The History of Industrial Hemp

The History of Industrial Hemp

The history of industrial hemp is not as simple as you might think. While many people are aware that hemp has been used for thousands of years, primarily to make clothing and rope, few people know the details regarding this plant’s role in history and its current legal status. In this article, we will explore the history of industrial hemp and its use throughout the centuries. We will also address some of the common misconceptions about industrial hemp and its relation to marijuana.


What is Industrial Hemp?

Industrial hemp is a variety of the cannabis sativa plant species that is grown to produce a wide range of products such as oils, fabrics, and food. Industrial hemp is unique in that it contains very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in high concentration in its cousin plant, commonly known as marijuana. Industrial hemp is cultivated for its seeds and fibers. Its seeds are crushed to make an oil that is rich in proteins and essential fatty acids. These oils can be used as fuel, in food products like ice cream, or even in cosmetics. Its fiber is used to make fabrics and ropes.


Hemp Throughout History

The use of hemp for clothing dates back to 8000 BCE, when the first evidence of hemp cultivation was found in central Asia. The cultivation of hemp continued throughout ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations. In fact, hemp was one of the first crops to be cultivated by early American settlers as they began to colonize the East Coast of the U.S. in the early 1600s. Hemp has long been used as a fibre crop and is one of the most durable natural fibres. Its fibres are resistant to decay and insects, and have been used to make rope, sails, and clothing. During the 1500s, hemp was one of the most important cash crops grown in America, and was also cultivated in similar fashion in other countries. Industrial hemp was also cultivated in Scotland during this time and was used by the British Royal Navy to make rigging for their ships.


Why Was Hemp Banned?

Through the 1920s and 1930s, the United States was shaping the way hemp was viewed around the world and the industrial hemp industry was destined for almost complete global shutdown by 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act was enacted, effectively criminalising the cultivation and sale of all forms of cannabis, including industrial hemp. Australia acted quickly following the United States to prohibit cannabis in all its forms in 1937. These laws were passed under the guise that industrial hemp and marijuana were essentially the same plant species. The main reason for this act was to ensure that hemp couldn’t be used to make recreational drugs, which were perceived as a threat to society in the 1930s. In 1970, the United States passed the Controlled Substances Act, further tightening restrictions on hemp cultivation and ownership. It classified hemp as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a “high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use”, contradicting several thousand years of human history.


Australia’s Hemp Industry Today

Prior to its demise, hemp had been grown in Australia since the 1850s. It has been grown in a few small areas since the late 1950s, mainly for research and development, but did not exist as a fully-fledged industry until it was decriminalised for commercial use. In the last few years, farmers have again begun to grow hemp particularly in Tasmania. Like many other commodities, hemp is a rapidly growing industry in Australia thanks to new technologies and new legislative changes that have relaxed restrictions on its cultivation. In 2017, the Australian government passed the Industrial Hemp Act, which allows the cultivation of hemp for commercial use. This is a significant development in the history of hemp in Australia, as it’s the first time the plant has been cultivated on a large scale since the 1940s.



The history of industrial hemp is a long and complicated one, with many twists and turns. The plant has been cultivated for thousands of years and was once an important part of many cultures. It’s growth in popularity was stunted by a series of laws across much of the globe which effectively criminalised hemp cultivation by erroneously claiming that it was the same plant as cannabis. But hemp has recently made an incredible comeback and is now grown commercially in Australia for the first time in 80 years. Hemp is being grown for its seeds, which can be crushed to make an oil that can be added to food or used as fuel. It is also being grown for its fibers to make fabrics such as hemp yarn, which can of course be used to craft beautiful and practical bed linen. Now that hemp is again being grown in Australia, it’s likely that this supercrop is set to become even more popular.

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