The History Of Hemp

The History Of Hemp

The History Of Hemp

Hemp might seem like a media buzzword right now, but it is actually embedded in human history, with its use dating back thousands of years.

Going through political debate and legislation, scientific findings and research, not to mention ups and downs in demand and supply, the hemp plant is one of the most discussed plants in human history.

Where Did It Start?

While it is difficult to precisely pinpoint the first human usage, archaeologists have found fragments of hemp cloth in what was Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamia was the area between the Tigris and Euphrates river, hence its name, as the ancient word meso translates to 'between' and 'potamia' translates to 'river'.

Set near modern day Baghdad in Iraq, the hemp cloth was believed to be used here in 8,000 BCE. Further traces were also found by archaeologists around Taiwan and China, which they also believe to be from a similar time period.

Outside of it being used as a cloth, hemp was also used then in pottery, as well as for food and paper.

Sacred Grass

The Atharva Veda scripture is a Vedic-era Indian Hindu text, containing hymns, spells and chants, with most of the focus being on healing, harming or protecting against dangers.

Dating back to between 1,200 and 900 BCE, the Atherva Veda scripts highlighted hemp as 'Sacred Grass'. It went further and pointed out that it was one of the five sacred plants of India.

Throughout the period of 2,000 BCE and 800 BCE, Cannabis Sativa L had spread through much of Asia, including India, Korea and Japan, while by 1,200 BCE it had become ubiquitous in ancient Egypt.

Entry Into Europe

The exact date is debated heavily depending on what resource you read, however most will highlight that it began slowly entering Europe in approximately 1,200 BCE, yet it didn't become so commonly used until much later.

Hemp rope was found in Southern Russia, believed to date back to 600 BCE, with the Eurasian Steppe Corridor providing the route for hemp to travel from China, winding through Russia and passing into the Middle East and Europe along the 'Silk Road'.

The Silk Road was the ancient trade connection for the East to the West, with many plants, herbs and spices being passed through, with hemp trade being one of the biggest beneficiaries of this route.

Another incredible founding was the presence of the hemp seeds in the Scythian royal tombs during the Iron Age, again being used as a 'sacred plant'.

Of course, many anecdotes highlighted from the Classical Greek Herodotus records of the Scythians emphasized that they used both hemp and marijuana (hemp's THC-high cannabis relative).

Hemp Used As Paper

Hemp had served so many purposes throughout history, from being a medicinal herbal tea to used for fabrics in clothing, but one area it gained a lot of recognition for was when it was utilised as paper in China in around 150 BCE.

The paper was actually made by a combination of ingredients, including old rags and tree barks, however it was the first creation of paper seen around the world and the Chinese kept their creation secret, making this an item of jealousy for many centuries.

The oldest documents known to man were Buddhist texts, dating much later in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. These documents were predominantly made from hemp and were seen as ground-breaking at the time.

Queen Arnegunde Funeral

Queen Arnegunde was King Clotaire I's wife and a royal member for the Franks. The clothes she wore when buried were found to be in incredible condition, found in 1959 under the Abbey Church at Saint Denis.

Buried in 570 AD, her clothing was made from hemp, seen as a relatively modern form of clothing, considering it wasn't cultivated in France until much later.

The King Of England

In the Tudor period (the era that gave us those gorgeous looking Tudor Thatched cottages), King Henry VIII was the flamboyant and notorious king of England, reigning from 1509 until 1547. Of course, the most memorable fact around King Henry VIII was that he had 6 wives, hence the rhyme 'divorced, beheaded, died: Divorced, beheaded, survived'.

However, another key highlight of King Henry VIII's rule was when he passed an act in 1535, demanding that all landowners sow a quarter of their acre for hemp.

Making hemp cultivation obligatory by law, this instigated a strong increase in hemp production in the UK, where it was being used for sails and ropes in the Tudor navy, where Henry VIII was known as the 'father of the English Navy'.

The Americas

Hemp was introduced to Brazil in 1549, however it didn't enter North America until 1606, however it quickly became a key ingredient in production.

Used in North America to make ropes, paper, food and clothing, hemp was seen as versatile and durable.

Much like what happened with the UK under King Henry VIII, farmers in certain areas of North America in the 1700's were required to grow hemp as a staple crop by law.

Hemp cultivation was heavily encouraged across North America, but the hemp industry struggled to grow and wasn't heavily adopted by farmers. Most of the hemp was actually imported from Great Britain during the 18th century.

Even the Declaration of Independence was believed to be written on hemp paper by Thomas Jefferson.

Peak Of Hemp Clothing

The global peak of hemp clothing was some point during the 18th century when it is believed 80% of the world's population were wearing some form of hemp clothing.

If this was the stockmarket and you were a trader, this would be the time to cash out, while usage was at its peak, as cotton became the go-to fabric in the 19th century.

The creation of hemp clothing was painstakingly slow and arduous, taking days to get the fibres thin enough to be used as clothing, whereas cotton was much simpler.

Other industries were becoming fearful of the potential of hemp, with companies in the oil and steel industry weary of the threat of hemp as an alternative resource. This lead to a huge amount of lobbying and negative media attention based on their efforts to downplay hemp.

Multiple powerful families that were leaders in the newspaper industry saw hemp as a threat to their businesses and therefore pushed the agenda against cannabis.

The World Turned Against Cannabis

Both hemp and marijuana are forms of cannabis, the difference is that hemp must have under 0.3% THC (the part that gets you high), otherwise it will be qualified as marijuana.

However, both hemp and marijuana were largely being placed in the same basket, with cannabis being directly attacked from various angles.

Harry J Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, is seen as starting the war on drugs, while he wrote an article in The American Magazine on 'Marijuana' Assassin of Youth'.

He was also quoted as calling cannabis the 'devil drug' on numerous occasions. All of this led towards the Marihuana Tax Act being passed in the USA in 1937, meaning marijuana couldn't be cultivated, processed or distributed.

Realistically, while these figures were trying to highlight negative connotations with marijuana, one of the strongest reasons why this act passed was to increase taxation on the production of hemp.

At this point, physicians suddenly had to pay tax if they were to prescribe cannabis to their patients, as did pharmacists, hence why the American Medical Association strongly fought this act.

The USA was actually following many other countries in the banning of cannabis, with the UK adding cannabis to the Dangerous Drugs Act in 1928. This was declared further as a 'class B' drug in 1971 under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which was met with a lengthy sentence if found in possession of cannabis.

Discovery Of CBD

CBD was first discovered in 1940, as the chemist Roger Adams successfully managed to isolate the cannabinoid, instigating further research on the cannabis plant, that led to the discovery of 113 different cannabinoids.

The Endocannabinoid system was then discovered in 1992, as scientists started to learn more about how cannabinoids worked in the body and the discover of cannabinoid receptors.

The Easing Of Restrictions

The 21st century has seen the view of cannabis gradually change. While hemp was banned in the USA during the 20th century, despite being the low THC alternative to marijuana, it became a legal crop again in the 21st century.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 allowed for industrial hemp to be grown again, as it legalised the regulated product of hemp, instigating the exponential growth of the industry in the USA.

This was then boosted further by the Farm Bill of 2018, where hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act and Epidiolex was approved for oral medication.

The adoption of CBD oils and products had been growing over the decade, with the UK seeing a huge amount of media attention following the case of 12 year old Billy Caldwell having his cannabis oil medication taken away at Heathrow airport in 2018, which lead to a change in the governmental laws for people who suffered from seizures.


The hemp industry may have been around for 10,000 years, however it is in the past decade we have started to see the industry really grow at a rapid pace, with the CBD industry predicted to be worth $23 billion by 2025.

Hemp has been used for paper, food, ropes, carpets, handbags, shoes, shampoos, protein powders, oils, varnishes and clothing, while we’re only scratching the surface of its potential usage.