A Short History of Hemp

hemp history uses and benefits

Hemp has had a turbulent history but it is finally providing benefits for all. Image Credit: By Handatko on shutterstock.

As a Christian, when I hear the word cannabis, I almost cringe. I grew up in a conservative, Christian family, and the word cannabis feels instinctively wrong to me. I mentally associate it with illegal drugs. Bad substances. Things that get you high, disappoint or disrupt your walk with God, and get you thrown in jail or make you a junkie. That’s all I knew for most of my life, so I stayed far away from anything related to cannabis, including getting educated about it.

I knew that marijuana gets you high and that some of my high school and college friends acted really stupid – and ate a lot of Doritos and cheeseburgers – when they were stoned. I was vaguely aware that hemp was different somehow than marijuana, but I wasn’t sure how. Hemp was the stuff that blankets and bohemian bags were made out of. Hippies bought the hemp products, especially if they were imprinted with a marijuana leaf design. That was pretty much the sum total of my knowledge about cannabis.

Today, as an adult Christ follower in the age of hemp and marijuana legalization for both medical and recreational use in some countries and states, I realized I need a better education. I needed to learn what the cannabis sativa plant species is in order to know what my beliefs about it should be. I couldn’t argue for or against my beliefs about whether you should or should not use it (especially with my teenagers) and how God would feel about that if I didn’t know what it is and what it does.

Here is what I learned and why many Christians are now standing for the legalization of cannabis.

How Hemp Differs from Marijuana

Hemp and marijuana are plants in the cannabis sativa species. They look a lot alike. They smell a lot alike. They have many of the same properties. Both are packed with natural chemicals that scientific studies are proving have mostly positive effects on human and animal health. In fact, a 2016 article in Frontiers in Plant Science called cannabis plants, “a treasure trove of phytochemicals and a rich source of both cellulosic and woody fibers.” Think of how many different varieties of apples or tomatoes there are. That’s how you can think of hemp vs. marijuana. Largely the same plant, but very different varieties.

For a Christian who does not want to get high, the difference in marijuana and hemp is the key. Hemp contains all of the reported health-inducing natural chemicals in cannabis sativa except for a large percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is the chemical in cannabis that produces the feeling of euphoria or intoxication, commonly called the “high.” To be classified as a hemp plant, the cannabis has to have less than .3% THC. To compare than to marijuana, most popular strains today contain between 15% and 20% THC.

Why Was Hemp Illegal for So Long?

Hemp has had a long and varied history. It is thought to have originated in Central Asia and has been found in archeological artifacts dating back at least 6,000 years. Since ancient times, it has been used as folk medicine and its fibers harvested to produce many textiles. In the United States, hemp is reported to have been grown in the first permanent settlement of Jamestown to make sails for ships, ropes, and clothes. Paper, textiles, and oils were made from hemp stems and seeds. Hemp crops flourished in the US, although it was a much smaller industry than cotton, until the 1930s.

Remember the age of alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s? Well, marijuana became the target for prohibition in the 1930s. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics formed in 1930 and released press releases claiming that a single dose of marijuana could induce “reefer madness” and cause users to commit murder. By 1937, the “Marihuana Tax Act” was enacted to strictly regulate the production, cultivation, and sale of all cannabis varieties. That made it very difficult to grow hemp. As the use of substances grew in the US, by 1970 cannabis of all kinds was officially outlawed for any use, including medical, when the Controlled Substances Act passed. Cannabis became a Schedule I drug.

Why hemp was not separated from the act remains somewhat of a mystery. Some say it is because it was too hard to tell the different plant varieties apart. They look alike, smell alike, and have mostly the same chemical makeup. But proponents of hemp say because it doesn’t get you high, it never should have been classified as an illegal drug.

How Is Hemp Legal Now?

Five years ago, the 2014 Farm Bill contained a provision that allowed for pilot programs of hemp cultivation. This was the first time hemp got a legal thumbs-up in the US since 1970. In 2018, hemp’s legality expanded greatly with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. The new Farm Bill permits cultivation broadly, as long as growers follow their state’s regulations, which each state is now quickly scrambling to formulate. More importantly, it allows hemp-derived products to be manufactured, sold commercially, and transported across state lines. As long as hemp-derived products are made in a manner consistent with the law, there are no longer any restrictions of the federal level.

What Is CBD and How Does It Relate to Hemp?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the naturally occurring chemicals in cannabis. It is one of more than 100 identified cannabinoids, which scientists and medical professionals believe can play major roles in keeping people and pets healthy. In the last few years, CBD has exploded commercially, even before it was legal.

Why? Because CBD users began sharing their testimonies of how their varying physical and emotional health issues improved when they began using CBD. Anecdotally, CBD became the next “miracle drug.” I personally have spoken to many CBD users over the past six months who tell remarkable stories of anxiety relief, skin conditions healed, seizures alleviated, and joint pain gone after using CBD only a short time. Their joy in finding relief is evident. Their passion for CBD is clear. Many said they tried prescriptions drugs of different kinds for years without getting the relief or healing that CBD has provided. It’s hard to argue with people’s personal stories.

This kind of word of mouth, fueled by the wildfire dissemination of social media, created a CBD industry seemingly overnight that could reach sales of more than $20 billion in the next three years. The industry has far outpaced the laws, and the Food and Drug Administration is currently trying to formulate regulations and standards to make sure CBD products really contain CBD, that they are safe from contaminants, and that additional scientific and medical studies show there are no long-term adverse effects. Until then, CBD products cannot legally claim any health benefits.

As a Christian, I no longer cringe when I hear the word cannabis. I know the difference between hemp and marijuana, and I can talk about my beliefs and the reasons for them much more clearly and comfortable today. I can enter the cultural conversation and hopefully be some “salt and light,” as I am called to be in Matthew 5:13-16.

My prayer is that now you can too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on hemp, cannabis, and CBD. Feel free to comment below.

Natalie Gillespie
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Natalie Gillespie
Natalie Gillespie
Natalie Gillespie is an author, journalist and editor who has published more than 2,000 articles in the last 20 years in magazines and websites such as HomeLife, Guideposts.com, and Publishers Weekly. You can reach Natalie with article ideas, personal testimonies, theological thoughts, or just to say “hello” at [email protected]

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