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Understanding the History of Hemp

Despite movements here in the United States and across the world, the words “cannabis” and “hemp” seem to have a negative context associated with them.  Did you know that this plant actually has quite a rich history?  It only stopped being used prevalently in the past few centuries, if not less time.

So, today I will help to mitigate that stigma surrounding this plant by explaining to you the history of its use by humans.  Hopefully, you find something that interests you!  I know that it might not always seem like the most interesting thing, but I can assure that at least something will be enriching in this article today.

The Beginnings

Before I get started, let me explain to you what I mean by “hemp,” as I think a lot of people have some misunderstandings in terms of what it is.  The plant itself is known as cannabis.  However, in specific, hemp refers to this crop when it is used for food or fiber source.  That is where the main difference lies – it is not intended for recreational use.  

You can read a bit more about how that works in articles like this one,, which detail the rise of what is known as industrial hemp.  I will not get overly specific in distinguishing that from other types here, as I believe it would be pedantic, but I do want to make you aware of it if you go to learn more.  Most academics will refer to it in this manner.

In terms of where it comes from, there is a surprising amount of debate.  It is difficult to trace, but some people theorize that it could come from Asia.  Specifically, from Central, South, or East Asia, though it is hard to narrow down beyond that.  That being said, Central or East do seem more likely, as if it came from South Asia, it would have had to spread over the Himalayan Mountains.

That would have been quite unlikely, to say the least, but far from impossible.  Hence some of the uncertainty here.  In general, it requires a temperate climate in which to grow, so that means summers that are not too hot and winters that are not too cold.  It has found much success throughout the rest of the world no matter where it comes from, so that is what you should remember.

The Development of Fibers

Many anthropologists speculate that the development of fibers led to the use of hemp in creating them.  It makes for a durable type, after all, and grew massively in popularity rather quickly thanks to trade routes.  The fact that these plants can grow in many parts of the world certainly help.

In fact, did you know that it was used to make cloths before textiles became a thing?  That means it was popularized up to fifty thousand years ago.  It is crazy to think about how long ago that was, even if it was the blink of an eye for the earth itself.

It remains an important part of how we use it today, though it admittedly is not as common as it was before.  That is partially because of some governments discouraging its use because it comes from the cannabis plant.  That being said, groups like the hemp collect announced other utilizations for this substance that are legal and not harmful, so there is no real reason to keep avoiding it.

The fiber that comes from hemp is less flexible than that of flax, and longer as well.  In regard to colors, it is typically a brown, gray, green, or yellow.  Something to note is that it is difficult to dye into lighter colors, so that is one of the limiting factors.  However, its durability makes it useful for things like rope, string, yarn, or twine, and even burlap in some cases!

Other Human Innovations

As you can probably imagine, what I described above is hardly the only use that we have innovated for this plant.  The seeds are edible and contain a lot of important nutrients like protein and magnesium.  For that reason, they are incorporated into many types of food across the globe – don’t write it off just because it comes from a cannabis plant!

Most of these ways that humans have created to utilize hemp do not contain hallucinogens, which is what makes marijuana illegal in some parts of the United States.  Notably, hemp products are not, as CBD is different than THC.

The lines can certainly get blurred, and it can be hard to keep up.  You can look at resources such as this one for some guidance, if you are ever feeling uncertain.  Interestingly, some people even use the oil that comes from the seeds as a replacement for milk, similar to almond or soy milk.

What else have we created using it, though?  Historically speaking, there is slightly less than today, but it is still worth learning about.  In ancient China, it was utilized to create a type of paper, shoes, clothing, rope, and even more.  

Now, it was not until the Iron Age that Western parts of the world started to incorporate it into their cloths and fibers, but I do think that it is really cool how ancient cultures capitalized on its usefulness.  As you can see, there is little to no reason to be hesitant about it now.