controlled Substances Act) against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute Marijuana for recreational use.” Sadly, California Proposition 19 was narrowly defeated by 53.6% of the vote. This would have legalized various Marijuana-related activities in California.

         Two years later, the States of Colorado and Washington legalized Marijuana and Cannabis for recreational use; promises were made that these new initiatives will have no impact on medical Marijuana in those states. 2014 brings “Cannabis City”, Seattle’s very first legal Marijuana shop for medical purchases, as well as recreational use. The world is watching and gets serious about the legalization of Marijuana. Could this have been an end to the American “drug war”? Deb Green (a 65-year old marathon-running grandmother from Ballard) makes the first purchase and has become part of the collection of the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, Washington. The ball was rolling. The States of Alaska and Oregon legalized Marijuana/Cannabis for recreational use. California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Massachusetts all begin to draft legislation for the legalization of Marijuana/Cannabis.

The only industrialized nation that doesn’t allow for the production of industrial Hemp is America. However, changes are continuing to develop:

         Thirty-two (32) states have defined Industrial Hemp as distinct and removed barriers to its production. These states will be able to take immediate advantage of the industrial Hemp research and pilot program provision, Section 7606 of the Farm Bill:  Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Virginia. Seven states (Hawaii, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon and Tennessee) in 2015 had Hemp research crops in accordance with section 7606 of the Farm Bill and state law. Five states (Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont) in 2015 licensed or registered farmers to grow Hemp under state law.

         At the time of this writing, Americaʼs Hemp laws are still a work in progress. Letʼs hope that progress is forward toward the legalization of an amazing and natural product that offers an abundance of healthy medicines and keeps research active and growing. We have only begun to discover the gifts Hemp has to offer.


*Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences. Excerpt from Wikipedia.

*Refer Madness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbjHOBJzhb0

*William Randolph Hearst …An American newspaper publisher who built the nation’s largest newspaper chain and whose flamboyant methods of yellow journalism influenced the nation’s popular media by emphasizing sensationalism and human interest stories. Hearst entered the publishing business in 1887 after being given control of The San Francisco Examiner by his wealthy father… Acquiring more newspapers, Hearst created a chain that numbered nearly 30 papers in major American cities… He later expanded to magazines, creating the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world… twice elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives… He controlled the editorial positions and coverage of political news in all his papers and magazines and thereby exercised enormous political influence…Excerpt from Wikipedia.

*The Dupont family is an American family descended from Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739–1817). Since the 19th century, the Dupont family has been one of the richest families in America. Excerpt from Wikipedia.