Since the United States federal government passed the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp, people have been asking, “What is hemp, really?”
And while the short answer to that is a plant with a wide range of beneficial uses, the full history of hemp is much more eventful. That’s part of the reason why cbdMD founded July as National Hemp Month.
We want to help you, and everyone else, understand just how powerful a plant like hemp is and how exactly hemp can be useful.
So without further ado, let’s jump right into the brief history of hemp in America before showing you what hemp is truly capable of and dispelling a few of the most common hemp myths. Then, you’ll truly understand why National Hemp Month is so important.
What Is Hemp?
The answer to the question “What is hemp?” can be extremely simple or complex, depending on who you ask. For example, the average person might tell you that hemp is a plant with a tall, sturdy stalk and flowering buds. However, the United States government might say that hemp is defined as “a cannabis sativa plant that has less than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight.”
Both of these answers are technically correct. They show just how far hemp has had to go to overcome the stigma of its cousin, marijuana, and prove its usefulness to society. And because of how difficult it can be to get a solid answer as to what hemp is, the only accurate way to understand it is to look at the history of hemp and where it is today.
A Brief History of Hemp in America
The Early Days of Hemp
From palaces of emperors to gardens of our founding fathers to the moisturizing lotion in your bathroom, hemp has come a long way over the years. But the road to mainstream approval hasn’t been easy.
The first recorded uses of hemp range back thousands of years, with hemp fiber imprints found in pottery from 5000 BC. However, instead of detailing every ancient use of hemp, let’s take our hemp-powered time machine to a more familiar setting – colonial America.
When the English set sail across the Atlantic to establish colonies, one of the main focuses was on growing cash crops to send back home to England for sale. Most of us learn about Virginia and their plentiful tobacco harvests, but many don’t realize that hemp was nearly just as important.
In fact, many other colonies, including Georgia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, grew hemp as a valuable cash crop – some even made growing hemp mandatory. Even George Washington himself once told a plantation manager to let hemp “grow everywhere.”
This practice continued well into America’s early history, and by 1850 nearly 17 million acres of hemp were planted across the nation. To put that into perspective, there were only 78,200 acres worth of hemp planted in the US in 2018 – talk about a fall from grace.
So how did hemp go from being America’s cash crop darling to needing multiple federal bills to see the light of day? In short – racism and greed.
Hemp Falls Out of the Spotlight
After enjoying nearly 10,000 years as the swiss army knife of cash crops, hemp hit a rough patch in the early 20th century. Racially motivated activist groups began demonizing cannabis as a dangerous drug used by minorities to destroy society.
The most well-known example of this type of propaganda is Reefer Madness, which falsely illustrated how marijuana turns otherwise upstanding citizens into hardened criminals. Unfortunately, this type of advertisement struck a nerve with many, and all cannabis production in the United States was targeted.
There was also additional pressure from the rope, paper, and other textile producers to ban hemp production because the affordability and effectiveness of hemp-based products were destroying their industries’ profits.
The result of this fear-and-greed-based campaign was the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This act prohibited the consumption of cannabis and heavily regulated hemp production, only allowing government-approved hemp producers to grow or sell a certain amount.
Shortly after the act went into law, however, World War II broke out, and the “Hemp for Victory” campaign began as a way to help supply the army with the rope and other hemp-based textiles it needed to fight at full strength.
While this was seen as a possible revival of the hemp industry in America, that hope would prove to be short-lived. When the war was over, many of the domestic paper, rope, and textile manufacturers went right back to lobbying against hemp production. Shortly after that, hemp would all but disappear from American farms.
Hemp Makes a Comeback
Luckily for America, while the U.S. was banishing and demonizing hemp, researchers in Israel were busy studying a new compound found in hemp, known as cannabidiol (CBD). These researchers, led by Robert Mechoulam, discovered that CBD reacted with the body’s endocannabinoid system to influence overall well-being.
This discovery led to more research, and eventually, that research came to a head in 2012. As the idea of medical cannabis programs began to take hold in states like California and Colorado, a six-year-old girl named Charlotte Figi captured national attention for her fight against Dravet Syndrome (a form of childhood epilepsy).
Charlotte and her parents moved to Colorado, where a high-CBD strain of cannabis was eventually explicitly created for her. Miraculously, this new treatment seemed to improve Charlotte’s condition, and many people across the nation and the world had their ideas about cannabis challenged.
Fast forward two years to 2014, and it’s clear that the politicians had been watching, too, as they passed the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill took a massive first step toward bringing hemp back to American soil. It set up a framework for the creation of hemp pilot programs that would be used to study the economic and ecological effects of hemp growth. Thus, a new chapter in the history of CBD, and the history of hemp, had been written.
As it turns out, those pilot programs were a resounding success. That success led directly to the landmark 2018 Farm Bill, which expanded the previous law and ultimately allowed for all industrial hemp production.
The bill also paved the way for hemp-based products like CBD oil to enter the mainstream. Since then, we’ve seen an explosion of CBD and hemp-based products like CBD for stress, CBD skin care, hemp-infused drinks, CBD wellness gummies, and even CBD sleep aids – all thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill.
We have even seen a surge of products introduce small amounts of THC in their formulations. Full spectrum and Delta 9 formulas both utilize more of the hemp plant and its many molecules than a broad spectrum formula would. It gives you the chance to feel the benefits of hemp at a higher level because of the entourage effect. These different hemp formulations allow you to customize your experience and tailor it to your needs.
April of 2022 saw a major step in the right direction for cannabis and hemp alike. The US House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize marajuana and remove it from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. It also eliminated criminal penalties for those who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. While the future of the bill is uncertain since it has not advanced further as of this writing, it notes another positive step forward for cannabis and hemp.
What Is Hemp Used For?
Now that you have a better idea of what hemp is and the journey it’s taken to re-enter society, let’s focus on just a few of the many things that make hemp useful.
Hemp ropes have been used for as long as ropes have existed and for a good reason. The hemp plant's fibers make incredible rope because they are stronger and more durable than ordinary rope fibers. Hemp fibers are also resistant to mold and ultraviolet light, which makes them less susceptible to things like dry-rot, which is why they have long been popular with shipbuilders.
In addition to being a higher-quality material, the production of hemp rope is much more environmentally friendly than regular rope manufacturing and growing the crops needed to make it.
Unlike hemp rope, Hempcrete is a much newer invention; but just like the hemp rope, it is beneficial. Hempcrete is used precisely like concrete, but there are a few important differences in the materials.
Hempcrete’s critical advantages are that unlike standard concrete, it doesn’t shrink, so there are no crack lines, it maintains a consistent temperature, and it’s much more breathable. This versatility and strength, combined with the fact that Hempcrete is more environmentally friendly than standard concrete, makes it a viable option for all construction types.
Over 100 years ago, Henry Ford created a hemp seed-based biofuel as an alternative to traditional gasoline. And despite all the changes in car and hemp production since then, his original formula still works perfectly.
If scientists and hemp producers can work together to mass-produce an organic, hemp-based biofuel, it could be a big deal for the economy and the environment. It also means that one day you could be parking a hemp-powered car in a garage built with Hempcrete – talk about going green!
Unlike hemp rope, Hempcrete, and hemp biofuel, there aren’t any properties that make hemp paper better than regular paper. It’s not necessarily stronger, and it definitely won’t write your essays for you, but it does have one huge benefit over traditional paper – environmental impact.
Because hemp grows much faster than the trees usually used to make paper, switching most paper to hemp paper could drastically slow deforestation. By slowing deforestation, we can stabilize the environment, regrow our forests, and combat climate change.
Dispelling Four Popular Hemp Myths
After learning about what hemp is, its historical roots, and the benefits of hemp products, it’s time to take on some of the biggest hemp myths out there. Combine these with CBD facts and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an educated advocate for hemp.
1. Hemp Gets You High
False. Even though hemp is technically cannabis, industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent THC, which is well below the amount it would take to feel any sort of “high.”
This is why hemp-based products like CBD oil have become so popular – because they allow you to experience the potential benefits of hemp without the risk of intoxication.
With that said, the small amount of THC in hemp can be extracted and purified to the point of being intoxicating if you take enough of it. So if you’re choosing a product with THC or anything called “hemp extract,” be sure to look at the exact components on the label or on lab-test results.
2. Hemp-Based Products Are Only for Epilepsy
False. While one of the most well-known uses of hemp-based products is for childhood epilepsy – specifically the drug Epidiolex, which has been approved to treat two common forms of childhood epilepsy – that is far from the only use for hemp-based products.
We’ve already discussed the many industrial uses of hemp, and we’ve also briefly mentioned the wide variety of hemp-based CBD options for things like sleeplessness, stress, and everyday wellness.
Take time to discover how hemp can help you conquer the day – you may be surprised by all it can do.
3. Hemp and Marijuana Are the Same
False. It’s been mentioned before in this blog, but it always bears repeating – even though hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant, they are not the same. Beyond the many differences in how they are grown, the most crucial difference for many people is that industrial hemp contains only the smallest possible trace of THC.
Industrial hemp also grows much taller than marijuana and has thicker, sturdier stalks, which makes hemp by far the best choice for making things like rope, paper, and other textiles.
4. Hemp Is a Drug
False. Simply put, hemp is a plant. Even though a drug (Epidiolex) has been made from the plant, hemp itself is just a resource. Whether you turn it into rope, CBD oil, building materials, or epilepsy medication, the plant is still the same.
Except for Epidiolex, hemp-based products do not require a prescription. Hemp is also not considered a “street drug” either, because it doesn’t contain enough THC to make users intoxicated.
So by all definitions, hemp is not a drug.
Celebrate with Us During National Hemp Month
At the beginning of this blog, we mentioned National Hemp Month, and I’m sure that’s had you wondering, “Why is there a National Hemp Month?” Well, the answer is straightforward – education and awareness.
Whether we’re answering questions like “What is CBD?” or sharing info-packed graphics on social media, our goal is to teach everyone what makes hemp and CBD so exciting. We believe that the hemp and CBD communities should be working together to dispel myths, reduce stigma, and bring the natural power of hemp to the mainstream.
That spirit of togetherness is why we didn’t stop after founding January as National CBD Month and why we continue to fight not just for CBD to be widely accepted and understood, but also to fully answer the question, “What is hemp?”
Without hemp, there is no CBD, and without education and awareness, there is no real change. Please read more blogs, listen to experts, and share your personal stories about how hemp has helped you see the possibility of a greener future.
Originally written by: Tayler Newman