The History of Hemp

Timeline of the history of hemp around the world

Humans have used it for over 10,000 years, it has more than 50,000 applications, and farmers used to be fined if they didn’t grow it.

If you haven’t guessed yet, we’re talking about hemp — a plant we have been using since at least 8000BC. Some even believe that this cannabis species’ was one of the first plants domesticated by humans!

This article will be looking at the evolution of hemp around the world, and where it was cultivated through major periods in history. Bear in mind there are conflicting finds that have made it hard to accurately date the spread of Cannabis. 

So, as new discoveries are made, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date! 

Breaking Ground

As a sun-loving plant, it has been accepted by most that hemp originated from Central Asia and was domesticated as early as 12000BC.  However, artefacts made from hemp have been discovered that date back to around 8000BC, so it’s safe to say that humans 10,000 years ago knew how to turn hemp fibres into a usable textile.

The practise of hemp cultivation began to spread throughout Asia as numerous emperors documented its importance in their societies.

The first significant uses were in the production of:

    • Textiles
    • Ropes
    • Food(seed)
    • Medicine
    • Pottery.

Nobody would have imagined that this plant would grow to be one of the most commonly utilised crops throughout the development of the modern world.

geographical history of hemp around the world
A very rough estimation on the spread of cannabis based on the accumulated information of numerous sources.

Writing Modern History

Around 100 to 200 AD, China developed hemp paper. Qi Min Yao Shu written by Gui Shi Xian during the Northern Wei dynasty was one of many other written accounts of hemp cultivation in this period. It’s reasonable to assume that by this time, hemp had made its way throughout the whole of Asia.

The wide range of uses for hemp made it one of the worlds most valued resources.

In 1533, King Henry II introduced laws that fined English farmers if they did not grow hemp. Around 70 years later in 1606, when North America began cultivating industrial hemp, American farmers were also in a similar position where they were required by law to grow it.

As you can see throughout history, the largest empires on earth have valued hemp so much that it was illegal to not grow it at times.

At this point, they probably didn’t even know all the benefits for the environment!


Hemp for Victory

One of the most notable uses of hemp throughout modern periods was for canvas and rope in naval fleets. In 1666, a facility was built to manufacture the hemp rope that was needed for rigging of the ships in the Royal French Navy.

This was not the only time that hemp was used by the military. 

Let’s jump ahead to 1941.  Hemp had been illegal for nearly 10 years when the U.S government suddenly changed their stance. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, the United States officially entered World War II. Japan had stopped the hemp supply to America by this time. The outcome? American farmers were encouraged to once again grow hemp as their ‘patriotic duty‘ to help pick up the slack.

Hemp for Victory was a pro-hemp propaganda film released by the government requesting that farmers grow hemp to supply the war. The U.S military proceeded to use the fibres to develop critical resources for the war.

The American military was kitted out in cannabis. 

In fact, the 41st President of the United States was saved by a hemp parachute when his bomber was shot down in World War II.

I’m sure we don’t have to go on and tell you what happened after the war.

That’s right — The cannabis plant was once again defamed, and the government stopped giving out licences. 

It had something to do with communist brainwashing

harry anslinger weed propaganda communist brainwashing quote

Final Words

By the end of Ansligner’s final crusade against cannabis in the 1940s, most of the modern world abandoned hemp and turned to other less sustainable resources. France was the only eastern European nation that didn’t ban hemp production in the 20th century. Some Asian countries also held on to this age-old tradition.

For more than 50 years, only a handful of nations practised the cultivation of hemp. However, the United States just legalised industrial hemp nationwide (2019), and the industry is primed to explode.

Australia is also heading in a similar direction. 

This was just a quick glimpse into how hemp has helped us grow. We believe our long history with this plant is due to be reviewed. Everybody is looking for sustainable solutions for the future…

We think it’s important to take some lessons from the past.

If you enjoyed learning a little bit about the history of hemp, have any questions, or want to let us know about something we missed, please reach out!

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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