The cultivation of hemp has a long and varied history, spanning back almost as long as the practice of agriculture itself. The plant was once lauded for its variety of uses but then fell out of favor as more and more countries banned its production, due to its connection to marijuana and the THC compound. Today, hemp is slowly becoming more and more popular again, riding the “green wave” of cannabis legalization in countries such as Canada and the United States.
The first evidence of hemp being cultivated was found in China, dating back as early as 2800 B.C., where its fibers were used to create cloth. The Chinese also found that its fibers could be used for paper, and extract from the plant could also be used for medicinal purposes. Hemp was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages, where King Henry VIII of England mandated that all landowners must sow at least one-quarter acre of the crop in 1535, to benefit from its fiber as a source of material for various uses. It was then to South America and eventually brought to North America. It is highly likely that hemp had already made its way to the United States of America before the Europeans arrived, but the first colonial settlers were the ones to make initial recordings of its uses.
In the early 1930s, it appeared as though hemp was the next billion-dollar industry. Technological developments had become readily available, making it so much easier, faster, and cheaper to separate the hemp fibers from the rest of the plant, increasing the yield drastically at a fraction of the cost. However, it was at this time that DuPont began to lobby against hemp. The natural fibers were seen as a threat to their newly-developed synthetic fiber nylon. Despite the fact that other parts of the hemp plant were found to be useful (such as oil extract and the hurds of the fibers), it was seen as competition, and DuPont wanted it completely gone. In 1937, the company managed to successfully get heavy tax restrictions for hemp growers instated under the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, effectively pushing farmers out of profitable business.
In America, that law helped to further the growing War on Drugs cause, adding cannabis to the list of illegal drugs. Many other countries followed suit, banning the growth of hemp plants as it was believed they were too dangerous, due to their connection to marijuana. In many European countries, growing hemp was never outwardly banned as it was in the United States, but they still reduced their production of hemp as well. Because the USA was such a large global market influence, demand for the crop fell internationally as artificial fibers became more popular, taking the place of hemp.
Fast forward to today, when more and more countries are revoking their bans on the cultivation of hemp. Its benefits are being rediscovered, and its uses now span even more industries than before. Hemp fibers are still being used for textiles and medicinal supplements, but in a far greater range of ways, to reflect developments in the understanding of the plant, and new technologies. Hemp is also used in a range of beauty and skin products, as well as biofuel, plastics, and food. As countries such as Canada and the United States relaxed their hemp laws, they have become some of the largest global suppliers.
The largest provider of hemp is actually China, a country that never banned the cultivation of the plant. Throughout history, the plant has continuously been used as a form of medicine and food, as well as to provide fibers that can be used in various different materials and textiles. Today, China farms over 200,000 acres of hemp, exporting almost half of it to countries such as America. China created the blueprint for hemp farming on a large scale, and this may become the future for many other countries who are turning to sustainable methods of hemp production.