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Hemp & Humans in History

Posted by Calum Napier on
Hemp & Humans in History
A Wee intro to the Author - Gioia Brogioni

Gioia Brogioni is a 20 years young journalist from a small Italian City called Colle di Val d'Elsa, situated in Tuscany (about an hour from Florence).

Gioia moved to Aberdeen in September 2017 to follow her passion & study at Robert Gordon University

From a young age Gioia has always loved writing. From middle school she was already showing an interest for reporting & believes she did not choose journalism, it chose her.

It was actually during her last year of high school that started thinking about it as a career.

She tells us "I never wanted to do something boring with my life & being a journalist can be very exciting! I also wanted to do something that would allowed me to help other people. You know, many people can't express themselves or sometimes they are just ignored. But if you write about them & their story, you can sometimes make a big difference".

It's truly inspiring to see the next generation with so much drive & passion for making a difference to peoples lives & the planet. 

Well done Gioia

Much love xx

Calum & Rebecca

The Wee Hemp Team


Hemp & Humans in History

“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country,” said Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and former President of the United States.

As a matter of fact, the American Declaration of Independence was drafted upon hemp paper back in 1776. But only a few people know it as after the First World War its use and cultivation started to be discouraged by Government as the plant had been grouped with the psychoactive varieties of the Cannabis plant.

Hemp is often associated with Marijuana even though they are not the same thing.

They are both species of plant of the Cannabis family, but they are different in terms of chemical composition.

Marijuana contains a high level of THC – the psychoactive compound that can “make you high” – while hemp presents a very low level of THC. This means that while marijuana can make people “high”, hemp cannot.

Hemp can indeed be used for a lot of different purposes.

Our ancestor seemed to know it pretty well as through history hemp accompanied mankind as part of daily life essentials: clothes, shoes, ropes and later on paper.

The first findings of hemp made cloths date back to 8,000 BC, a time in which humans had just started to cultivate. Because of that, many experts consider hemp’s cultivation is considered the oldest example of mankind’s industrial efforts. At the time, hemp was such a big part of peoples lives that some ancient Persian religions mentioned it as “Sacred Grass” or “King of Seeds”.

Hemp was mainly used for clothing and constituted also an important part of humans alimentation, especially in Asia. In fact, hemp’s seeds are extremely nutritious, high in unsaturated fatty acids and omega-3.

Later on, hemp was among the first material used to make paper Hemp’s paper is naturally acids free, does not become yellow and does not disintegrate over time like conventional paper. In 1453 it indeed used to print Gutenberg Bible, the first printed book in human history.

But it wasn’t until the Elizabethan era (roughly 1550 AD - 1600 AD) that hemp started to proliferate, especially in the UK. Mainly because it was used in the naval industry for ships’ sails, rigging, ropes (cordage), sacks (for carrying cargo) and often the sailors’ clothes. As the British Empire grew, the demand for hemp grew with it.

Soon hemp became the element that could make the naval success of a nation. In the UK this meant that hemp’s cultivation became compulsory.

During the reign of Henry VIII for every 60 acres under cultivation farmers had to cultivate a quarter acre of hemp. Someone also claims that this law is still on the books today, although no longer enforced.

Britain mandated the cultivation of hemp also in America. Actually, Benjamin Franklin opened one of the first factories producing hemp’s paper. In this way, the United States gained press independence from the English court.

At the time, hemp high value also caused conflicts. For example, historians are questioning the role that it may have played in causing the Second War of Independence (1812) in which the United States confronted England. 

As a matter of fact, as the costs of transporting products by shipping became cheaper Great Britain had started relating to imports for its supply of hemp and the internal cultivation had diminished. Russia became the main producer and exporter of hemp, also called Russian weed. Historian believes hemp was also one of the reasons Napoleon tried to conquer Russia (without success).

Unfortunately, the demand for hemp started to decrease over the 19th as a consequence of steamship’s invention and of the cotton’s growing popularity in the textile industry. As a matter of fact, cotton made tissue was softer to touch and cheaper. Cotton was cheaper because it was easier to work with, but mainly because it of the slave labour in America (legal until the American Civil was 1861-1865).

Despite that, the 19th century was also when Rudolph Diesel invented the Diesel engine. According to his view, various fuels should have powered the engine and hemp fuel was amongst those. 

At that point, Henry Ford saw the potential of biomass fuels and successfully started to produce hemp fuel in Michigan. There, the engineers pulled out ingredients still in use such us methanol. Yet, today those are supplied by oil-related industry and hemp fuel is something that only a few people know about.

In the 20th century, slavery was abolished but the cotton had already established itself in the market as the main textile fibre. So, in the UK hemp was relegated to niche clothing (like military uniforms).

On the other hand, in the USA, the USDA (United State Department of Agriculture)  found out that hemp produces 4x more paper per acre than a tree.

Despite that, the 30s were the years when hemp was associated with marijuana in The Marijuana Tax Act (1937). Placing a tax on every cannabis type the USA strongly discouraged hemp production. In the 40s Henry Ford build a prototype car body made of hemp and it resulted being ten times stronger than steel. And just before the start of WWII USA government tried to revive the hemp industry launching a film called “Hemp for Victory”.

However, after the war hemp was once again miss-associated with marijuana and when US President Nixon started his war on drugshemp was outlawed (1971).

While in the USA hemp cultivation is legal only in some states, in the UK it was re-legalised in 1993 and was allowed in Canada in 1998.

After years of miss-association experts are starting to re-evaluate hemp.

Today more in the past century the world needs to finds a solution to global pollution and depletion of oilfields. Hemp is being investigated as a possible alternative to oil, tree-made paper and plastic. Hemp is also being recently introduced in many body care products as an alternative to chemical substances. From hemp is also extracted Cannabidiol also known as CBD which can be assumed as a food supplement or can be found in some certified pharmaceutical products such as Epidiolex (used to treat epilepsy). Finally, hemp derived building materials, Hempcrete and Isochanvre are lightweight, waterproof, fireproof, self-insulating, and resistant to pests. Hemp has accompanied us for centuries and maybe in the future, it will constitute our homes foundations.

Written by Gioia Brogioni -  journalist, studying at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

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