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File:Cannab2 new.png
The variety of appearances for cannabis. Only C. sativa (left) is suited for industrial hemp, but it also has medicinal varieties.

Hemp (from Old English hænep) is the name of the soft, durable fibre that is cultivated from plants of the Cannabis genus, cultivated for commercial use.

In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, fuel, and medical purposes[1] with modest commercial success.[2][3] In the past three years, commercial success of hemp food products has grown considerably.[4][5]

Hemp is one of the faster growing biomasses known,[6] producing up to 25 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year,[7] and one of the earliest domesticated plants known.[8] For a crop, hemp is very environmentally friendly, as it requires few pesticides[9] and no herbicides.[10] Modern research data on soil fertility is limited. Currently, results indicate that high yield of hemp may require total nutrient levels (field plus fertilizer nutrients) similar to a high yielding wheat crop[11]

Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa is the variety grown for industrial use, while C. sativa subsp. indica generally has poor fibre quality and is primarily used for production of recreational and medicinal drugs. The major difference between the two types of plants is the appearance and the amount of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) secreted in a resinous mixture by epidermal hairs called glandular trichomes, although they can also be distinguished genetically.[12] Oilseed and fibre varieties of Cannabis approved for industrial hemp production produce only minute amounts of this psychoactive drug, not enough for any physical or psychological effects. Typically, hemp contains below 0.3% THC, while cultivars of Cannabis grown for marijuana can contain anywhere from 6 to over 20%.[13]

Industrial hemp is produced in many countries around the world.[14] Major producers include Canada, France, and China. While more hemp is exported to the United States than to any other country, the United States Government does not consistently distinguish between marijuana and the non-psychoactive Cannabis used for industrial and commercial purposes.[13]


Hemp is used for a wide variety of purposes, including the manufacture of cordage of varying tensile strength, clothing, and nutritional products. The bast fibres can be used in 100% hemp products, but are commonly blended with other organic fibres such as flax, cotton or silk, for apparel and furnishings, most commonly at a 55%/45% hemp/cotton blend. The inner two fibres of hemp are more woody, and are more often used in non-woven items and other industrial applications, such as mulch, animal bedding and litter. The oil from the fruits ("seeds") oxidizes (commonly, though inaccurately, called "drying") to become solid on exposure to air, similar to linseed oil, and is sometimes used in the manufacture of oil-based paints, in creams as a moisturizing agent, for cooking, and in plastics. Hemp seeds have been used in bird seed mix as well.[15] Hempseed is also widely used as a fishing bait.


File:Shelled hemp seeds.jpg
Shelled hemp seeds

Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life.[16] The seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into hemp milk (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking. The fresh leaves can also be eaten in salads. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles, hemp tofu to nut butters. A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the seed oils, whole hemp grain (which is sterilized by law), dehulled hemp seed (the whole seed without the mineral rich outer shell), hemp flour, hemp cake (a by-product of pressing the seed for oil) and hemp protein powder. Hemp is also used in some organic cereals, for non-dairy milk[17] somewhat similar to soy and nut milks, and for non-dairy hemp "ice cream."

Within the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has treated hemp as purely a non-food crop. Seed appears on the UK market as a legal food product, and cultivation licences are available for this purpose. In North America, hemp seed food products are sold, typically in health food stores or through mail order. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that "the market potential for hemp seed as a food ingredient is unknown. However, it probably will remain a small market, like those for sesame and poppy seeds."[18]


About 30–35% of the weight of hempseed is hempseed oil or hemp oil, an edible oil that contains about 80% essential fatty acids (EFAs); i.e., linoleic acid, omega-6 (LA, 55%), alpha-linolenic acid, omega-3 (ALA, 22%), in addition to gamma-linolenic acid, omega-6 (GLA, 1–4%) and stearidonic acid, omega-3 (SDA, 0–2%). Whole hempseed also contains about 25% of a highly-digestible protein, where 1/3 is edestin and 2/3 are albumins. Its amino acid profile is close to "complete" when compared to more common sources of proteins such as meat, milk, eggs and soy.[20] The proportions of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid in one tablespoon (15 ml) per day of hemp oil easily provides human daily requirements for EFAs. Unlike flaxseed oil, hemp oil can be used continuously without developing a deficiency or other imbalance of EFAs.[21] This has been demonstrated in a clinical study, where the daily ingestion of flaxseed oil decreased the endogenous production of GLA.[21]

Hempseed is an adequate source of calcium and iron. Whole hempseeds are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese.

Hempseed contains no gluten and therefore would not trigger symptoms of celiac disease.


Hemp oil is a highly unsaturated oil. As such, it has a relatively low smoke point and is not suitable for frying. It is primarily used as a food oil and dietary supplement, and has been shown to relieve the symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis)[citation needed]. Hemp oil can spontaneously oxidize and turn rancid within a short period of time if not stored properly; it is best stored in a dark glass bottle, in a refrigerator or freezer (its freezing point is -20°C). Preservatives (antioxidants) are not necessary for high quality oils that are stored properly.

Dietary supplement

Hemp oil has been shown to relieve the symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis).[22]

Hemp Seed contains a large dietary supplement of omega-3, higher even than walnuts which contain 6.3% of n-3.


Hemp oil has anti-inflammatory properties.[23]


Hemp stem showing fibres.

The fibre is one of the most valuable parts of the hemp plant. It is commonly called bast, which refers to the fibres that grow on the outside of the woody interior of the plant's stalk, and under the outer most part (the bark). Bast fibres give the plants strength. Hemp fibres can be between approximately 0.91 m (3 ft) and 4.6 m (15 ft) long, running the length of the plant. Depending on the processing used to remove the fibre from the stem, the hemp may naturally be creamy white, brown, gray, black or green.[citation needed]

The use of hemp for fibre production has declined sharply over the last two centuries, but before the industrial revolution, hemp was a popular fibre because it is strong and grows quickly; it produces 10% more fibre than cotton and 10% more fibre than flax when grown on the same land.[citation needed] Hemp has been used to make paper. It was often used to make sail canvas, and the word canvas derives from cannabis.[24][25] Abaca, or "Manila hemp", a relative of the banana plant, replaced its use for rope. Burlap, made from jute, took over the sacking market. The paper industry began using wood pulp. The carpet industry switched over to wool, sisal, and jute, then nylon. Netting and webbing applications were taken over by cotton and synthetics.

Building material

In Europe and China, hemp fibres have been used in prototype quantities to strengthen concrete, and in other composite materials for many construction and manufacturing applications.[26] See Hempcrete.

Composite materials

A mixture of fibreglass, hemp fibre, kenaf, and flax has been used since 2002 to make composite panels for automobiles.[4][27] The choice of which bast fibre to use is primarily based on cost and availability.


The first identified coarse paper, made from hemp, dates to the early Western Han Dynasty, two hundred years before the nominal invention of papermaking by Cai Lun, who improved and standardized paper production using a range of inexpensive materials, including hemp ends, approximately 2000 years ago.[28]

From 1880 to 1933 the hemp grown in the United States had declined from 15,000 to 1,200 acres (4.9 km2), and that the price of line hemp had dropped from $12.50 per pound in 1914 to $9.00 per pound in 1933.[29][30]

In 1916, U.S. Department of Agriculture chief scientists Lyster H. Dewe and Jason L. Merrill created paper made from hemp pulp, which they concluded was "favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood."[31][32]

In 1935 hemp started to make a significant rebound from a very low level.[30] In the 1930's Hearst began a campaign against hemp, and published stories in his newspapers associating hemp with marijuana[33] and attacking marijuana usage.[34]

Currently there is a small niche market for hemp pulp. Hemp fiber is mixed with fiber from other sources than hemp. In 1994 was there no significant production of 100 % true hemp paper.[35] World hemp pulp production was believed to be around 120,000 tons per year in 1991 which was about 0.05% of the world's annual pulp production volume.[2]. This can be compared to a typical pulp mill for wood fibre, which is never smaller than 250,000 tons per annum.[35] The cost of hemp pulp is approximately six times that of wood pulp,[2] mostly because of the small size and outdated equipment of the few hemp processing plants in the Western world and hemp is harvested once a year (during August) and needs to be stored to feed the mill the whole year through. This storage requires a lot of (mostly manual) handling of the bulky stalk bundles, which accounts for a high raw material cost. Hemp pulp is bleached with hydrogen peroxide, the hydrogen peroxide process is today also commonly used for wood pulp.


A sack made from hemp fibre

A modest hemp fabric industry exists. Recent developments in processing have made it possible to soften coarse fibers to a wearable level.


Hemp rope was used in the age of sailing ships, though the rope had to be protected by tarring, since hemp rope has a propensity for breaking from rot, as the capillary effect of the rope-woven fibres tended to hold liquid at the interior, while seeming dry from the outside.[36] Tarring was a labor-intensive process, and earned sailors the nickname "Jack Tar". Hemp rope was phased out when Manila, which does not require tarring, became widely available. Manila is sometimes referred to as Manila hemp, but is not related to hemp; it is Abacá, a species of banana.

Animal bedding

Hemp shives are the core of the stem. In the EU, they are used for animal bedding (horses, for instance), or for horticultural mulch.[37] Industrial hemp is much more profitable if both fibres and shives (or even seeds) can be used.

Water and soil purification

Hemp can be used as a "mop crop" to clear impurities out of wastewater, such as sewage effluent, excessive phosphorus from chicken litter, or other unwanted substances or chemicals. Eco-technologist Dr. Keith Bolton from Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, is a leading researcher in this area. Hemp is being used to clean contaminants at Chernobyl nuclear disaster site.[38]

Weed control

Biodiesel sample

Hemp, because of its height, dense foliage and its high planting density as a crop, is a very effective and long used method of killing tough weeds in farming by minimizing the pool of weed seeds of the soil.[39] Using hemp this way can help farmers avoid the use of herbicides, to help gain organic certification and to gain the benefits of crop rotation per se. Due to its rapid, dense growth characteristics, in some jurisdictions hemp is considered a prohibited noxious weed, much like Scotch Broom.


Biofuels, such as biodiesel and alcohol fuel, can be made from the oils in hemp seeds and stalks, and the fermentation of the plant as a whole, respectively. Biodiesel produced from hemp is sometimes known as hempoline.[40] Hemp biodiesel is clean burning and non-toxic.

Henry Ford grew industrial hemp on his estate after 1937,[41] possibly to prove the cheapness of methanol production at Iron Mountain. He made plastic cars (the so-called Hemp Car) with wheat straw, hemp and sisal. (Popular Mechanics, Dec. 1941, "Pinch Hitters for Defense.") Filtered hemp oil can be used directly to power diesel engines. In 1892, Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine, which he intended to fuel "by a variety of fuels, especially vegetable and seed oils, which earlier were used for oil lamps, i.e. The Argand lamp."[42][43][44]


Hemp being harvested
Climate zones well suited for the cultivation of hemp

Millennia of selective breeding have resulted in varieties that look quite different. Also, breeding since circa 1930 has focused quite specifically on producing strains which would perform very poorly as sources of drug material. Hemp grown for fibre is planted closely, resulting in tall, slender plants with long fibres. Ideally, according to Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the herb should be harvested before it flowers. This early cropping is done because fibre quality declines if flowering is allowed and, incidentally, this cropping also pre-empts the herb's maturity as a potential source of drug material. However, in these strains of industrial hemp the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content would have been very low, regardless.

The name Cannabis is the genus and was the name favored by the 19th century medical practitioners who helped to introduce the herb's drug potential to modern English-speaking consciousness. Cannabis for non-drug purposes (especially ropes and textiles) was then already well known as hemp.

The name "marijuana" is Spanish in origin and associated almost exclusively with the herb's drug potential.

Historical cultivation

Hemp has been grown for millennia in Asia and the Middle East for its fibre. Commercial production of hemp in the West took off in the eighteenth century, but was grown in the sixteenth century in eastern England.[45] Because of colonial and naval expansion of the era, economies needed large quantities of hemp for rope and oakum.


Industrial hempseed harvesting machine in France.
File:Hemp farm.jpg
Thick stands of fibre hemp compete well with weeds.

Smallholder plots are usually harvested by hand. The plants are cut at 2 to 3 cm above the soil and left on the ground to dry. Mechanical harvesting is now common, using specially adapted cutter-binders or simpler cutters.

The cut hemp is laid in swathes to dry for up to four days. This was traditionally followed by retting, either water retting (the bundled hemp floats in water) or dew retting (the hemp remains on the ground and is affected by the moisture in dew, and by molds and bacterial action). Modern processes use steam and machinery to separate the fibre, a process known as thermo-mechanical pulping.


There are broadly three groups of Cannabis varieties being cultivated today:

  • Varieties primarily cultivated for their fibre, characterized by long stems and little branching, extreme red, yellow, blue or purple coloration, or thickness of stem and solid core, such as hemp cannabis oglalas, and more generally called industrial hemp.
  • Varieties grown for seed from which hemp oil is extracted or which can be dehulled.
  • Varieties grown for medicinal, spiritual development or recreational purposes.

A nominal, if not legal distinction is often made between hemp, with concentrations of the psychoactive chemical THC far too low to be useful as a drug, and Cannabis used for medical, recreational, or spiritual purposes.


Hemp plants can be vulnerable to various pathogens, including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, viruses and other miscellaneous pathogens. Such diseases often lead to reduced fibre quality, stunted growth, and death of the plant. These diseases rarely affect the yield of a hemp field, so hemp production is not traditionally dependent on the use of pesticides.


Yangshao culture (ca. 4800 BCE) amphora with impressed hemp cord design
, the Mandarin word for hemp. In China, the use of hemp has been shown to go back at least 10,000 years.

Hemp use dates back to the Stone Age, with hemp fibre imprints found in pottery shards in China and Taiwan[46] over 7,000 years old. They were also later used to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and an early form of paper.[46] Contrary to the traditional view that Cai Lun invented paper in around 105 AD, specimens of hemp paper were found in the Great Wall of China dating back 200 years earlier.[citation needed]

The classical Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 480 BC) reported that the inhabitants of Scythia would often inhale the vapours of hemp smoke, both as ritual and for their own pleasurable recreation (Hist. 4:73-75).

In late medieval Germany and Italy, hemp was employed in cooked dishes, as filling in pies and tortes, or boiled in a soup.[47]

Hemp in later Europe was mainly cultivated for its fibres, and was used for ropes on many ships, including those of Christopher Columbus. The use of hemp as a cloth was centred largely in the countryside, with higher quality textiles being available in the towns.

The Spaniards brought hemp to the Western Hemisphere and cultivated it in Chile starting about 1545.[48] However, in May 1607, "hempe" was among the crops Gabriel Archer observed being cultivated by the natives at the main Powhatan village, where Richmond, Virginia is now situated;[49] and in 1613, Samuell Argall reported wild hemp "better than that in England" growing along the shores of the upper Potomac. As early as 1619, the first Virginia House of Burgesses passed an Act requiring all planters in Virginia to sow "both English and Indian" hemp on their plantations.[50] The Puritans are first known to have cultivated hemp in New England in 1645.[48]

File:Producer of marihuana.jpg
United States "Marihuana" production permit. In the United States, hemp cultivation is legally prohibited, but during World War II farmers were encouraged to grow hemp for cordage, to replace Manila hemp previously obtained from Japanese-controlled areas. The U.S. government produced a film explaining the uses of hemp, called Hemp for Victory.

In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed in the United States. It levied a tax on anyone who dealt commercially in cannabis, hemp, or marijuana. It was repealed by an overriding law in 1970.

Hemp was used extensively by the United States during World War II. Uniforms, canvas, and rope were among the main textiles created from the hemp plant at this time.[51] Much of the hemp used was cultivated in Kentucky and the Midwest.

Historically, hemp production had made up a significant portion of antebellum Kentucky's economy. Before the American Civil War, many slaves worked on plantations producing hemp.[52]

During World War II, the U.S. produced a short 1942 film, Hemp for Victory, promoting hemp as a necessary crop to win the war.

By the early twentieth century, the advent of the steam engine and the diesel engine ended the reign of the sailing ship. The production of iron and steel for cable and ships' hulls further eliminated natural fibres in marine use. Hemp had long since fallen out of favour in the sailing industry in preference to Manila hemp.

Countries that produce hemp

Over 30 countries produce industrial hemp including Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Great Britain, France, Russia and Spain.[53]

From the 1950s to the 1980s the Soviet Union was the world's largest producer (3,000 km² in 1970). The main production areas were in Ukraine,[54] the Kursk and Orel regions of Russia, and near the Polish border. Since its inception in 1931, the Hemp Breeding Department at the Institute of Bast Crops in Hlukhiv (Glukhov), Ukraine, has been one of the world's largest centres for developing new hemp varieties, focusing on improving fibre quality, per-hectare yields, and low THC content.[55][56]

Other important producing countries were China, North Korea, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, France and Italy.

Typical Japanese Shinto shrine with paper streamers & rope made out of unprocessed hemp fibre.

In Japan, hemp was historically used as paper and a fibre crop. There is archaeological evidence that cannabis was used for clothing and the seeds were eaten in Japan right back to the Jōmon period (10,000 to 300 BCE). Many Kimono designs portray hemp, or "Asa" (Japanese: ), as a beautiful plant. In 1948 marijuana was restricted as a narcotic drug. The ban on marijuana imposed by the United States authorities was alien to Japanese culture, as the drug had never been widely used in Japan before. Though these laws against marijuana are some of the world's strictest, allowing five years imprisonment for possession of the drug, they exempt hemp growers, whose crop is used to make robes for Buddhist monks and loincloths for sumo wrestlers. Because marijuana use in Japan has doubled in the past decade, these "loopholes" have recently been called into question.[57]

Uruguay has also approved a project of hemp production as of the second half of 2010.

France is Europe's biggest producer, with 8,000 hectares cultivated. Canada (9,725 ha in 2004),[58] the United Kingdom, and Germany all resumed commercial production in the 1990s. British production is mostly used as bedding for horses; other uses are under development. The largest outlet for German fibre is composite automotive panels. Companies in Canada, UK, United States, and Germany among many others process hemp seed into a growing range of food products and cosmetics; many traditional growing countries still continue to produce textile grade fibre.

Hemp is not legal to grow in the U.S. under Federal law because of its relation to marijuana, and any imported hemp products must meet a zero tolerance level. It is considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (P.L. 91-513; 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.). Some states have defied Federal law and made the cultivation of industrial hemp legal. These states — North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, West Virginia, and Vermont — have not yet begun to grow hemp because of resistance from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.[59]

Commercial production (including cultivation) of industrial hemp has been permitted in Canada since 1998, under licenses and authorization issued by Health Canada. In 2009, hemp was harvested on 5450 hectares of Canadian land.[60]

Industrial growth under licence

Industrial hemp production in France

Licences for hemp cultivation are issued in the European Union, Canada, in all states of Australia, and nine states in the United States.[61]

In the United Kingdom, these licences are issued by the Home Office under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. When grown for non-drug purposes hemp is referred to as industrial hemp, and a common product is fibre for use in a wide variety of products, as well as the seed for nutritional aspects as well as for the oil. Feral hemp or ditch weed is usually a naturalized fibre or oilseed strain of Cannabis that has escaped from cultivation and is self-seeding.

Victoria, Queensland and most recently New South Wales issue licences to grow hemp for industrial use. Victoria was an early adopter in 1998, and has reissued the regulation in 2008.[62] Queensland has allowed industrial production under licence since 2002[63] where the issuance is controlled under the Drugs Misuse Act 1986.[64] Most recently New South Wales now issues licences[65] under a law that came into effect as at 6 November 2008, the Hemp Industry Regulations Act 2008 (No 58).[66]

Vermont and North Dakota have passed laws enabling hemp licensure. Both states are waiting for permission to grow hemp from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Currently, North Dakota representatives are pursuing legal measures to force DEA approval.[67] Oregon has licensed industrial hemp as of August, 2009.[68]

See also


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cs:Konopí seté da:Almindelig Hamp de:Nutzhanf es:Cáñamo eo:Kanabo fr:Chanvre hr:Konoplja it:Canapa (tessile) he:קנבוס hu:Kender mk:Коноп nl:Hennep ja:麻 no:Hamp pl:Konopie pt:Cânhamo ru:Пенька sr:Индустријска конопљa fi:Hamppu sv:Hampa

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  67. North Dakota Case
  68. 75th Oregon Legislative Assembly — 2009 Regular Session Senate Bill 676