December 23, 2016 | by Staff
For thousands of years, hemp has played a vital role in human history. Hemp is a long, strong fiber plant and because of this, was one of the first to be used to produce fabric over 10,000 years ago. Its uses have since broadened into the making of rope, ship’s sails, and paper. The first paper used was made from hemp fibers and today there are a variety of applications for hemp using its oil, its seeds, and its fiber.
Hemp and cannabis are both from the same genus, cannabis, and the same species, cannabis sativa. However, the difference lies with the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in each plant. The THC, located on the trichromes of cannabis sativa, is the source of the psychoactive properties of the plant.
In cannabis bred to harvest the trichomes, the THC content ranges from 5% to 15%. In the hemp plant, the THC content is less than 1% and therefore, it is not used for psychoactive properties. In fact, in regions where cannabis is grown for THC and hemp is also grown, care is taken to keep them well away from each other to ensure cross-pollination does not occur. Cross-pollination would weaken the potency of the cannabis plant.
Herein lies the fundamental difference why hemp is not viewed in the same way as cannabis, and with little or no stigma attached to it.
Despite the fact that growing hemp has been banned in the United States since the 1930’s, those who care to find out realize smoking hemp will not give you a high. Those familiar know hemp has traditionally been used in industry, and although there are medical benefits to be derived from consuming hemp derivatives, they do not produce a high.
Hemp growing and the production of hemp fiber for use in industry has been a part of the United States history since the foundation of the colonies. Hemp was domestically grown so that the fibers could be used locally and more importantly for export. All the major world powers at the time relied on their navies, as ships were the means to acquire (and conquer) new territories. The strong sails that made these ships move were made of hemp.
Hemp was so important to the colonies, in fact, that from their foundation up until the late 1700’s, farmers were required by law to grow hemp. Not growing hemp during periods of shortage could lead to one's arrest. Hemp was used as legal tender, was an accepted method of payment for taxes, both measures which were to encourage the growth of hemp.
So if hemp was so important to the economy, why was it banned in the 20th century which would lead to it being viewed as a less than desirable crop?
Stigmatization began in 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act was introduced. The act put strict regulations on the cultivation and sale of all cannabis varieties. The situation deepened by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 where all forms of cannabis, which included hemp, became classified as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to in the United States.
There are a few theories floating around about what prompted the initial control methods in 1937. One story that seems to come up time and time again puts the DuPont chemical company at the center of it. It's alleged the real reason why cannabis growing was restricted was because the DuPont Corporation developed Nylon in 1935, the fibers of which have a number of applications, including those where hemp fibers were traditionally used.
To remove the competition from hemp and allow Nylon to become the fiber of choice, an alleged public relations campaign was launched where cannabis was made out to be the scourge of mankind, causing madness and other types of ills. This campaign included articles, and feature films such as the infamous Reefer Madness (1936), where the protagonist eventually loses his mind from cannabis.
A constant diet of these types of public relations activates were successful in turning the tide of public opinion away from cannabis, (then called marihuana). Government officials made sure hemp was neatly tied up in federal control measures.
While this is a popular theory, we will never be certain if the alleged DuPont connection is the real reason for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
Colorado, Vermont, California, and North Dakota have passed laws enabling hemp licensure. All four states are waiting for permission to grow hemp from the DEA. Currently, North Dakota representatives are pursuing legal measures to force DEA approval. Oregon has licensed industrial hemp as of August 2009.
The hemp stigma seems to be disappearing at a global level. Because hemp is cultivated around the world, and is being used for a reported 50,000 uses and benefits, there is not much of a stigma attached to hemp anymore.
Today hemp seeds are being used in foods, food additives and to produce nondairy alternatives to milk. Hemp oil is used as cooking additives, dietary supplements, salad dressings in personal care products, and a host of other uses. The fibers from hemp are now being used in the manufacture of plastics which are used in many industries including the automobile industry. A few homes have been made using "hempcrete" on trial, to see how the material holds up over time.
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