Cannabis and the Hemp Industry

Hemp, a low-THC variety of Cannabis sativa, has long had a wide variety of industrial uses. With uses ranging from paper to plastic substitutes to cooking oil, hemp is among the most versatile crops produced.

The Historical Context

Hemp has a long history in the United States. The crop was first planted in Jamestown, Virginia in the early 17th century. In World War II, the U.S. government even launched a massive “Hemp for Victory” campaign, encouraging farmers to grow as much of the plant as possible.

Attacks on cannabis, beginning in the early 20th century, soon ceased to differentiate between hemp and marijuana. Some believe hemp was intentionally targeted by William Randolf Hearst because it threatened his interest in the newspaper industry, although this history is disputed. With the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, hemp was made illegal to grow without a special permit by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Permits have been extraordinarily hard to come by since the law’s passage.

Hemp and Legalization Today

As legalization of cannabis progresses across the United States, efforts to reinvest in hemp are abound. The passage of the 2014 Farm Bill allowed for hemp to be grown for agricultural or academic research. Colorado’s pilot program has taken off, and Oregon’s Department of Agriculture established its own pilot program in February of this year.

Unlike its Coloradan counterpart, the Oregon program has been off to a rough start. Earlier this year, medical marijuana growers in southern Oregon raised concerns over hemp cultivation, citing fears that cross-pollination may weaken the quality of their crop. They want hemp farmers to grow their crops in eastern Oregon, where they hope the Cascades will act as a natural barrier against rogue hemp pollen.

However, the three most disputed counties – Josephine, Jackson, and Douglas – have some of the best conditions for outdoor crop cultivation in Oregon. Warm average temperatures and plenty of precipitation make for long outdoor growing seasons. Eastern Oregon, by contrast, is considerably drier with colder average temperatures. Researchers believe, however, that hemp requires less water than other varieties of the cannabis crop.

For now, Oregon’s industrial hemp program is on halt. The Department of Agriculture recently announced that it would temporarily stop issuing licenses for industrial hemp. Officials say that the decision is unrelated to marijuana growers’ concerns, but rather is due to a range of complex policy issues. Regardless, the road ahead appears to be a challenging one for cultivators and policymakers alike.

Historical Cannabis Use in Japan

Hemp was used in ancient Japan in ceremonial rights and for purification with and emphasis on driving away evil spirits. In Japan, Shinto priests used a gohei, a short stick with undyed hemp fibers to create sacred space and purity. According to Shinto beliefs, evil and purity cannot exist alongside one another, and so by waving the gohei the evil spirit inside a person or place would be driven away. Clothes made of hemp were especially worn during formal and religious ceremonies because of hemp’s traditional association with purity.

Nowadays, the attitude towards cannabis is quite different. Modern Japan takes a comparatively conservative approach to cannabis use, with a strict no tolerance policy towards marijuana and marijuana products. This is reflective in the percentage of the population that has been reported to ingest cannabis – approximately .1%. Compare that to the United States, which is approximately 13.7%. Keep in mind that these measurements cannot account for the percentage of the population that did not anonymously report their cannabis use. Especially in countries with strict regulations around cannabis, the stimagization and shame of cannabis use can be a profound silencer.


If you are interested in reading more about the percentages of cannabis users in populations around the world, check out the reports from several of the World Drug Reports right here.

Historical Cannabis Use in China

Hemp has a long history in China. At one point it was so prized that the Chinese called their country “the land of mulberry and hemp.” Cannabis was a symbol of power over evil and in emperor Shen Nung’s pharmacopoeia it was called the “liberator of sin.” The Chinese believed that the legendary Shen Nung first taught the cultivation of hemp in the 28th century B.C. Shen Nung is credited with developing the sciences of medicine from the curative power of plants. So highly regarded was Shen Nung that he was deified and today he is regarded as the Father of Chinese medicine.

A Chinese Taoist priest wrote in the fifth century B.C. that cannabis was used in combination with Ginseng to set forward time in order to reveal future events. It is recorded that the Taoists recommended the addition of cannabis to their incense burners in the 1st century A.D. and that the effects thus produced were highly regarded as a means of achieving immortality. In the early Chinese Taoist ritual, the fumes and odors of incense burners were said to have produced a mystic exaltation and contribution to well being.

Historical Cannabis Use in India, Pt. 1

Cannabis has been used in Ayurvedic and Indian medicine for at least three thousand years to treat a variety of health conditions, including nausea and wasting syndromes. It is also prescribed for general health and longevity. To this day body builders in India use cannabis as a part of their training regiment to gain muscle mass, promote digestion, and build strength.

The spiritual aspects of cannabis are considered so profound in South Asia that many religious groups including Buddhists, Naths, Shaivites and Goddess Worshippers have incorporated it into meditation practices, as a means to stop the mind and enter into a state of profound stillness, also called Samadhi.

Cannabis holds a prominent place among Tantrics in India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet to this day. In the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, it is said that Buddha subsisted for six years on nothing but hemp seeds. Various spiritual texts, including the Buddhist Tara Tantra, list cannabis as an important aide to meditation and spiritual practice. In the Tantric Buddhism of the Himalayas and Northern India, cannabis still plays a significant role in meditative rituals to facilitate deep meditation and heighten awareness.

Cannabis is even mentioned in the Indian creation myth, where it is named as one of the five nectars of the gods and designated a “Reliever of Suffering.” In the original myth, the gods churn the Ocean of Milk in search of Amrita, the elixir of eternal life. One of the resulting nectars was cannabis. In the Vedas cannabis is referred to as a “source of happiness.”

In India today, cannabis is often made into a drink consumed by local people and is said to be the favorite drink of Indra, the king of the Indian gods.

Cannabis is most closely associated with the worship of Shiva, one of the three principal deities of India. Cannabis is considered Shiva’s favorite herb due to its spiritual properties. It is commonly consumed by Shaivite yogis, ascetics and worshippers of Shiva, as an aid to their sadhana (spiritual practice). Wandering ascetics, known as sadhus, are often seen smoking cannabis out of a clay chillum as a part of their spiritual practice.