Exactly how and when hemp originated in the New World is still highly debated. Though long thought to be introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus, hemp has been discovered in Native American civilizations that predate Columbus’ arrival. William Henry Holmes’ “Prehistoric Textile Art of Eastern United States” report from 1896 notes hemp from Native American tribes of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley.
In the US, industrial hemp is defined as Cannabis sativa L. that does not contain more than 0.3% THC. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The World War II hemp resurgence was short-lived, though. Until the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 kept industrial production dormant. Today, hemp is rapidly becoming an indispensable resource for CBD oil and other CBD products.
World history of hemp
There’s the added bonus of increased bioavailability. Through the act of inhalation, your bloodstream absorbs CBD much faster than it would after eating an edible or using a tincture under your tongue. Your body will also have access to a lot more of the CBD in the smoke or vapor when it’s inhaled. When consumed, a CBD edible goes through the digestive tract, and some of the potency is lost in the process.
Processors use many types of processing techniques on hemp seeds and stalks. The technique used depends on the purpose of the final product.
Hemp seeds are rich in protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They contain an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for healthful consumption. A 2008 study also found that hemp proteins are more digestible for humans than common soy protein isolates (SPIs) used in food products. Hemp seeds can be used as food directly or via oil produced from them. Seeds can also be ground up for flour or mixed with water to create hempseed milk.
As stated above, CBD derived from hemp has a variety of uses. The most official is the FDA-approved drug to treat childhood epilepsy. Beyond that, more research needs to be done but scientists are looking at CBD to treat or ease symptoms of:
Fibres are obtained by subjecting the stalks to a series of operations—including retting, drying, and crushing—and a shaking process that completes separation from the woody portion, releasing the long, fairly straight fibre, or line. The fibre strands, usually over 1.8 metres (5.8 feet) long, are made of individual cylindrical cells with an irregular surface.
Hemp is grown in temperate zones as an annual cultivated from seed and can reach a height of up to 5 metres (16 feet). Crops grow best in sandy loam with good drainage and require average monthly rainfall of at least 65 mm (2.5 inches) throughout the growing season. Crops cultivated for fibre are densely sowed and produce plants averaging 2–3 metres (6–10 feet) tall with almost no branching. Plants grown for oilseed are planted farther apart and are shorter and many-branched. In fibre production, maximum yield and quality are obtained by harvesting soon after the plants reach maturity, indicated by the full blossoms and freely shedding pollen of the male plants. Although sometimes pulled up by hand, plants are more often cut off about 2.5 cm (1 inch) above the ground.
The hemp plant is a stout, aromatic, erect annual herb. The slender canelike stalks are hollow except at the tip and base. The leaves are compound with palmate shape, and the flowers are small and greenish yellow. Seed-producing flowers form elongate, spikelike clusters growing on the pistillate, or female, plants. Pollen-producing flowers form many-branched clusters on staminate, or male, plants.
Cultivation and processing
Hemp originated in Central Asia. Hemp cultivation for fibre was recorded in China as early as 2800 bce and was practiced in the Mediterranean countries of Europe early in the Christian era, spreading throughout the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. It was planted in Chile in the 1500s and a century later in North America.
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The fibre, longer and less flexible than flax, is usually yellowish, greenish, or a dark brown or gray and, because it is not easily bleached to sufficiently light shades, is rarely dyed. It is strong and durable and is used for cordage—e.g., twine, yarn, rope, cable, and string—and for artificial sponges and such coarse fabrics as sacking (burlap) and canvas. In Italy some hemp receives special processing, producing whitish colour and attractive lustre, and is used to make fabric similar to linen. Hemp fibre is also used to make bioplastics that can be recyclable and biodegradable, depending on the formulation.
Although only the hemp plant yields true hemp, a number of other plant fibres are called “hemp.” These include Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida), and sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea).
In short, the answer is that farmers grow things for which there is a market – and there appears to be a market for industrial hemp.
In North Carolina, licenses must be approved by the state’s Industrial Hemp Commission, which is affiliated with the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Licensed growers must abide by stringent regulations, including tests to ensure that the THC levels in any hemp remain at or below the limit of 0.3 percent.
“Hemp and marijuana even look and smell the same,” says Tom Melton, deputy director of NC State Extension. “The difference is that hemp plants contain no more than 0.3 percent (by dry weight) of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. By comparison, marijuana typically contains 5 to 20 percent THC. You can’t get high on hemp.”
In other words, Cannabis plants with 0.3 percent or less of THC are hemp. Cannabis plants with more than 0.3 percent THC are marijuana.
NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and NC State Extension, are engaged in a variety of research and educational programs related to hemp. That puts us in a position to help answer some of the most common hemp questions.
Why is there interest in growing hemp?
Industrial hemp has many potential uses. Hemp fibers can be used in textiles or industrial processes. Hemp can also be used for grain, and the flowers are often used as a source for cannabidiol, a hemp extract also known as CBD.