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History of Hemp

Welcome to the history of hemp, a plant that has been intertwined with human civilization for millennia. As one of the first plants cultivated by humans, hemp has a rich and complex history that spans cultures, continents, and centuries. In this section, we’ll take you on a journey through time, exploring the key people, civilizations, and uses of cannabis throughout history. Our aim is to provide you with a detailed and engaging overview of this fascinating plant and its role in shaping human history. 

Whether you’re a history buff, a hemp enthusiast, or simply curious about this incredible plant and its place in human history, we hope you’ll find our guide informative and engaging. So sit back, relax, and join us on a journey through the rich and varied history of hemp.

Ancient History

Hemp is believed to have emerged on Earth during the Oligocene epoch, approximately 34 million years ago. However, due to a lack of conclusive scientific evidence, its exact origin remains uncertain. Nevertheless, current evidence suggests that the plant likely originated in central Asia.

As humans began to migrate across the globe around 195,000 years ago, they carried various seeds with them, including those of the hemp plant. Over time, humans discovered the various uses of hemp and developed different methods of cultivation and consumption.

Taiwan

8000 B.C.

The history of hemp use in Taiwan dates back to ancient times, with the first evidence of its use dating back to 8,000 B.C. In an ancient village in Taiwan, archeologists have found evidence that the inhabitants cultivated hemp for its fiber, which they used to create clothing and various textile products.

This revolutionary discovery allowed the inhabitants to eliminate their dependence on animal skins, which had been their sole source of clothing up until that point. In addition to its use in clothing, there is evidence that cannabis was also used to make footwear due to its compact structure.

Hemp was not only used for practical purposes in ancient Taiwan, but it also played a significant role in religious traditions. It was believed that using hemp could bring individuals closer to the gods, leading to its use in various ceremonies and rituals.

China

Ancient chinese hemp

Ancient Chinese Hemp Depiction

4000 B.C.

Hemp has a long and rich history in China, dating back to 4,000 B.C. In the village of Pan-p’o, archeologists have discovered evidence, that hemp was one of the five main grains of China and an essential part of the local diet.

The use of hemp for medicinal purposes in China can be traced back to the Pen Ts’ao Ching, a book on Chinese medicine written in 2,737 B.C. The book recognized hemp as a plant with the potential to heal over 100 medical conditions, including malaria, rheumatism, and gout.

Over time, the use of hemp in China expanded beyond its use as a dietary staple and medicinal plant. It became an important part of Chinese culture, with its fibers being used to make textiles and its leaves and flowers being used for recreational purposes. Despite its widespread use, hemp was eventually banned in China in the 20th century due to concerns about its potential negative effects.

 

However, in recent years, there has been a growing interest in the potential medicinal benefits of hemp, and discussions around its legalization for medical use have begun to take place.

The rich history of hemp in China is a testament to the plant’s versatility and importance in various aspects of human life. From its role in traditional medicine to its use in textiles and recreational activities, hemp has been an integral part of Chinese culture for thousands of years.

Chinese cannabis

India

Chinese Cannabis Illustration

2000 B.C.

The history of hemp in India is a long and storied one, dating back thousands of years. In Hindu religious texts, such as the Vedas written between 2,000 B.C. and 1,400 B.C., hemp is described as “the source of happiness,” “joy-giver,” and “liberator.” The gods were said to have provided hemp to relieve people of anxiety and to help them achieve a pleasant life without fear.

Hemp played a significant role in religious ceremonies and rituals in ancient India. It was smoked during these ceremonies and was believed to have spiritual and mystical properties that helped individuals connect with the divine. In addition to its use in religious contexts, hemp was also widely used for medicinal purposes in ancient India. Different parts of the plant were used to treat a variety of medical conditions, from epilepsy and rabies to anxiety and bacterial inflammation.

Despite its long history of use in India, hemp was eventually banned in the country in the 1980s due to concerns about its potential negative effects. However, in recent years, there has been a growing interest in the potential medicinal benefits of hemp, and discussions around its legalization for medical use have begun to take place.

Samudra Manthan incident

Egypt

The Samudra Manthan Incident

1550 B.C.

The history of hemp in Egypt is a fascinating one that dates back thousands of years. In fact, in 1,550 B.C., the use of hemp for inflammatory therapy was accurately described in the Ebers Papyrus, named after the discoverer George Ebers. This document is one of the oldest known medical texts and provides insight into the extensive use of hemp in ancient Egyptian medicineInterestingly, hemp was also found attached to the mummy of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, who ruled from 1,213 B.C. to 1,139 B.C. This suggests that it may have been used for both medicinal and spiritual purposes in ancient Egypt.

In addition to its use in medicine, it also played a role in ancient Egyptian religion. It was believed to have been used by the gods  for medicinal and spiritual purposes, and it was used in some religious ceremonies and rituals. Despite its long history of use in Egypt, hemp was eventually prohibited in the country in the mid-20th century.

Goddess Sheshat with hemp leaf

Goddess Sheshat with the leaf above her head (left) and Goddess Bastet (right)

Eurasia

1000 B.C.

The history of hemp in Eurasia spans thousands of years, and the plant has played a significant role in various cultures and societies throughout the region. One group that is particularly noteworthy for their use of hemp is the Scythians, a warrior nomadic people who ruled the steppes of Eurasia from Mongolia to the Black Sea for more than 1000 years starting around 1,000 B.C.

The Scythians used hemp in a variety of ways, including in their steam baths and as part of their burial rituals. They also consumed hemp by inhaling the smoke from burning hemp seeds. The Scythians believed, that it had spiritual and medicinal properties, and its use was deeply ingrained in their culture.

Around the same time in history, evidence was found that the Assyrians, an ancient civilization located in what is now Iraq, also used hemps for its psychotropic effects. The Assyrians believed that hemp had the power to communicate with the gods and to bring about a heightened state of consciousness.

Pottery from ancient greece with hemp

Pottery from Ancient Greece

The Roman Empire

450 B.C.

The Roman Empire was a significant era in the history of hemp use. Hemp was widely used during the Greek-Roman era, around 450-200 B.C., as a medicine to alleviate pain, toothaches, and ear inflammation. In addition, hemp was used by the elite women of Rome to relieve pain during childbirth. Pedanios Dioskurides, a Greek doctor and pharmacology pioneer from Anazarbos, Tarsos, prescribed hemp for toothaches and ear-related pain during 40-90 B.C.

Moreover, hemp was also used as an analgesic during surgical procedures in ancient China. Hua Tuo, the first Chinese doctor who opened his practice during the East dynasty Han (A.D. 207), used a mixture of hemp and wine with his patients before surgery. Hemp had many medicinal uses during the Roman era, and its analgesic properties were highly valued.

Arabian Peninsula

1000 A.D.

The history of hemp in the Arabian Peninsula is noteworthy for its early medicinal use. In A.D. 1000, prominent Arabian scientists al-Majusi and al-Badri concluded, that hemp could effectively cure epilepsy. Later, in A.D. 1025, the renowned scholar Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna) wrote the Canon of Medicine, which stated that hemp was useful in treating gout, edema, infected wounds, and strong headaches. His work had a profound influence on Western medicine and was widely studied from the 13th to the 19th century.

 

The use of hemp in traditional Arabian medicine continued for centuries, with reports of its use for various ailments such as pain relief, anxiety, and insomnia. Even today, the plant remains a significant part of traditional Arabian medicine, with some modern studies suggesting potential benefits in treating epilepsy and certain psychiatric disorders.

Canon of medicine

East Africa & France

1300 A.D.

Canon of Medicine

The history of hemp can be traced back to various regions of the world, including East Africa and France. In 1300, Arabian merchants introduced hemp to Eastern Africa, where it was widely used to treat various medical conditions such as malaria, asthma, fever, and dysentery. Around 1500, the Spaniards brought hemp to America, where it was initially used for industrial purposes like rope and clothing production, but later also for medicinal and psychoactive purposes.

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte brought hemp from Egypt to France, where it was researched for its sedative and pain-relieving properties. It was also used to treat conditions like tumors, cough, and jaundice. As hemp spread across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, its usage became widely accepted by the 19th century.

Today, hemp continues to be a topic of interest for both medical and recreational purposes, with many countries legalizing its use for either or both. Its history highlights the longstanding relationship between humans and this plant, which has been used for various purposes for thousands of years.

Modern History

Dr. William O'Shaughnessy

Early 1930s

In the early 1930s, a noteworthy discovery was made by an Irish doctor studying in India – Dr. William O’Shaughnessy. He found that hemp extract could effectively alleviate some of the most severe cholera symptoms. This discovery made O’Shaughnessy the first western scientist to study the chemical composition of Cannabis Indica, ultimately resulting in the inclusion of hemp in western pharmacology.

By the end of the 19th century, various hemps extracts were widely sold in pharmacies as medicine for a range of medical conditions. However, this era of widespread hemp use as a medicinal remedy did not last long.

William O'shaughnessy
Cannabis based medicine from a pharmacy of 20th century

Dr. William O'Shaughnessy

Various Cannabis Based Medicine from Pharmacy of 20th century

The Dark Era

1930s

The history of hemp prohibition in the beginning of the 20th century has a complex and controversial background. Although hemp extract was widely used as medicine, there was also a growing trend of hemp smoking. Unfortunately, the reasons for the eventual criminalization of it were rooted in racism, nationalism, and political ambition.

In 1930, the newly established Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) appointed Harry Anslinger as its first commissioner. Anslinger, a former alcohol prohibition agent, saw hemp as an opportunity to keep his career going. He began a relentless campaign against hemp, claiming it caused violence, insanity, and even death.

Anslinger’s demonization of hemp was amplified by officials like William Randolph Hearst, who owned a media empire and used his power to spread anti-cannabis propaganda. Hearst was motivated by his nationalism and fear of the growing Mexican population in the US.

As a result of these campaigns, many US states passed laws making hemp illegal in the mid-1930s. Eventually, the US Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively made hemp illegal across the country. This marked the beginning of a global trend of hemp prohibition that would last for decades.

Despite the efforts of proponents of hemp, including the famous musician Louis Armstrong, the criminalization of hemp continued throughout the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 21st century that attitudes towards the plant began to shift, with several US states legalizing it for medicinal and recreational use. Today, hemp is legal in many parts of the world and is being studied for its potential medicinal benefits.

Marihuana Tax Act

1937

The Marihuana Tax Act, signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937, marked a significant turning point in the history of hemp. The act effectively made hemp illegal, except for medicinal use, but the regulations and tax policies made it nearly impossible for doctors to prescribe it to their patients. This legislation lasted until 1969, when Nixon’s war on drugs began. Prior to the act, recreational use of hemp was popular among artisan cultures, jazz clubs, student campuses, and beyond.

In 1942, Cannabis Sativa L. was removed from the American pharmacopeia, despite the objections of leading doctors and scientists who refuted most of the claims against hemp made by Anslinger and the FBN. Anslinger’s efforts to create public and political opinions on hemp encountered a challenge in 1944 when the New York Medical Academy issued the LaGuardia report. Respected doctors and scientists evaluated and refuted almost every one of Anslinger’s claims about cannabis and found that the public was unnecessarily intimidated by the alleged danger of hemp. However, even though multiple studies revealed misleading and false Anslinger claims, the negative campaigns continued for years to come.

 

The Marihuana Tax Act was a political move that had significant impacts on society, disproportionately affecting communities of color. The regulation and criminalization of hemp was rooted in racial and nationalist biases, which were exploited by politicians for their own gain. Despite mounting evidence of the benefits of hemp and the flaws in prohibitionist policies, it would take several decades before changes in legislation would occur.

Anti hemp propaganda poster

Anti Hemp Propaganda Poster

War on Drugs

1970s

The history of hemp in the United States took a dramatic turn in the 1970s with the advent of the War on Drugs. President Richard M. Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971, and one of the primary targets was hemp. Despite expert opinions and scientific evidence that suggested hemp had positive medical effects, Nixon classified it as a Schedule 1 drug, which meant it had no medical value and high potential for misuse. This classification had a profound impact on the country, with many states decriminalizing hemp possession, but it was short-lived.

The tide turned against hemp once again when Nancy Reagan launched her campaign, “Just Say No,” which led to the re-criminalization of the drug. Its was once again seen as a dangerous substance that was ruining the youth of America. The effects of this campaign were felt throughout the country, with many states increasing the penalties for hemp possession.

However, in 1994, one of Nixon’s top advisors admitted that the criminalization of hemp had a sole political purpose: to destroy his greatest political enemies, the hippies and African Americans. Despite this admission, the War on Drugs continued, and hemp remained a Schedule 1 drug for many years.

It wasn’t until recent years that attitudes towards hemp began to shift once again, with many states legalizing medical and recreational cannabis use. The history of hemp in the United States is a complex one, with political motivations often overshadowing scientific evidence and expert opinions. However, the tide is turning, and hemp is once again being recognized for its potential medical benefits and its relatively low potential for harm.

Anti hemp propaganda poster
Anti hemp propaganda poster

Anti Hemp Propaganda Poster

The Rise of Hemp

1980s

The history of hemp has been marked by periods of acceptance and prohibition. In the late 1980s, California led the way in softening hemp legislation, with activists successfully passing an act to make hemp use legal again in 1996. This made California the first state to pass such legislation, and by 2018, over 31 US states allowed the use of hemp for medicinal purposes.

More recently, in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to allow hemp for adult recreational use, triggering a wave of other referendums. These states set high tax rates, which had a positive effect for voters looking to increase state revenue and those seeking to use hemp without fear of arrest. By June 2018, nine states allowed legal use of recreational cannabis.

Outside of the US, many countries have also begun to allow the use of products that contain CBD oil. The tide seems to be turning, and it is possible that future generations will view the prohibition of hemp in the 20th century as a time of bad judgment, misguided perceptions, and political games.

 

However, it’s important to remember that the history of hemp has also been one of unequal enforcement and disproportionate impact on marginalized communities. As hemp becomes more widely accepted, it’s crucial to ensure that policies are put in place to address the harms of the past and ensure equitable access to the benefits of legalization.

Hemp farm in Colorado
Colorado sign hemp

Hemp Farm in Colorado

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