Although hemp and marijuana are biologically cannabis, there are several significant differences between them. Here we’ll tear down the anatomy, history, use, and legality of the hemp plant. We’ll learn not only what distinguishes hemp from marijuana but also what gives it such a viable, versatile commodity.
What is Hemp?
A type of Cannabis sativa L, hemp divides into male and female plants. These plants have served a wide assortment of purposes for over 10,000 years. We get thread from the plant’s stems, protein from the seeds, oils from the leaves, and oils from the flowers. Hemp strands make items including paper, clothing, textiles, rope — even construction materials.
From stalk to seed, the entire hemp plant can also make fuel and feedstock. For more specific uses, hemp divides into four classes:
- Bast fibers
- Leaves and flowers
- Hurds, or shives
Marijuana vs. Hemp: Does hemp have THC?
Hemp provides a broad range of cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating cannabinoid in marijuana. However, hemp does not have sufficient THC to generate intoxicating effects.
Although hemp doesn’t produce a significant THC quantity, it can produce non-intoxicating cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) in large concentrations. Hemp-derived CBD is swiftly becoming one of the most popular forms of cannabinoid on the market now. Many countries distinguish hemp from marijuana by the quantity of THC produced by the plant.
In the U.S., modern hemp is Cannabis sativa L. that does not include more than 0.3% THC. The European Union has set the boundary at 0.2%, while in the U.K., the limit is 0 unless growers have a cultivation permit to grow industrial hemp with no more than 0.2% THC.
Can you smoke hemp? Does smoking hemp get you high?
The quick answer is yes. But be aware that while hemp does have minimum amounts of intoxicating compounds, that doesn’t ensure it will get you intoxicated. Hemp plants don’t create enough THC to have an intoxicating effect. CBD, though scientifically psychoactive, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid and won’t cause any euphoric high by itself.
But if the purpose isn’t to get an intoxicating high, puffing organic hemp can be a pleasant and efficient way to feel other cannabinoids like CBD. It’s also never been simpler to experiment now to find organic hemp flowers and pre-rolls online. And while hemp-derived CBD oils and CBD gummies might be all the excitement, smoking hemp allows you to self-medicate in real-time. No waiting around for any subtle results to kick in.
There’s the reward of increased bioavailability. Through the introduction of inhalation, your bloodstream receives CBD much quicker than it would after eating an edible or using a tincture beneath your tongue. Your body also has quick access to more of the CBD in the smoke or vapor if you inhale it. When consumed, a CBD edible travels through the digestive tract; this can cause the edible to waste some potency.
For a cleaner burn, think about lighting your hemp flower with a hemp thread. Raw hemp wick glazed in beeswax allows a slow burn from all-natural materials. Many users say provides a cleaner cannabis flavor than a match or lighter.
How do hemp farmers choose the best hemp plants?
Depending on the preferred final product, hemp cultivars are based on various factors, including:
- Stem quality
- Hemp oil content
- Cannabinoid content
- Resistance to disease
- Seed production per acre
- Time to harvest
CBD generation, in particular, has become a vital portion in recent years. As the CBD market expands, more and more farmers choose plants based on their CBD production and individual aromatic or terpene profiles. Hemp-derived CBD oil has skyrocketed in demand in recent years.
What are hemp’s practical uses?
CBD oil originates from hemp leaves and flowers. More people use CBD oil extracted from hemp plants as a wellness product, hence the ever-growing popularity of CBD-focused farming.
You can use hemp fibers for textiles, paper, building materials, and other industrial goods. Raw materials such as shives, or hurds, are short woody fibers usually within the stalk. You can also use hemp to make bedding materials, absorbents, particleboard, ceiling panels, compost, and other manufactured products.
Bast fibers make up the outer part of the stalk. These fibers divide into three classes — primary or line fiber, secondary, and tow. They fall into classifications according to their cell strength and cell wall thickness, defining the fiber’s strength, durability, and uses.
Can you eat Hemp products?
Hemp seeds are abundant in protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They include an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for healthy consumption. A 2008 report also found that hemp proteins are more edible for humans than common soy protein isolates. You can eat Hemp seeds as food directly or via oil created from them. Seeds can also crush up for flour or mixed with water to produce hempseed milk.
How do farmers process hemp?
Processors use multiple types of processing techniques on hemp seeds and stalks. The process used depends on the purpose of the final product.
You can eat seeds whole or strain them by pressing or crushing them to create hemp seed oil and flour. These seeds have a shell to make them more palatable. The leftover shells, which are rich in fiber, can also make flour.
Hemp stalks go through decorticating, a multistep method for removing the long fibers from the rest of the plant. This process involves field retting, a process in which the plants are cut and laid out for four-six weeks. At this time, any bacteria on the plant’s surface will break down the stalk’s outer layer. The retted stalks then dry.
Water retting is another option. The stalks dry after harvesting then placed in water for a few days. The water loosens the outer layer of the stalks and promotes the growth of other bacteria, speeding up the process. Finally, chemical retting uses bases, acids, and special enzymes to decompose the compounds that hold together the strong bast fibers.
Is hemp cultivated differently than marijuana?
Another significant difference between hemp and marijuana has to do with cultivating and harvesting the plants. Male hemp plants flower much quicker than females and do not generate nearly as much thread. In contrast to marijuana fields, which seek to eliminate all males, most female hemp fields incorporate sporadically placed males.
Male hemp plants bloom much faster than females and do not produce nearly as much fiber.
The male hemp plants release female pollen plants to produce seeds planted for future crops or sold as food. In marijuana fields, farmers eliminate male plants to ensure the maximum production of sinsemilla (seedless) flowers.
Marijuana cultivation, compared to hemp, requires ample spacing to reduce the risk of mold or bacteria. Farmers plant most marijuana crops with one plant per 4 square feet, while hemp plants are grown for oil space at roughly 40 to 60 plants per 4 square feet. Hemp plants grown for fiber are closer to each other around 100-120 plants per 4 square feet.
Hemp plants are typically cultivated outdoors instead of marijuana plants, often planted in greenhouses or grown indoors. Many farmers employ a crop rotation strategy because hemp falls victim to the same insects, diseases, and predators that attack marijuana. Rotating crops are planted in the same place to avoid any buildup of these diseases and to allow the soil to absorb nutrients.
The specific crop rotation and types of crops rotated with hemp depend on the farm’s location. Hemp rotates at farms where it is not the top agricultural product.
Is hemp farming legal in the U.S.?
The 2014 Agricultural Act, better known as the 2014 Farm Bill, includes section 7606, which allows for schools and state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp, as long as it is for scientific research. Under the 2014 Agricultural act, states and schools must also be registered with their local state and defer to local laws and regulations for approval to farm hemp.
As part of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill), the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 redefined hemp (with less than 0.3% THC) from Schedule I classification. This classification is the federal government’s most restrictive classification of controlled substances. Drugs in this class are considered highly prone to abuse and without any medicinal benefits. The move to federally legalize hemp allowed for its cultivation and distribution as a legalized agricultural good.
Under the Hemp Farming Act, hemp farming is no longer limited to state departments and universities. Besides, the act gives hemp farmers the right to water, crop insurance, federal agricultural grants, and access to national banking. You may also transport hemp across state lines.
Before the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, 41 states voted to pass industrial hemp-related legislation. Thirty-nine of those states legalized statewide farming programs that defined hemp plants specifically to differentiate them from marijuana plants, establish licensing requirements, and regulate production.
The Hemp Farming Act now requires state agriculture departments to consult with their governors and chief law enforcement officers on a regulatory program. Then they submit the program to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for approval. According to Section 297B of the law, state hemp regulatory programs must include a system to maintain information on all land where cultivation occurs, rules for testing THC levels in hemp, and procedures for destroying products that violate THC content restrictions.
World History of Hemp
Hemp has been an agricultural resource on a global scale for tens of thousands of years. The oldest recorded evidence of hemp cultivation is a twine rope. This rope dates back to 26,900 BCE, found in the Czech Republic.
Some of the earliest known uses of hemp started in China in about 10,000 BCE. Humans used it for making clothing, paper, and rope. The Yangshao people, who lived in China around roughly 5,000 BCE, wove hemp and pushed it into their pottery for ornamental purposes. From 5,000 to 300 BCE, the plant was also grown in Japan and used for paper and fiber.
Cannabis played a prominent role in the Greco-Roman cultures as a source of fiber, intoxication, and medicine. The Greeks discovered cannabis seeds in the ruins of Pompeii. Greek rhetorician Athenaeus made a note of hemp being used to make string and rope between 170 and 230 CE. Author and naturalist Pliny the Elder also referred to a cannabis root decoction as medecine for joint stiffness and gout in the first century BCE.
Exactly how and when hemp originated in the New World is still highly debated. Though long thought to be introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus, hemp was part of Native American civilizations that existed before Columbus’ arrival. William Henry Holmes’ “Prehistoric Textile Art of Eastern United States” report from 1896, notes hemp from Native American tribes of the Mississippi Valleys and Great Lakes.
Scientists also found hemp products from pre-Columbian native civilizations in Virginia. Vikings used the plant for making rope and sails. They may also have brought seeds with them when they attempted to colonize the New World.
Jamestown settlers introduced hemp to colonial America in the early 1600s for rope, paper, and other fiber-based products; they even imposed fines on those who didn’t produce the crop themselves. U.S. presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp.
Hemp was a major crop in the United States until 1937 when the Marihuana Tax Act virtually obliterated the American hemp industry. During World War II, the crop saw a resurgence in the U.S. Civilians used it extensively to make military items, including uniforms, canvas, and rope. The Department of Agriculture even released a short documentary, “Hemp for Victory,” in 1942, which promoted the plant as a valuable crop for the war cause.
The World War II hemp resurgence was short-lived, though. Until the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 kept industrial production dormant. Today, hemp is rapidly becoming an indispensable resource for CBD oil and other CBD products.
Related: The history of hemp in America
Is hemp a drug?
Hemp itself is a plant. But CBD, which might be considered a drug, can be made from hemp. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a CBD-based drug as a treatment for epilepsy. Many people worldwide use CBD products to treat a variety of ailments. Although much more research needs to happen on CBD’s efficacy against everything from cancer to acne.
Is hemp legal in Australia?
Certain parts of the hemp plant are legal in Australia. The government has more information.
Is hemp legal in N.Z.?
The country has a licensing program for those interested in growing specific hemp that contains less than 0.35% THC.
What is hemp used for medically?
As stated above, CBD derived from hemp has a variety of uses. The most official is the FDA-approved drug to treat childhood epilepsy. Scientists are looking at CBD to treat or ease symptoms of:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Pain, including chronic and neuropathic pain
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Sleep disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
History Of Hemp In The United States
THE MOST ANCIENT DOMESTICATED CROP IN THE WORLD TO ITS REBIRTH IN THE UNITED STATES
KEY TO HUMAN CIVILIZATION
Hemp’s first traces were found way back in 8000 BCE in Asian regions that are now modern-day China and Taiwan. The oldest remnants to date are hemp cords used in pottery. Records show that hemp oil and hemp seed cooked food in China. When you consider that farming started about 10,000 years ago, you can assume that hemp was one of the first crops.
SPREADING ACROSS CONTINENTS
Throughout history, hemp continued to travel across civilizations. Evidence of hemp material traces back to Asia, Europe, Africa, and later in South America. Several religious documents ranging from Hinduism to Islam mention hemp as a Sacred Grass or King of Seeds. Hemp was a critical ingredient in everyday life throughout generations. People used it for daily essentials such as paper, shoes, ropes, and clothes.
LOVED BY OUR FOUNDING FATHERS
North America first used hemp in 1606. Ever since, American farmers grew hemp for multiple different products, such as ropes, lamp fuels, and paper. In the 1700s, farmers were even legally mandated to grow hemp as a staple crop. Many of our nation’s founding fathers grew hemp and advocated its uses and benefits. Notably, George Washington grew hemp on his Mount Vernon estate.
THE ORIGINS OF HEMP
8,000 BCE – Archaeologists found trace amounts of hemp in modern-day China and Taiwan. People used hemp for food, pottery (seed & oil), and natural hemp-based medicinal products
2,000 BCE – 800 BCE -Hindu sacred book Atharvaveda (Science of Charms) describe hemp as Sacred Grass, one of the five sacred plants of India
600 BCE – Hemp cord found in southern Russia
500 BCE – Archaeologists discovered a container of hemp seed and leaves in Berlin, Germany. The use of hemp continues to spread throughout northern Europe
200 BCE – Hemp rope found in Greece
100 BCE – China uses hemp to create paper. Scientists also found hemp rope in Britain.
570 – The French buried their Queen in hemp clothing
700s – Hemp paper mills pop up in China and the Middle East, first powered by people using animals or hydropower
850 – Vikings use hemp and spread it across Iceland
900 – Arabs use technology to make hemp paper
1533 – King Henry VIII, the King of England, fines farmers if they do not raise Hemp
1549 – Cannabis introduced in South America (Brazil)
1616 – Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, grows hemp to make
clothing, sails, and rope
1700s – Early laws require American farmers in multiple colonies to grow Hemp
1776 – U.S. Founders write first drafts of The Declaration of Independence on hemp paper
1840 – Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps.
THE 20TH CENTURY & BEYOND
1916 – USDA publishes findings showing hemp produces 4X more paper per acre than trees
1937 – The Marijuana Tax Act placed a tax on all cannabis sales (including hemp), heavily discouraging the production of Hemp
1938 – Popular Mechanics writes an article about how 25,000 different products could potentially use hemp.
1942 – Henry Ford builds a breakthrough car body made with hemp fiber. This body is ten times stronger than steel
1942 – USDA creates the “Hemp for Victory” program – this leads to more than 150,000 acres of hemp production
1957 – Cultivars plant the last commercial hemp fields in the United States in Wisconsin
1970 – The Controlled Substances Act defines hemp as an illegal Schedule I drug. Strict laws imposed on the cultivation of industrial hemp and marijuana
1998 – The U.S. begins to import hemp seed and oil for food.
2004 – Ninth Circuit Court ruling in Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA protects sales of hemp foods and body care goods in the U.S.
2007 – The Federal Government granted the first hemp licenses in over 50 years to two North Dakota farmers.
2014 – President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill, which allowed research institutions to start hemp farming.
2015 – The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134) became introduced in the House and Senate. This act is the first of many attempts to legalize hemp fully.
2016 – A Colorado farm earns the Organic certification from USDA for Hemp
2018 – After multiple failed attempts to pass hemp-specific laws, an amendment to the Agricultural Improvement of 2018 (a.k.a. the “Farm Bill”) legalized Hemp in the U.S. President Trump signed the bill into law on Dec 20, 2018. This removed the hemp plant and any of its seeds and derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. A massive win for the hemp industry!
Hemp in the 20th Century
The U.S. went from a staunch supporter of hemp to altogether ban it in the 1970s
MARIJUANA TAX ACT LOWERS PRODUCTION
Despite the fact hemp was a massive part of early U.S. history, the crop view started to change in the early 1900s. When the U.S. government raised its resolve to fight against marijuana, hemp somehow got grouped with all cannabis. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 started the hemp industry’s critical decline, as all hemp sales started to get massively taxed on. There has been some debate over this bill, as some have argued that this plan aims to reduce the size of the hemp industry to help the growing plastic and nylon industries gain market share.
U.S. RECOGNIZES NEED FOR HEMP IN WWII
The United States reversed its stance in 1942 when it understood it needed hemp for the war effort. The Department of Agriculture began to promote hemp heavily and started issuing various benefits that hemp offered (i.e., findings that hemp provides four times more paper per acre than trees). The hemp promotion height was when the U.S. government published a pro-hemp documentary called Hemp for Victory, which supported farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp to aid the war. This campaign led to over 400,000 acres of hemp planted during 1942-1945
DRUG WAR LEADS TO THE DEMISE OF HEMP
Shortly after this plan, the U.S. government went back to hemp’s original position again, and the industry continued to fade. Other alternative sources, such as plastic and nylon, are encouraged across multiple areas. This act led to fewer farmers cultivating hemp and many hemp processors claiming bankruptcy. The last industrial hemp farm in the U.S. was in Wisconsin in 1957. Hemp farming was ultimately officially outlawed altogether in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act. The government added hemp as a Schedule 1 drug, classifying this crop with drugs like heroin and LSD.
Hemp for Victory
The peak of U.S. hemp cultivation was during World War II when the U.S. government-supported hemp through its “Hemp for Victory” program. This program helped farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast grow hemp to support the war.
After nearly 30 years of being banned, the U.S. allowed businesses to import dietary hemp products in 2004. Hemp’s importance started to diversify as artisans and small companies shipped hemp fiber for clothing and textiles in the new Century. The first big win for U.S. farmers came in 2007 when two North Dakota farmers received hemp licenses—the first time in over 50 years. Building on this, a Farm Bill signed into law in 2014 provided more states and some businesses to start experimenting with hemp, under the guise of study into restoring this crop to American life. Ultimately, hemp and all its derivatives became fully sanctioned in 2018 through the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
THE HEMP MOVEMENT GROWS
The return of legal hemp produced an explosion of interest in this crop and Hemp products, particularly CBD oil. Farmers licensed over 500,000 acres of hemp across 34 states in 2019. Less than half were planted and harvested. Producers turned most of the hemp gathered in 2018 and 2019 into CBD oil or hemp extract, the hyper-popular supplement with numerous benefits. Consumers drove CBD sales to over $1 billion in 2019. Also, individual states continue to pass laws facilitating hemp growing and the production and sales of CBD supplements within their borders.
NEW CHALLENGES & A PROMISING FUTURE
While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, other challenges remain for the new U.S. hemp industry. USDA regulations suggest the Drug Enforcement Administration wants to retain control over many aspects of the industry. The CBD industry awaits rules from the Food and Drug Administration. Banking, credit card processors and tech companies often refuse to work with hemp companies. Simultaneously, more farmers, entrepreneurs, and consumers are interested in hemp than ever before. New infrastructure is growing to help farmers harvest and process their crops, while new people discover Hemp and CBD every day. A Gallup poll in 2019 suggested 14% of Americans use CBD products. With a new U.S. hemp industry making history, the future looks bright for this beneficial multipurpose crop.