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The Cultivation, Criminalization, and Revival of Hemp

Written By Ellese Symons Jul 13th 2022
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During your investigations of the many health and wellness benefits of CBD, you may have noticed that some people still question the legality of hemp oil. We understand the confusion.

Although hemp cultivation has not yet been legalized on the federal level, the legality of growing industrial hemp varies by state. It may ease your mind to learn that hemp products are not federally restricted. With the anticipation that the federal government may soon be legalizing hemp cultivation nationally, we thought it might be interesting to take a look at the history of hemp.

Differentiating Between the Cannabis Plants When Answering “Is Hemp Legal?”

Believed to be among the first domesticated crops, the cannabis plants hemp and marijuana were bred for entirely different purposes. Hemp was grown as a source of food and textiles; marijuana was selectively bred for medicinal and religious purposes. While the plants are related, they are not alike. Consider the following differences:

  • Marijuana Plants – Marijuana plants are short and bush-like. Marijuana plants prefer warmth and humidity, so they are typically grown in a climate-controlled environment. Marijuana has a 60-90 day growth cycle. While hemp and marijuana both contain the cannabinoid CBD in their extract, marijuana extract also contains a significant amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid responsible for the plant’s psychoactive properties.
  • Hemp Plants – Hemp plants are tall, thin, and weed-like. Hemp is a hearty plant that can grow in a variety of climates. The growth cycle of hemp spans 108-120 days. While marijuana contains high levels of THC, hemp does not. That’s why you will not be subjected to any type of intoxication from using hemp oil.

The Medicinal Value of the Plant Used for Textiles

Historians believe that ancient civilizations did not grow cannabis to get high, they recognized the value of the plant as an herbal medication. Since marijuana was bred for religious and medical use and hemp was cultivated for textiles, you may be just a bit surprised to learn that many ancient civilizations also used hemp medicinally.

The medicinal use of hemp dates back to Ancient China, 2737 BCE. Emperor Shen-Nung created a topical hemp product and used hemp oil to alleviate pain. His findings were documented in the first editions of the Pen Ts’ao Ching, the earliest Chinese materia medica book. Emperor Shen-Nung may be credited as the first to document1 the many potential benefits of hemp, but many others soon followed. Consider the following examples:

  • 77 AD – In ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder noted hemp beneficial for pain relief and extracting insects from the ears
  • 200 AD – Greek physician Galen of Pergamum also documented hemp as an effective method of pain relief
  • During the 16th century, Europeans used hemp for various purposes
  • Before the Civil War, hemp was used to treat the symptoms of various disorders
  • In the 1600s, Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy recommended hemp
  • During the 19th century, the research of Dr. JR Reynolds mentioned the benefits of hemp

While the medicinal use of hemp had been documented throughout the ages, the popularity of medicinal hemp declined with the introduction of opiates and syringes. As medical treatments advanced, people seemed to have temporarily lost interest in using hemp products for health and wellness.

Hemp Was Once a Required Crop

Hemp fibers are durable, adaptable, and resistant to decay, making hemp the ideal fiber for making rope and canvas for travel by sea. Early Americans use hemp to make sails, cloth, and building materials. During Colonial times farmers were legally required to grow hemp crops. Presidents Washington and Jefferson both grew hemp. In at least three colonies, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, hemp was used as legal tender.

Until the 1930s, marijuana was legal, and hemp was in demand. Henry Ford was busy producing hemp fuel in Iron Mountain Michigan. With hemp increasingly perceived as an economic threat, competing industries began a smear campaign directly associating hemp with marijuana.

The Criminalization of Cannabis Plants

The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was the first federal law enacted to criminalize marijuana. Although hemp and marijuana were still recognized individually, the marijuana tax act imposed strict regulations and high taxes on doctors who prescribed cannabis. Hemp farmers were subjected to hefty taxes and licensing regulations. The demands imposed on hemp farmers turned a once profitable crop into a poor investment.

It was the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 that dissolved the individual status of the two cannabis plants. With the passing of the Controlled Substance Act, hemp and marijuana were both classified as a schedule 1 drug. This classified the plants as drugs with no accepted medical use. Because of the new classification, hemp could no longer be grown in the US without a permit from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The Revival of Industrial Hemp

In 2013 hemp farming was legalized in the state of Colorado. Not long after, the Agricultural Act of 2014 (US Farm Bill) opened the doors for hemp research and pilot programs for hemp cultivation. Thanks to the Agricultural Act, hemp and marijuana are recognized as individual plants, defined by their THC content. To be classified as hemp a cannabis plant must contain 0.3 percent THC or less. At least 35 states have since legalized the cultivation of hemp . Just a few of the products made from industrial hemp include:

  • Hemp seeds, hemp flour, and hemp milk
  • Hemp oil supplements containing CBD
  • Breathable hemp fabrics, shoes, and bags
  • Skin care products
  • Biodegradable plastics
  • Paint and lubricants
  • Cording and canvas
  • Fiberboard and insulation
  • Biofuel and ethanol
  • Rope, twine, and concrete

The Agricultural Act of 2014 legally differentiated the two cannabis plants and opened the doors for the cultivation of industrial hemp; the bill does not legalize hemp at the federal level. Provisions in upcoming legislation request that hemp is removed from the list of substances controlled by the federal government. Removing hemp plants from the list of controlled substances would clear hemp for cultivation across all 50 states and allow hemp farmers to invest in crop insurance. If all goes well with floor votes in the House and Senate, the bill will soon be arriving on the President’s desk for his signature. For now, it appears that hemp prohibition is coming to an end.

While hemp has been widely recognized throughout history as a source of food and textiles, we had somehow forgotten through the years that hemp was also used for health and healing. It was the discovery of the endocannabinoid system that appears to have revived our interest.

Thanks to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, we now understand why CBD has so many potential health and wellness benefits. The cannabinoids in hemp CBD influence key endocannabinoid receptors that regulate nearly every essential function of our bodies. Download The Ultimate CBD User Guide to learn more about this fascinating regulatory system and what CBD could do for you.


1. Schultz, K. (2018, February 28). A History of Hemp As Medicine Since Ancient China2. Abbott, G. (2018, November 29). Lawmakers Reach Farm Bill Deal, Hemp Legalization Incoming

3. History.com. (2019, April 12). Marijuana.