by Dr. Lawrence Wilson

© May 2011, L.D Wilson Consultants, Inc.


            The story of hemp in America is a fascinating and interesting one.  Hemp is a most interesting agricultural plant that is currently illegal to grow in America, although it is grown all over the rest of the world for food, medicine, fiber, fuel, paper-making and more.

By the way, I do not support legalizing marijuana for any purpose, including pain relief or cancer treatment.  The reasons for this are detailed in another article entitled Medical Marijuana.




Hemp is an amazing example of nature's blessings.  Few other plants can produce clean fuel, high-quality protein for animal and human food, among the best edible oils that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lubricating and fuel oils, plastics, building material, clothing and paper.

Hemp requires no pesticides, grows almost anywhere on marginal soil, prevents soil erosion and can be grown on the same land year after year. 

Hemp played a critical role in American history, but that story is rarely told. Today it could help our economy, save the forests and soils, and clean up the air and water.

Hemp cultivation was banned in 1937 because it competed with the oil, chemical and timber industries, not because of drug abuse.  Canada and most European and Asian nations permit hemp cultivation.  Growing hemp does not mean legalizing marijuana.  The variety used industrially does not contain much THC, the major psychoactive chemical that some people like to smoke.




Remnants of hemp cloth were found in what was ancient Mesopotamia, now Turkey.  Pottery decorated by pressing strips of hemp cord into it were found in Taiwan from about the same time.  The Egyptians spun hemp around 4000 BC.  The word for hemp in German is hanf, from which we get our English word hemp.

The oldest paper came from China, made from a mixture of flax and hemp.  In Japan, the emperor wore silk, but the common people wore hemp clothing.  The Romans used hemp to make sails and ropes for their ships, and paper on which to write their laws.  The Dutch made a light fabric out of hemp they called canefas, derived from the Latin word cannabis.  It resulted in our word 'canvas'.  In other words, canvas was originally a hemp product.

Records from the 1600s describe hemp made into towels, tablecloths, napkins, sheets, horse blankets, flags and so forth. The French philosopher Rablais wrote of hemp,

 "Without it, how could water be drawn from the well?  What would the scribes, secretaries and writers do without it? Would not the noble art of printing perish?"




Hemp paper does not turn yellow and disintegrate, as wood pulp paper does. The Library of Congress reports that 300-400 year old hemp paper is still in good shape. However, 97 percent of the non-fiction books printed between 1900 and 1939 on wood-based paper will be unreadable in 50 years.

Hemp can be made into every grade of paper, from fine stock to index cards, corrugated cardboard and newsprint. Today it is still used in cigarette paper, currency, fine art stock and security papers like stock certificates. Bibles are often printed on hemp paper because its lightness allows many thin pages.

Hemp produces about four times as much pulp for paper per acre as trees. A new crop is produced annually, unlike trees which require 20 years to mature. In 1988, 226 million tons of trees were pulped to make paper. The demand is expected to double by the year 2020.

Wood-based paper-making is a dirty industry.  Mercury and other toxins are released that have contaminated every water supply in the nation. Hemp can be made with a soda process that is much cleaner.  It can be bleached with hydrogen peroxide, instead of toxic chlorine. Hemp paper can be recycled an average of seven times. Wood-pulp paper can only be recycled an average of three times. China leads the world today in non-tree paper, with 75% of their paper made from various crops including hemp.




An early American explorer in 1524 described the American natives as using "threads of wild hemp." Christopher Columbus's ships each carried over 80 tons of hemp rigging and sails.  Many colonies, from Connecticut to Georgia, urged settlers to raise hemp.  Georgia offered hempseed free to farmers in 1767.

Thomas Paine insisted America could win a war with the British king because "hemp flourishes here".  George Washington was a hemp farmer who praised native Indian hemp. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted on hemp paper.  Thomas Jefferson wrote that hemp "is of first necessity to the commerce and marine, in other words to the wealth and protection of the country."

In the 19th century, canvas and a lighter weight hemp fabric called 'duck' covered the Conestoga Wagons.  Kentucky became the leading hemp-producing state. "Flanders fine hemp linen" was advertised.

An acre of hemp will produces two to three times as much fiber as cotton or flax.  Hemp was always preferred to cotton because of its far greater strength, absorbency and durability.  In 1840, John Baxter wrote that, "hemp will bleach whiter than flax or cotton, and make the finest fabric, from lace to cambric to good shirting, and far cheaper than either." Cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop in America.  Hemp requires no pesticide spraying.

The first Levi jeans were made of duck, a rugged hemp fabric.  Hemp can compete well with synthetic fibers, is breathable, recyclable and non-allergenic.  Hemp can also be spun into rayon.  Growing hemp could help revive the textile industry in America, creating thousands of jobs.

Hemp fiber is two to three times as strong as jute or sisal. This makes hemp excellent for cordage, ropes and natural carpeting.  Because hemp is unaffected by salt water, it is excellent for fishing lines, fish nets, sail cloth and other items that are routinely exposed to damp weather.




Hempseed is about 25% protein. It is a high-quality, nutritionally-complete food eaten in many cultures for thousands of years.  In the Orient, it was often eaten like oatmeal.  It is more digestible than soy protein and provides essential omeg-3 fatty acids, fiber and a complete protein all in one food.  Hempseed cakes make excellent food for fish, birds and livestock.

Hempseed oil is among the very best oil for eating raw or cooking.  It is also excellent for lubricating oil and fuel oil.  It can be used in shampoo, hair and skin cream, soap, cosmetics, massage oil and moisturizers. The oil also makes excellent paint, varnishes, lacquer and sealants.  In fact, when hemp cultivation was banned in 1937, hempseed oil was exempted, as it was so important for paints, varnishes and lubricating oil.

Hempseed oil has the highest total concentration of the essential fatty acids of any oil (about 80%).  Flaxseed oil is higher in linolenic acid, but hempseed is highest in total omega-6 (linoleic) and omega-3 (linolenic) essential fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown helpful to combat cancer, AIDS, inflammation, ADHD and most other diseases as well.  It is desperately needed by all people today.

 UCLA researchers R. Lee Hamilton, PhD and William Eidelman, MD stated, "essential fatty acids are responsible for our immune response. In the (European) old country, the peasants ate hemp butter.  They were more resistant to disease than the nobility."

Hemp is a very ancient source of medicine.  It is mentioned by the famous physician Galen.  Several chemicals have been isolated from the hemp leaf and seeds. Medicinal effects include stimulating the appetite, reducing nausea, lowering pressure in the eyes, stimulating the immune response and reducing pain, especially migraine headache pain. 

It is an antibacterial, antiviral, anti-convulsant, bronchodilator and expectorant.  It reduces spasticity and ataxia in multiple sclerosis, stops menstrual bleeding and helps PMS and the pain of childbirth.  Hemp extracts were widely used in medicines in America until it was banned.




Corn, tree pulp and hemp are sources for clean-burning alcohol, ethanol and methane gas.  These 'biofuels' contain no sulfur, the pollutant that causes acid rain.  Growing the fuel also produces oxygen, to balance the oxygen consumed during combustion.  Engines stay cleaner and the air remains much cleaner.

Hemp may be the most profitable and productive fuel crop that can be grown in many areas of America.  Hemp can produce about 1000 gallons of methanol per acre, four times as much as can be produced from trees.  Fuel can be produced locally, reducing transportation costs.  The production process, called biomass conversion, is safe and clean.  It would create a domestic fuel industry, freeing us from Middle East oil dependency, providing jobs and keeping our currency at home.

Hemp fuel needs no taxpayer subsidies, as oil receives. The Department of Energy estimated that fuel could be produced from hemp for about 60 cents per gallon.  In New South Wales, Australia the Minister of Energy told the parliament they should consider burning confiscated hemp to produce electricity. "It burns at extremely high temperature, produces a lot of power and is cheaper (and much cleaner) to burn than coal."

Hemp was the subject of a 1991 conference held in Wisconsin. One speaker pointed out our government spends $26 billion each year to pay farmers not to cultivate their land. Instead of this waste of taxpayer money, farmers could grow hemp or other fuel crops. This could completely end our dependence on foreign oil.




It sounds incredible, but almost any product made from petroleum can be made from hemp or other vegetable sources.  Price has made oil attractive.  However, it is an artificial price.  Oil is heavily subsidized through oil depletion allowances and other tax breaks.  Oil is polluting and is a finite resource.

Henry Ford of Dearborn, Michigan pioneered making plastics from vegetable matter. He demonstrated how to make plastic steering wheels and many other car parts from soybeans and other vegetable matter.  Vegetable-derived plastics are also more easily recyclable.

Construction materials such as particle board, shingles, blocks, paints, and sealants can also be made from crops such as hemp.




In the late 1800's hemp had trouble competing with cheaper cotton for clothes, jute for rope, and tree pulp for paper.  However, by 1920, new processing equipment made hemp very inexpensive. This was the beginning of the end for hemp.

Sometimes laws arise out of greed and special interests. Other times, laws have good, but misguided intentions. The banning of hemp involved both. Two fledgling industries, oil and timber, ganged up against hemp. 

Anything made of petroleum can be made from hemp. The oil industry wanted cars to burn gasoline, not alcohol fuel derived from plants.  William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, owned forests across the country.  He wanted trees cut for paper, rather than using hemp.

Mr. Hearst began publishing horror stories in his newspapers across the country about "marijuana".  By the way, Hurst made up the word based on lyrics in a Mexican drinking song. He fabricated stories of murderous Mexicans high on 'dope'. This was a word for narcotics, not hemp.  The stories frightened and inflamed the public.

It was the time of the great depression.  People had lost confidence in their ability to solve their problems.  They wanted the government to solve them.  President Franklin Roosevelt obliged by creating federal agencies to police every aspect of American life.  One was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  Alcohol prohibition had been a failure, so the bureau was looking for a new 'war' to undertake.

Hemp leaves are not a narcotic drug.  No addiction to hemp was reported, even among hemp laborers.  There was no drug problem in America to speak of at that time.  However, hemp smoking made a good target due to the inflammatory newspaper stories. 

The combination of special interest greed and misguided government intervention led to banning all hemp cultivation and possession in 1937. Imported hemp oil for medicine and industry was so important to America it was excluded from the ban.




The hemp ban in America did not last long.  In 1942, the Japanese seized the Philippine Islands, our source for jute rope fibers.  Hemp became essential for the war effort. 

The US government made a stirring film entitled  “Hemp for Victory”.  They urged farmers to grow hemp for rope, twine, rigging and parachutes.  Each battleship required 34,000 feet of rope. Cultivation went from zero to one million acres in a few years.  Even rural school children were encouraged to plant hemp to help the war effort.  Oddly, it did not cause a drug epidemic! All this was forgotten when the war ended and hemp was banned once more.

The Drug Enforcement Agency opposes legalizing hemp because they say it is just a step toward legalizing marijuana. However, hemp is grown throughout Europe, Canada and Asia, with permits or licenses.  Most of these nations have far less drug problems than we do!

A coalition of farmers in Kentucky has filed suit against the DEA claiming the ban on hemp cultivation for industry was never the intent of Congress.

The hemp law was motivated by special interests.  Banning it has nothing to do with legalizing pot, and it only deprives America and Americans of one of nature's greatest sources of wealth and abundance.


Hemp, Lifeline to the Future by Chris Conrad (1-800-436-7626).
The Emperor Wears No Clothes
by Jack Herer.
Coalition For Hemp Awareness (CHA) (602) 675-0287.
Medical Marijuana And Why I Oppose It (an article on this website)



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