Hemp is an incredibly valuable plant with a complicated and shadowy history, a plant that has been grown by humans for thousands of years for its fibers, seeds, and medicinal properties. It has gone from being a medicine of emperors and queens to a dangerous narcotic in the eyes of the United States government, so how did it end up a ubiquitous ingredient in health foods available on the shelves of every grocery store across the country in 2019?
What Is Hemp?
Hemp, often referred to as industrial hemp, is a non-psychoactive varietal of the Cannabis Sativa plant. Hemp is rich in phytonutrients, including cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
Read below to find out more about its history, its properties, and the long road to legalization for this beneficial plant.
Cannabinoids – Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds that set Cannabis Sativa apart. A diverse class of chemical compounds, they are the naturally occurring counterpart to chemicals produced by a very important system in the human body, the Endogenous Cannabinoid System (named after the plant which led to its discovery.) “Endocannabinoid” refers to cannabinoids that occur naturally in the body, while “phytocannabinoid” refers to those that occur naturally in plants. CBD and THC are both cannabinoids.
Flavonoids – Flavonoids are phytonutrients found most commonly in fruits and vegetables. These powerful antioxidants support the immune system and have anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids are associated with the health benefits of diets rich in fruits and vegetables.
What Is Hemp Used For?
Hemp is an incredibly diverse plant that is used to make anything from food, to textiles, to rope, to herbal remedies, to body care.
Food – Hemp seeds have been used as a food source for thousands of years. They are an excellent source of protein, rich in omegas and high in unsaturated fatty acids and can be found in many health food products. From hemp milk to hemp cereal, to hulled hemp seeds, hemp is on the rise.
Body Care – Hemp (mainly hemp seed oil) can be found in a range of body products from lotions to shampoos to soap. Hemp seed oil is used for its ability to moisturize and replenish the skin due to its high concentrations of essential fatty acids, including a balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6. Cannabinoids derived from hemp are also sometimes added to lotions and other body products for their soothing effect.
Plastic – Hemp is prolific and easy to grow which makes it a great option for producing bioplastics. Plastic made from hemp is recyclable, biodegradable, and has the potential to absorb carbon reducing the greenhouse effect. All in all a great alternative to petrochemical plastics.
Where Does Hemp Come From?
Why Did Hemp Become Illegal In The United States?
To understand why hemp was criminalized in the United States it is essential to understand the history of THC heavy strains of Cannabis Sativa and the racially motivated policies surrounding its reputation. During prohibition in the United States, strains of cannabis high in THC began to be used recreationally, taking the place of alcohol. This, coupled with the fact that cannabis tinctures often contained opium or cocaine as well as cannabis, began to give cannabis a negative reputation as a narcotic.
When prohibition ended in 1930, the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry J. Anslinger began a campaign targeting cannabis as just that – a narcotic. Films such as Reefer Madness were produced to influence public opinion and gain support for “anti-marijuana” laws. Anslinger was also responsible for popularizing the designation “marijuana” as opposed to hemp or cannabis, as a part of his campaign, with the intention of creating a negative association with Mexican Americans.
Cannabis had some defenders including Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York City at the time. La Guardia commissioned a study that showed no negative effects from cannabis usage, no indication that it was addictive, or that it was a problem among New York City youth. In spite of any evidence to the contrary, Anslinger remained firmly committed to his campaign.