Hemp: the glory, the fall, and the revival

Date 2021-10-21

When was the beginning of…hemp?


The first traces of hemp were found in   8000 BC in Asian regions that are now modern day China and Taiwan.

Hemp is most certainly the earliest crop refined to make textile fiber – archaeologists have discovered remains of its cloth in an ancient Mesopotamia (present Iran and Iraq), also dating back to 8,000 BC.

When you consider that human agriculture started about 10.000 years ago, the 8.000 years of cannabis seems quite impressive!

It’s been used for:

• Fiber
• Textiles
• Food
• Construction materials
• Shipping – for nets, ropes, etc.

Evidence of hemp material has been found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and later in America.

Several religious documents have mentioned hemp as a “Sacred Grass” or “King of Seeds”.

So how did the sacred grass become…the forbidden grass? Here is a quick timeline – the beginning, the glory days, the fall, and the revival of hemp. Enjoy!

8000 BC

The first traces of hemp are found in Asia. Soon after, it’s found in Europe, Africa and South America, with hemp seeds and oil used for pottery and food.

2000 BC-800 BC

Hemp is considered a gift, referred to in Hindu religious documents as “sacred grass”, one of the five sacred plants of India, together with Tulasi, Sandalwood, Jasmine and Neem.

600-200 BC

The use of cannabis plant continues across northern Europe. There’s rope found in southern Russia and Greece, also seeds and leaves are found in Germany.

100 BC

China begins to use hemp to make paper.


Vikings use hemp and spread it to Iceland.


During the Middle Ages hemp really came into its own when hemp butter was introduced in 1000 AD and the English word “hempe” was officially listed in the lexicon. Knights in the Middle Ages were even reported to drink hemp beer.


The King of England, King Henry VII, prioritises hemp by fining farmers if they don’t grow it.

By the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe and England, hemp became so popular that up to 80% of clothing and textiles were made from it.

Similarly, due to its strength, and resistance to water and salt, the shipping industry was almost wholly dependent on hemp canvas, rope and oakum for its sailing ships.

In fact, many historians believe that it were these hemp sails and ropes that made Columbus’s trip to the Americas possible as other fibres would have decayed somewhere in the mid-Atlantic since hemp fabric is extremely durable and resistant to degradation from mold, bacteria, salt water, sunlight, abrasion and chemicals.

(Yes, we know, hemp is pretty impressive. We actually wrote a short article on   5 reasons to choose hemp fiber. Check it out!)


North America discovers hemp as a key ingredient to make clothes, shoes, ropes, paper and food.

1700 s

American farmers are required by law to grow hemp as a staple crop, with many of America’s founding fathers advocating for its benefits.

1800 s

By the 1800’s hemp was so essential to European society that it even started a war. In 1807, Napoleon signed a treaty with Russia in which he urged that the Czar cut off all legal Russian hemp trading with Britain.

1807, Treaties of Tilsit


The provincial parliament of Upper Canada allotted £300 for purchasing machinery to process hemp.


Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps.


Pure Food and Drug Act. Required labeling of any cannabis contained in over-the-counter remedies.


After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded into the U.S., introducing to American culture the recreational use of cannabis.

The drug became associated with the immigrants, and the fear and prejudice about the Spanish-speaking newcomers became associated with marijuana.

Anti-drug campaigners warned against the encroaching “Marijuana Menace,” and terrible crimes were attributed to cannabis and the Mexicans who used it.

As a result, the word “marijuana” replaced “cannabis” as a way to directly associate the plant with the Mexican population.


USDA publishes findings that show hemp produces 4 times more paper per acre than trees.


With the encouragement of the government, a seventh hemp mill was established in Canada,  the Manitoba Cordage Company, in order to state the huge market of hemp.

Harry Aslinger, the first commissioner of the United State’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics


Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the United State’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who was previously on record stating that cannabis use was “not a big deal,” changes his position when the ban on alcohol is lifted and tells the public that cannabis is a “devil drug ” that “turned men into wild beasts that would attack women”.

Anslinger contacted thirty scientists requesting evidence that cannabis is dangerous, and twenty-nine said that they can’t find any valid proof. Only one expert agreed with him.

The first commissioner basically targeted cannabis because it was known that hard drugs like cocaine or heroin were much more dangerous than marijuana.

Consequently, cannabis was much more common, meaning Anslinger’s crusade against a popular drug would create a never-ending budget for the United State’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and Anslinger’s spot included. He later mentioned that he was “so successful he remained in the chair for 3 decades”, retiring in 1962.

Of course, Anslinger wouldn’t have done it himself.  The crusade against cannabis was also supported by different businesses.

William Randolph Hearst agreed with the cannabis prohibition primarily for his interest in the timber industry.

He was afraid that hemp paper, which is made from the same plant as cannabis, would compete with his paper products and take a cut out of his profits.

The DuPont corporation also supported Anslinger, fearing that hemp products would overtake their investment in nylon.

Anslinger’s fight against hemp was also very directed at people of colour. He was openly racist, accusing

Afro-americans, Filipinos and Mexican immigrants for the use and distribution of cannabis.

Another of his strategies was to appeal to irrational racist fears that cannabis use would tempt white woman into having sex with people of colour.

In addition to greed and racism, another motivator behind Aslinger’s campaign against cannabis seems to be his  hatred of  jazz music.

Ansliger unironically believed that cannabis gave jazz musicians actual superpowers. Arguing that smoking it allowed them to play “ at a furious speed – impossible for one in a normal state ”. 

He routinely used his power and position to harass jazz musicians – he once tried to coordinate multiple law enforcement agencies to arrest all musicians in violation of cannabis laws on a single day. (This plan never worked out).


The Marijuana Tax Act. Many prominent American businessmen, including Anslinger, decide that cannabis, with no distinction between marijuana and hemp, poses a threat to their businesses. 

The Tax Act added a $100 transfer tax on sales and handed over the regulation of licensing hemp production to the Department of Revenue.

1940 s

In the early 1940s, world production of hemp fiber ranged from 250.000 to 350.000 metric tonnes, Russia was the biggest producer.


The U.S. government realises they need hemp for the war and encourages its production. The plant was identified as critical to the war effort because the crop could provide fiber for ropes, bootlaces, and parachute webbing.

The catchphrase  “hemp for victory”  was widely disseminated.

Also 1942

Henry Ford built an experimental car body made from hemp fiber, which is ten times stronger than steel.

Ford’s Hemp powered Hemp made Car


The U.S. government releases a pro-hemp documentary called Hemp for Victory, encouraging farmers to grow hemp to support the war. The U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes hemp and publishes articles sharing its benefits, leading to over about 16.200 hectares of hemp planted throughout the Midwest and Southeast.

Hemp For Victory – USDA Full Official 1942


The last U.S. commercial hemp fields are planted in Wisconsin.


A rise in recreational drug use in the 1960s likely led to focus on targeting some types of substance abuse.

Cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, grouping the plant with heroin and LSD. Extracts from hemp get swept up into this definition, classifying CBD from hemp as a Schedule I substance.

President Richard M. Nixon right after signing the Controlled Substances Act in Washington, Oct. 27, 1970


The U.S. Government approves a synthetic form of cannabis for the pharmaceutical industry.

Marinol, made with a synthetic form of THC, is approved by the government as a legal drug to treat nausea and vomiting in cancer, HIV/AIDS, and anorexia patients.

To this day, Marinol brings in more than $150 million in annual sales for the pharmaceutical industry in the United States.



The U.S. begins to import food-grade hemp seeds and oil for use.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services successfully files a patent on cannabinoids.


A court case between the Hemp Industries Association and the DEA permanently protects the sales of seed-based hemp foods and personal care products in the U.S.


The first hemp licenses in over 50 years are granted to two farmers in North Dakota.


President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill into law, allowing research institutions to start piloting hemp farming programs.

The Farm Bill legally separated hemp from marijuana and legalised the cultivation of industrial hemp, defining industrial hemp as cannabis sativa L. plants 0.3% concentration of THC or less.


President Barack Obama signs the Farm Bill at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, Feb. 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves Epidiolex, a cannabidiol (CBD) oral medication.

The 2018 Farm Bill affirms the 2014 Farm Bill and confirms the removal of hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act.


Article based on this info:

The Magazine: History of Hemp: When and Where It All Began

What is Hemp’s History? | E1011 Labs


If It Can’t Get You High, Why Is Hemp So Strictly Regulated?

History Of Hemp In The US | Hemp History