Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on December 28, 2022

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that’s used for making a wide range of commercial and industrial products like food, textiles, rope, paper, biofuel, paint, and many more, including hemp oil. Today, it’s used mostly in the food industry, as hemp seeds contain a lot of protein and amino acids which is why a lot of health and wellness enthusiasts use it as part of their meals resulting in a boom in the hemp industry.

The tall durable fibres of hemp together with its high cannabinoid content is the reason why this plant has been used for so long by different civilizations. While cannabis is considered a Schedule I substance in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA), that isn’t the case with hemp. Since it contains less than 0.3% of THC (0.3% of THC content by dry weight), the hemp plant is excluded from this list, and its use is therefore legal.

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the use of the hemp plant throughout history and information on when this plant was made illegal, so let’s get started.

CBD: The Dominant Cannabinoid in Hemp

The cannabis plant comes in various shapes and sizes depending on where it’s grown in the world. It doesn’t matter if we look at cannabis Sativa, Indica, or a hybrid strain, one thing they all have in common is high levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The industrial hemp plant, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. It doesn’t contain THC levels as high as the cannabis plant, the percentage being less than 0.3%, rather it contains significant amounts of the sedative cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD). 

This plant is completely legal to cultivate around the US today for the production of hemp thread, hemp cordage, hemp clothing, hemp paper, and hemp food, among other products, although it wasn’t always so. But before we tell you when it became illegal, we need to go over the history of use regarding the hemp plant.

The History of Hemp

The hemp plant has had a long history of use which dates back to 8,000 BC, so let’s dive into it.

The Use of Hemp in Ancient Times

The first traces of the hemp plant were found around 8,000 BC in Asia. Afterward, the hemp plant spread to other continents including Europe, South America, and Africa, which used the hemp seeds as a food source and for pottery. While some religions consider the hemp plant as “sacred grass,” others such as Russia and Greece used the plant to make rope, and ultimately to make paper.

The Use of Hemp After the Middle Ages

Around the 1500s and the 1600s, hemp was used all over the world. The English grew it as a priority crop, while in North America it became an essential ingredient for making shoes, clothes, paper, ropes, and food. In the 1700s, weed became a staple crop for Americans as most of the founding fathers advocated for it.

The Use of Hemp in the 1900s

After the Mexican revolution and immigration to the US in the early 1900s, the cannabis plant became directly associated with the Mexican population. The first step towards the cannabis plant becoming illegal was done in 1929 when the first commissioner of the United State’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, declared that both marijuana and hemp are dangerous, which paved the road for it to become illegal. Anslinger ultimately drafted the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, along with Andrew Mellon, William Randolph Hearst, the DuPont family, and signed by President Roosevelt which started taxing hemp production. 

As WWII raged on, the U.S government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture started encouraging the production of the hemp plant for the war effort by releasing the pro-hemp documentary Hemp for Victory. Throughout this period, farmers from Wisconsin to Kentucky produced about 42,000 tons of hemp fiber annually. This was also around the time when Henry Ford started experimenting with the hemp plant when he made a car body out of hemp fiber which proves how versatile the hemp plant can be.

Hemp Eventually Becomes Illegal

After the war period, the federal politics moved towards making both the cannabis plant and the industrial hemp plant illegal. In 1970, as a result of the Controlled Substances Act, hemp cultivation was stopped on a federal level. Both hemp and marijuana were classified as Schedule I drugs with a high potential for abuse together with LSD and heroin. The non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD was also a part of this classification which meant that hemp production ceased throughout the US.

Hemp Cultivation in the New Millenium

Prior to the start of the new millennium, The U.S. Government approved the use of a synthetic form of THC which would be used as an anti-nausea medication for patients with anorexia, cancer, or HIV/AIDS, called Marinol. This is when the existing laws against the cultivation and use of hemp started cracking down.

Hemp licenses started to be issued again around 2007 when two North Dakota farmers obtained a license for growing hemp. The further expansion of hemp farming was possible once President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill in 2014 and separated the term marijuana from the term industrial hemp which was defined as “cannabis Sativa L. plants with 0.3 percent concentration of THC or less”. 

The 2018 Farm Bill, signed by President Donald Trump, affirmed the previous bill and removed the hemp plant and all its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act (and legalized the consumption of CBD and CBD products which contain less than 0.3% THC).

Hemp Laws Today

In a span of around 50 years, the industrial hemp plant went from being legal to cultivate, to it being illegal under the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, to finally being legal to cultivate again under the Controlled Substances Act in 2020. 

Under this bill, the industrial hemp plant and all hemp products, including the hemp fiber, hemp seed, and hemp seed oil, were removed from the classification for marijuana and became legal to grow under federal law. This legalization of hemp enabled states to implement new laws for hemp agriculture, growers to expand the legal hemp market, and universities to be able to grow hemp for pilot programs and research.

Even though CBD is legal on a federal level, CBD products haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The only product which is an exception to this is Epidiolex – the approved treatment for seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), Dravet syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).

Final Thoughts

Even though the history of hemp is long and varied, through unlocking the potential of this plant we can find out how to use it more and more as a versatile and natural resource for making clothes, food, and other products.

Hemp has become a very popular agricultural commodity in the last few years which we now use for making a wide array of products such as textiles, paper, fibers, cosmetic products, food and beverages, animal feed, construction and insulation materials, biofuels, topicals, and other products – and we only need to wait and see how the market will expand in the future.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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