The hemp plant is an amazing plant from the Cannabis sativa family. It typically grows in the northern hemisphere and is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Different strains of hemp are used to create cannabis, CBD oil and hemp protein supplements. In fact, the oldest discovered human artifact was a piece of material from around 10000 years ago made from hemp fibres.
The hemp plant has over 25000 different end-products, making it one of the most versatile plants for human use in the world. Of these, the most well known are hemp protein supplements, cannabis and CBD oil.
You’ll frequently find that plants used for growing hemp products such as hemp protein or fibres, as opposed to cannabis, are referred to as ‘industrial hemp’.
In order to understand the hemp plant, it’s important to understand the components that it contains. It’s due to these that the hemp plant is so well known!
The human body has a system called the endocannabinoid system, which regulates hormones, impacts neurotransmitters and supports the immune system.
We naturally produce compounds called endocannabinoids that interact with this system, but the hemp plant has its own set of phytocannabinoids that also interact with the functioning of our own system when consumed.
The cannabinoids in the hemp plant include, among many, CBD and THC. These two have the most impact upon our bodies.
THC -- This cannabinoid is the psychoactive ingredient that causes people who use cannabis to become high.
CBD - This cannabinoid is associated with countless health benefits which include reduced anxiety, improvements in the immune system, reduced pain, increased alertness and reduced inflammation.
CBD can be extracted using a method known as supercritical CO2 extraction. Read more about how CBD is extracted from hemp plants on our blog!
Different strains of hemp plants are grown in order to have plants that contain different amounts of THC and CBD. Read more about CBD and how it works in our ultimate guide to CBD. You'll find everything you could want to know!
Different Strains of Hemp
THC and CBD are extremely different and have opposing effects that balance each other out. This means that people who use cannabis recreationally want to use strains of hemp that have high levels of THC and low levels of CBD. On the other hand, those that are looking to use CBD oil as a health supplement need high levels of CBD and trace levels of THC in the hemp plant from which CBD oil is derived.
A process called ‘selective breeding’ has been used for millennia by humans to control the development of plants and animals. It’s how we have so many different breeds of dogs, for example, that all have different traits. It’s also how we have grown so many varieties of hemp plants.
It’s illegal to grow hemp plants in a large number of countries due to the fact that certain strains of hemp can be used to make cannabis. Some countries, however, allow hemp to be grown industrially, provided it is only strains of the plant that are very low in THC -- which is the component that makes people high.
Hemp grows most commonly in the northern hemisphere. People have been growing and using this plant for millenia, which means there are almost countless different varieties which are all suited to growing in slightly different conditions. Some have been bred to suit drier environments, hotter environments or other differing conditions so it can be grown in a huge number of different places.
The different varieties all have slightly different appearances too. Hemp grown for fibre, for example, is planted close together to encourage the growth of the fibrous stalks. It results in tall and slender plants. Plants grown for hemp seeds, on the other hand, are planted further apart to encourage branching, flowers and eventually seeds.
Hemp Plant Uses
We’ve already mentioned that the hemp plant has over 25000 different end products. A lot of these, however, are no longer used in the 21st century due to the regulations of hemp growth.
Nonetheless, hemp can be used for:
Organic body care such as hand cream
Material for clothing
The Hemp Plant in History
It’s thought that hemp was one of the first plants to ever be cultivated. Hemp fiber imprints were found on Yangshao culture pottery from the 5th millennium BC. The classical Greek historian, Herodotus (ca. 480 BC), wrote that people in Scythia inhaled the vapors of hemp-seed smoke, both as ritual and for recreation.
Hemp was brought to the Americas by the Spaniards and was first cultivated in Chile in about 1545. In 1619, the first Virginia House of Burgesses passed an Act that required all planters in Virginia to sow "both English and Indian" hemp on their plantations. George Washington grew industrial hemp as a cash crop, as did many other American presidents.
In 1937, a tax was introduced on hemp plants and it’s speculated that this was intended to dampen, if not destroy, the success of the hemp industry for the business benefit of several of America’s richest men at the time.
However, hemp was vitally important to America in WW2 and was used to make uniforms, canvas, and rope. There was even a short film released called Hemp for Victory that promoted the use of hemp as a way to win the war.
Growing hemp was commonplace in Britain during the Roman period and continued to be grown until the 1940s. However, many historians suggest that hemp was used much earlier as there’s a reference to a Celtic princess, Cambri Formosa, teaching women to sew and weave with hemp. The Victoria and Albert museum has hemp items dating back to the 7th century.
Henry VIII, in the 16th century, even made hemp cultivation obligatory. Farmers had to grow a quarter acre of hemp for every 60 acres under cultivation. It was used (primarily) for making ropes for ships, as well as ships’ sails, rigging, sacks (for carrying cargo) and even the sailors’ clothes & uniforms. The huge hemp industry at this time, and into the Elizabethan era, supported thousands of jobs.
This declined dramatically during the 19th century as steam ships replaced traditional ships and cotton was increasingly used for material rather than hemp.
Hemp cultivation was made illegal in 1928, but was eventually re-legalised in 1993. Hemp can now be grown in the UK with a license providing that:
- The strain used does not contain more than 0.3% THC.
- It is grown away from public footpaths, roads and buildings such as schools.
The Hemp Plant
The hemp plant has a fascinating history and so many uses. If you want to learn more about hemp or CBD, why not explore more of our blog and website? We have loads of blogs from tips to relieve stress through to recipes!