Hemp has a long, largely positive history of practical, medicinal and recreational use in the world. It was only recently, in the 1930s, when the plant received a bad reputation, largely created by government campaigns to render cannabis illegal. Although its benefits are many, several roadblocks remain a barrier from implementing its wide use again.
Use of Hemp in History
Throughout history, hemp has been a staple for paper, clothing and other practical uses. Farmed for more than 12,000 years, it has even been used as food. The growth of hemp was a requirement for American colonies in order to build sails and rope for ships. George Washington grew hemp on his farm at Mount Vernon. The United States Constitution was even drafted on hemp paper. During World War II, the United States ran a Hemp for Victory campaign. It was even legal tender in America for more than 100 years. In the modern world, more than $620 million in hemp products were sold in the U.S. in 2014 alone.
History of Prohibition
Hemp, a non-psychoactive sister plant to cannabis, is classified as the same drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Hemp has been regulated to an extent since 1619, but it was not rendered a criminalized substance until the Federal Bureau of Narcotics pushed to outlaw all cannabis products in the 1930s. Much of the propaganda used to condemn cannabis at the time was based on partial truths or false information, such as the claims that the plant made people commit violent acts of crime. Studies have since proved that these claims were untrue, with many researchers postulating that potential negative effects of cannabis, when used in moderation, are much less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes.
Benefits of Hemp
Nutritionally, hemp is a good source of protein and rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to promote heart health and reduce inflammation. Their arginine content may also help reduce heart disease. Hemp seeds are sources of vitamins A, E and C. They also provide minerals and fiber when included in the diet. The seeds have shown promise in some studies to help with symptoms of menopause and PMS, skin disorders and digestive issues. The seeds also contain sterols, aliphatic alcohols and linolenic acids, which may make them helpful in fighting cancer. Hemp seeds can be used in everything from soap to cereal, protein powders to desserts.
Roadblocks to Legalization
Even though hemp produces no high, making it a non-euphoric plant, hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, cannabis sativa, which federal law still prohibits in the United States. In 2014, President Obama signed the farm bill that removed the ban on hemp grown for research purposes in the Controlled Substances Act, allowing some growers to plant the crop in states where it is allowed for research purposes only.
While United States law dictates that hemp farms are still mostly illegal, many consumers continue to purchase goods and foods that contain hemp from outside sources. Popular items include hemp oil, hemp seeds and clothing and textiles made from hemp.
Photo credit: Flickr/Julia Seeliger.