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Má, the Mandarin word for hemp.
In China, the use of hemp has been shown to go back at least 10,000 years.

Hemp (from Old English hænep) is the name of the soft, durable fiber that is cultivated from plants of the Cannabis genus, cultivated only for industrial (non-drug) use.

In modern times, industrial hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, and fuel, with modest commercial success. In the past three years, commercial success of hemp food products has grown considerably.

Hemp is one of the fastest growing biomasses known, producing up to 25 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year, and one of the earliest domesticated plants known. For a crop, hemp is relatively environmentally friendly as it requires few pesticides and no herbicides.

Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa is the variety grown for industrial use in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere, while C. sativa subsp. indica generally has poor fiber quality and is primarily used for production of recreational and medicinal drugs. The major difference between the two types of plants is the appearance and the amount of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) secreted in a resinous mixture by epidermal hairs called glandular trichomes, although they can also be distinguished by genetic means. Strains of Cannabis approved for industrial hemp production produce only minute amounts of this psychoactive drug, not enough for any physical or psychological effects. Typically, hemp contains below 0.3% THC, while Cannabis grown for marijuana can contain anywhere from 6 or 7 % to 20% or even more.

Industrial hemp is produced in many countries around the world. Major producers include Canadamarker, Francemarker, and Chinamarker. While more hemp is exported to the United States than to any other country, the United States Government does not consistently distinguish between marijuana and the non-psychoactive Cannabis used for industrial and commercial purposes.


Hemp is used for a wide variety of purposes, including the manufacture of cordage of varying tensile strength, clothing, and nutritional products. The bast fibers can be used in 100% hemp products, but are commonly blended with other organic fibers such as flax, cotton or silk, for apparel and furnishings, most commonly at a 55%/45% hemp/cotton blend. The inner two fibers of hemp are more woody, and are more often used in non-woven items and other industrial applications, such as mulch, animal bedding and litter. The oil from the fruits ("seeds") dries on exposure to air (similar to linseed oil) and is sometimes used in the manufacture of oil-based paints, in creams as a moisturizing agent, for cooking, and in plastics. Hemp seeds have been used in bird seed mix. Hempseed is also widely used as a fishing bait.


Shelled hemp seeds
Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life. The seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into hemp milk (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking. The fresh leaves can also be eaten in salads. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles, hemp tofu to nut butters. A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the seed oils, whole hemp grain (which is sterilized as per international law), hulled hemp seed (the whole seed without the mineral rich outer shell), hemp flour, hemp cake (a by-product of pressing the seed for oil) and hemp protein powder. Hemp is also used in some organic cereals, for non-dairy milk somewhat similar to soy and nut milks, and for non-dairy hemp "ice cream."

Within the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairsmarker (Defra) has treated hemp as purely a non-food crop. Seed appears on the UK market as a legal food product, and cultivation licenses are available for this purpose. In North America, hemp seed food products are sold, typically in health food stores or through mail order.The USDAmarker estimates that "the market potential for hemp seed as a food ingredient is unknown. However, it probably will remain a small market, like those for sesame andpoppy seeds."


About 30–35% of the weight of hempseed is hempseed oil or hemp oil, an edible oil that contains about 80% essential fatty acids (EFAs); i.e., linoleic acid, omega-6 (LA, 55%), alpha-linolenic acid, omega-3 (ALA, 22%), in addition to gamma-linolenic acid, omega-6 (GLA, 1–4%) and stearidonic acid, omega-3 (SDA, 0–2%). Hempseed also contains about 20% of a highly-digestible protein, where 1/3 is edestin and 2/3 are albumins. Its amino acid profile is close to "complete" when compared to more common sources of proteins such as meat, milk, eggs and soy. The proportions of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid in one tablespoon (15 ml) per day of hemp oil easily provides human daily requirements for EFAs. Unlike flaxseed oil, hemp oil can be used continuously without developing a deficiency or other imbalance of EFAs. This has been demonstrated in a clinical study, where the daily ingestion of flaxseed oil decreased the endogenous production of GLA.

Hempseed is an adequate source of calcium and iron. Whole hempseeds are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese.

Hempseed contains no gluten and therefore would not trigger symptoms of celiac disease.


Hemp oil is a highly unsaturated oil. As a highly unsaturated oil, it has a relatively low smoke point and is not suitable for frying. It is primarily used as a food oil and dietary supplement, and has been shown to relieve the symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis). Hemp oil can spontaneously oxidize and turn rancid within a short period of time if not stored properly; it is best stored in a dark glass bottle, in a refrigerator or freezer (its freezing point is -20C). Preservatives (antioxidants) are not necessary for high quality oils that are stored properly.

Dietary supplement

Hemp oil has been shown to relieve the symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis).

Hemp Seed contains a large dietary supplement of omega-3, higher even than walnuts which contain 6.3% of n-3. These oils are known to improve memory and strengthen brain cells.


Hemp oil has anti-inflammatory properties. Hemp seed oil as an anti-inflammatory


Hemp stem showing fibers.

The fiber is one of the most valuable parts of the hemp plant. It is commonly called bast, which refers to the fibers that grow on the outside of the woody interior of the plant's stalk, and under the outer most part (the bark). Bast fibers give the plants strength. Hemp fibers can be between approximately 0.91 m (3 ft) and 4.6 m (15 ft) long, running the length of the plant. Depending on the processing used to remove the fiber from the stem, the hemp may naturally be creamy white, brown, gray, black or green.

The use of hemp for fiber production has declined sharply over the last two centuries, but before the industrial revolution, hemp was a popular fiber because it is strong and grows quickly; it produces 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax when grown on the same land. Hemp has been used to make paper. It was used to make canvas, and the word canvas derives from cannabis. Abaca or Manila replaced its use for rope. Burlap, made from jute, took over the sacking market. The paper industry began using wood pulp. The carpet industry switched over to wool, sisal, and jute, then nylon. Netting and webbing applications were taken over by cotton and synthetics.

Building material

Concrete block made with hemp in France
In Europe and China, hemp fibers have been used in prototype quantities to strengthen concrete, and in other composite materials for many construction and manufacturing applications. See Hempcrete.

Composite materials

A mixture of fiberglass, hemp fiber, kenaf, and flax has been used since 2002 to make composite panels for automobiles. The choice of which bast fiber to use is primarily based on cost and availability.


There is a niche market for hemp paper. World hemp paper pulp production was believed to be around 120,000 tons per year in 1991 which was about 0.05% of the world's annual pulp production volume. The cost of hemp pulp is approximately six times that of wood pulp, mostly due to the small size and outdated equipment of the few hemp processing plants in the Western world and hemp is harvested once a year (during August) and needs to be stored to feed the mill the whole year through. This storage requires a lot of (mostly manual) handling of the bulky stalk bundles, which accounts for a high raw material cost. Hemp pulp is bleached with hydrogen peroxide, which can also be used for wood pulp.

In 1916, US Department of Agriculture chief scientists Lyster H. Dewe, and Jason L. Merrill created paper made from hemp pulp, which they concluded was "favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood."

The decision of the United States Congress to pass the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act was based in part on testimony derived from articles in newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, who, some authors stress, had significant financial interests in the forest industry, which manufactured his newsprint.

From 1880 to 1933 the hemp grown in the United States had declined from 15,000 to , and that the price of line hemp had dropped from $12.50 per pound in 1914 to $9.00 per pound in 1933. In 1935, however, hemp would make a significant rebound. Hearst began a campaign against hemp, and published stories in his newspapers associating hemp with marijuana and attacking marijuana usage.


A sack made from hemp fiber

A modest hemp fabric industry exists. Recent developments in processing have made it possible to soften coarse fibers to a wearable level. Characteristics of hemp fiber are its superior strength and durability, resistance to ultraviolet light and mold, comfort and good absorbency (8%).


Hemp rope was used in the age of sailing ships, though the rope had to be protected by tarring, due to hemp rope propensity for breaking due to rot, as the capillary effect of the rope-woven fibers tended to hold liquid at the interior, while seeming dry from the outside. Tarring was a labor-intensive process, and earned sailors the nickname "Jack Tar". Hemp rope was phased out when Manila, which does not require tarring, became widely available. Manila is sometimes referred to as Manila hemp, but is not related to hemp; it is Abacá, a species of banana.

Animal bedding

Hemp shives are the core of the stem. In EU, they are used for bedding (horse bedding for instance), or for horticultural mulch. Industrial hemp is much more profitable if both fibers and shives (or even seeds) can be used.

Water and soil purification

Hemp can be used as a "mop crop" to clear impurities out of wastewater, such as sewage effluent, excessive phosphorus from chicken litter, or other unwanted substances or chemicals. Eco-technologist Dr. Keith Bolton from Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, is a leading researcher in this area. Hemp is being used to clean contaminants at Chernobyl nuclear disastermarker site.

Weed control

Biodiesel sample

Hemp, because of its height, dense foliage and its high planting density as a crop, is a very effective and long used method of killing tough weeds in farming (by minimizing the pool of weed seeds of the soil). Using hemp this way can help farmers avoid the use of herbicides, to help gain organic certification and to gain the benefits of crop rotation per se.


Biofuels such as biodiesel and alcohol fuel can be made from the oils in hemp seeds and stalks, and the fermentation of the plant as a whole, respectively. Biodiesel produced from hemp is sometimes known as hempoline.

Henry Ford grew industrial hemp on his estate after 1937, possibly to prove the cheapness of methanol production at Iron Mountain. He made plastic cars (the so-called Hemp Car) with wheat straw, hemp and sisal. (Popular Mechanics, Dec. 1941, "Pinch Hitters for Defense.") Filtered hemp oil can be used directly to power diesels. In 1892, Rudolph Diesel invented the diesel engine, which he intended to fuel "by a variety of fuels, especially vegetable and seed oils."


Hemp being harvested
Climate zones well suited for the cultivation of hemp

Millennia of selective breeding have resulted in varieties that look quite different. Also, breeding since circa 1930 has focused quite specifically on producing strains which would perform very poorly as sources of drug material. Hemp grown for fibre is planted closely, resulting in tall, slender plants with long fibers. Ideally, according to Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairsmarker, the herb should be harvested before it flowers. This early cropping is done because fibre quality declines if flowering is allowed and, incidentally, this cropping also pre-empts the herb's maturity as a potential source of drug material. However, in these strains of industrial hemp the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content would have been very low regardless.

The name Cannabis is the genus and was the name favored by the 19th century medical practitioners who helped to introduce the herb's drug potential to modern English-speaking consciousness. Cannabis for non-drug purposes (especially ropes and textiles) was then already well known as hemp.

The name "marijuana" is Spanish in origin and associated almost exclusively with the herb's drug potential.

Historical cultivation

Hemp has been grown for millennia in Asia and the Middle East for its fibre. Commercial production of hemp in the West took off in the eighteenth century, but was grown in the sixteenth century in eastern England. Due to colonial and naval expansion of the era, economies needed large quantities of hemp for rope and oakum.


Industrial hempseed harvesting machine in France.
Thick stands of fiber hemp compete well with weeds.

Smallholder plots are usually harvested by hand. The plants are cut at 2 to 3 cm above the soil and left on the ground to dry. Mechanical harvesting is now common, using specially adapted cutter-binders or simpler cutters.

The cut hemp is laid in swathes to dry for up to four days. This was traditionally followed by retting, either water retting (the bundled hemp floats in water) or dew retting (the hemp remains on the ground and is affected by the moisture in dew moisture, and by molds and bacterial action). Modern processes use steam and machinery to separate the fiber, a process known as thermo-mechanical pulping.


There are broadly three groups of Cannabis varieties being cultivated today:

  • Varieties primarily cultivated for their fiber, characterized by long stems and little branching, extreme red, yellow, blue or purple coloration, or thickness of stem and solid core, such as hemp cannabis oglalas, and more generally called industrial hemp.
  • Varieties grown for seed from which hemp oil is extracted or which can be dehulled.
  • Varieties grown for medicinal, spiritual development or recreational purposes.

A nominal if not legal distinction is often made between hemp, with concentrations of the psychoactive chemical THC far too low to be useful as a drug, and Cannabis used for medical, recreational, or spiritual purposes.


Hemp plants can be vulnerable to various pathogens including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, viruses and other miscellaneous pathogens. Such diseases often lead to reduced fiber quality, stunted growth, and death of the plant. These diseases rarely affect the yield of a hemp field, so hemp production is not traditionally dependent on the use of pesticides.


Cannabis sativa illustration from 1543.

Hemp use dates back to the Stone Age, with hemp fibre imprints found in pottery shards in Chinamarker and Taiwanmarker over 7,000 years old. They were also later used to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and an early form of paper. Contrary to the traditional view that Cai Lun invented paper in around 105 AD, specimens of hemp paper were found in the Great Wall of China dating back 200 years earlier.

Hemp cloth was more common than linen until the mid 14th century. The use of hemp as a cloth was centered largely in the countryside, with higher quality textiles being available in the towns. Virtually every small town had access to a hemp field.

In late medieval Germany and Italy, hemp was employed in cooked dishes, as filling in pies and tortes, or boiled in a soup.

The traditional European hemp was by tradition and due to its low narcotic effect not used as a drug in Europe . It was cultivated for its fibers and for example used by Christopher Columbus for ropes on his ships.

The Spaniards first brought hemp to the Western Hemisphere and cultivated it in Chilemarker starting about 1545. However, in May 1607, "hempe" was among the crops Gabriel Archer observed being cultivated by the natives at the main Powhatan village, where Richmond, Virginiamarker is now situated; and in 1613, Samuell Argall reported wild hemp "better than that in England" growing along the shores of the upper Potomac. As early as 1619, the first Virginia House of Burgesses passed an Act requiring all planters in Virginia to sow "both English and Indian" hemp on their plantations. The Puritans are first known to have cultivated hemp in New Englandmarker in 1645.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both cultivated hemp on their farms. Benjamin Franklin started the first American paper mill, which made paper exclusively from hemp, and the Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made from hemp fibers.

In the Napoleonic era, many military uniforms were made of hemp. While hemp linens were coarser than those made of flax, the added strength and durability of hemp, as well as the lower cost, meant that hemp uniforms were preferred.

Hemp was used extensively by the United States during WWII. Uniforms, canvas, and rope were among the main textiles created from the hemp plant at this time. Much of the hemp used was planted in the Midwest and Kentuckymarker. Historically, hemp production made up a significant portion of Kentucky's economy and many slave plantations located there focused on producing hemp.

The U.S. made a short 1942 film, Hemp for Victory, promoting hemp as a necessary crop to win the war.

By the early twentieth century, the advent of the steam engine and the diesel engine ended the reign of the sailing ship. The advent of iron and steel for cable and ships' hulls further eliminated natural fibers in marine use, although hemp had long since fallen out of favor in the sailing industry in preference to Manila hemp. The invention of artificial fibers in the late thirties by DuPont and chemical papers invested in by William Randolph Hearst led to the illegalization of hemp farming after the invention of the hemp cropping machine, which would have put them out of business.

Countries that produce hemp

Over 30 countries produce industrial hemp including Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Great Britain, France, Russia and Spain.

From the 1950s to the 1980s the Soviet Unionmarker was the world's largest producer (3,000 km² in 1970). The main production areas were in Ukrainemarker, the Kurskmarker and Orel regions of Russiamarker, and near the Polishmarker border. Since its inception in 1931, the Hemp Breeding Department at the Institute of Bast Crops ( ) in Hlukhivmarker (Glukhov), Ukraine, has been one of the world's largest centers for developing new hemp varieties, focusing on improving fiber quality, per-hectare yields, and low THC content.

Other important producing countries were Chinamarker, North Koreamarker, Hungarymarker, the former Yugoslaviamarker, Romaniamarker, Polandmarker, Francemarker and Italymarker.

In Japanmarker, hemp was historically used as paper and a fiber crop; it was restricted as a narcotic drug in 1948. The ban on marijuana imposed by the USmarker authorities was alien to Japanese culture, as the drug had never been widely used in Japan before. There is archaeological evidence that cannabis was used for clothing and the seeds were eaten in Japan right back to the Jōmon period (10,000 to 300 BCE). Many Kimono designs portray hemp, or "Asa" ( ), as a beautiful plant.

Francemarker is Europe's biggest producer, with 8,000 hectares cultivated. Canadamarker (9,725 ha in 2004), the United Kingdommarker, and Germanymarker all resumed commercial production in the 1990s. British production is mostly used as bed for horses; other uses are under development. The largest outlet for German fibre is composite automotive panels. Companies in Canada, UK, US and Germany among many others process hemp seed into a growing range of food products and cosmetics; many traditional growing countries still continue to produce textile grade fibre.

Hemp is illegal to grow in the U.S. under federal law due to its relation to marijuana, and any imported hemp products must meet a zero tolerance level. It is considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (P.L. 91-513; 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.). Some states have defied federal law and made the cultivation of industrial hemp legal. These states — North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, West Virginia, Vermont, and Oregon — have not yet begun to grow hemp due to resistance from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Industrial growth under license

Licenses for hemp cultivation are issued in the European Union, Canadamarker, in three states of Australia, and nine states in the United Statesmarker.

In the United Kingdommarker, these licenses are issued by the Home Office under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. When grown for non-drug purposes hemp is referred to as industrial hemp, and a common product is fiber for use in a wide variety of products, as well as the seed for nutritional aspects as well as for the oil. Feral hemp or ditch weed is usually a naturalized fiber or oilseed strain of Cannabis that has escaped from cultivation and is self-seeding.

In Australia the states of Victoriamarker, Queenslandmarker and most recently New South Walesmarker issue licenses to grow hemp for industrial use. Victoria was an early adopter in 1998, and has reissued the regulation in 2008.Queensland has allowed industrial production under license since 2002 where the issuance is controlled under the Drugs Misuse Act 1986.Most recently New South Wales now issues licenses under a law that came into effect as at 6 November 2008, the Hemp Industry Regulations Act 2008 (No 58).

Vermont and North Dakota have passed laws enabling hemp licensure. Both states are waiting for permission to grow hemp from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Currently, North Dakota representatives are pursuing legal measures to force DEA approval.Oregon has licensed industrial hemp as of August, 2009.

See also


  1. "The yield of hemp fiber varies from 400 to 2,500 pounds per acre, averaging 1,000 pounds under favorable conditions." Dewey & Merrrill, Hemp Hurds As Papermaking Material, U.S.D.A. Bulletin No.404, 1916, page 3.
  2. Agronomy of fibre hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in Europe
  3. Datwyler SL, Weiblen GD. Genetic Variation in Hemp and Marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.) According to Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 2006; 51(2):371-375.
  4. Hemp and Marijuana: Myths & Realities written by David P. West, Ph.D. for the North American Industrial Hemp Council
  5. National Non-Food Crops Centre. "Hemp", Retrieved on 2009-03-26.
  7. Welcome To The Cool Hemp Company
  10. Callaway JC (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: an overview. Euphytica 140:65-72.
  11. Schwab U, Callaway J, Erkkilä A, Gynther J, Uusitupa M, Järvinen T (2006). Effects of hempseed and flaxseed oils on the profile of serum lipids, serum total and lipoprotein lipid concentrations and haemostatic. European Journal of Nutrition 45(8):470-7.
  12. Callaway, JC, Schwab U, Harvimaa I, Halonen P, Mykkänen O, Hyvönen P & Järvinen T (2005). Efficacy of dietary hempseed oil in patients with atopic dermatitis. Journal of Dermatological Treatment 16: 87-94.
  13. CRRH, Archaeologists agree that cannabis was among the first crops cultivated by human beings at least over 6,000 years ago, and perhaps more than 12,000 years ago
  14. Online Etymology Dictionary
  15. NNFCC. "Hemp Lime Construction Factsheet", "National Non-Food Crops Centre", Retrieved on 17 March 2009
  16. Dewey and Merrill, U.S.D.A. Bulletin No. 404, Washington, D.C., October 14, 1916. Page 25
  17. [1]
  19. Search Results - The Huffington Post
  20. Marijuana Timeline
  21. NNFCC. "Crop Factsheet: Hemp", National Non-Food Crops Centre, 2008-06-09. Retrieved on 2009-05-06
  22. Phytoremediation: Using Plants to Clean Soil
  23. Hemp is considered a prohibited noxious weed.
  24. Hemp 4 Fuel - Clean Energy Solutions
  25. Petrol vs. Hemp
  26. Facts
  27. Jack Herer - Chapter 9
  28. New Fossil Evidence for the Past Cultivation and Processing of Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in Eastern England Author(s): R. H. W. Bradshaw, P. Coxon, J. R. A. Greig, A. R. Hall Source: New Phytologist, Vol. 89, No. 3 (Nov., 1981), pp. 503-510 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the New Phytologist Trust Accessed: 06/07/2009
  29. Stafford, Peter. 1992. Psychedelics Encyclopedia. Berkeley, California, Ronin Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-914171-51-8
  30. Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe: A Book of Essays (2002), edited by Melitta Weiss Adamson ISBN 0-415-92994-6 pg. 98, 166
  31. Gabriel Archer, A Relatyon of the Discoverie of Our River..., printed in Archaeologia Americana 1860, p. 44.
  32. Proceedings of the Virginia Assembly, 1619, cf. the 1633 Act: Hening's Statutes at Large, p. 218
  33. James F. Hopkins, Slavery in the Hemp Industry
  34. Hemp research and growing in Ukraine
  35. Hemp will help Ukraine to grow wealthy
  36. Interview with Dr. V. G. Virovets, the head of the Hemp Breeding Department at the Institute of Bast Crops (1998)
  37. [2]
  38. Hemp, hemp, hooray: Bill aims to aid farmers with new but controversial crop
  39. North Dakota Case
  40. 75th OREGON LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY--2009 Regular Session Senate Bill 676

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