What is Hemp? A Comprehensive Guide to the World’s Most Useful Plant

what is hemp

Posted on February 9th, 2021

As the world is quickly learning and appreciating the value of cannabis and cannabis products, there’s a lot of exciting information to take in. An excellent place to start learning is first to ask the question, “what is hemp?”

The Cannabis Sativa plant has two main variations, marijuana and hemp. Both are revered among cannabis enthusiasts and the general population. As the most significant cannabidiol (CBD) source, millions of people use hemp products every day. Industrial hemp, as it is technically known, is a variety of Cannabis Sativa with very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The chemical makeup of this plant is dominated by CBD and other cannabinoids.

This plant has a storied history spanning over 10,000 years. And being one of the fastest-growing plants on earth, it has a lot of utility. Herein, we will delve into what it is, covering everything you need to know about the plant. 

History of Hemp

The earliest evidence of man using hemp was traced back to tens of thousands of years ago, when it was spun into usable fiber. Remnants of hemp clothes have been found in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran and Iraq), dating back to 8,000 B.C. Moreover, given that humans started cultivating agricultural products around 10,000 B.C, it is fair to assume it was one of the first products humans domesticated and cultivated. 

what is hempEvidence suggests that the Chinese have had the most extended continuous history of cultivating hemp— approximately 6,000 years. There is abundant evidence indicating that hemp was widely interwoven into many societal activities. It was crucial in weaving and pottery in East Asia, especially in China. Archeological evidence suggests that among the Yangshao, hemp fiber was used to create imprints in pottery as far back as 5000 B.C. 

The use of hemp in the manufacture of goods among the Chinese later expanded to manufacturing the earliest forms of paper, shoes, ropes, and clothes. There are also references to its cultivation in The Lushi, which documented the Sung dynasty. The Lushi notes that Emperor Shen Nung taught people how to cultivate hemp as a source of material for clothes in the 28th century B.C.

From China, it spread to the Middle East and later to Europe. For instance, medieval Germans used hemp in food, including soup. Later on, however, it was mainly grown as a source of fiber for clothes and rope. As historians frequently note, Christopher Columbus used hemp rope to sail across the Atlantic to reach the Americas.

Hemp in America

America was first introduced to Cannabis Sativa in 1606. Ever since, hemp has been grown in some form ranging from a commercial utility-scale to a small scale for research. Believe it or not, our founding fathers were fond of the plant and encouraged its cultivation for commercial purposes. 

For instance, George Washington was an ardent hemp farmer for ropes, lamp fuels, and papers. George Washington went as far as importing plants from Asia to improve his crop. Other notable hemp farmers in history include Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Madison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin Pierce.

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed. The law allowed the U.S. government to levy a tax on people who dealt in commercial hemp, cannabis, and marijuana. During World War II, the Department of Agriculture lifted the tax to help ramp up its production in the U.S. By 1942, hemp production had increased greatly under the “Hemp for Victory” program.

By 1957, the cultivation of commercial hemp had all but ceased. In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act categorized hemp as an illegal substance in Schedule 1. The reversal of some of the restrictions imposed on hemp began to roll back in 2004 after a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court in the Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA. The verdict gave permanent protection to the sale of hemp food and body care products.

In 2014, President Obama signed the first Farm Bill, giving research institutions a legal framework to work under when cultivating hemp under piloting farms. 2015 saw another attempt to legitimize hemp cultivation with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134). In 2018, the Farm Bill was passed and signed into law by President Trump, legalizing hemp.


Hemp vs Marijuana

Owing to prohibition and its taboo status, very few people truly understand cannabis. What is hemp, what is marijuana, and what are their differences? In fact, the vast majority of the knowledge base within the population is materially wrong. For instance, there is a common belief that hemp plants are male while marijuana plants are female is entirely false.

It is essential to know that they are the same plant but of different varieties. As the International Association of Plant Taxonomy notes, both hemp and marijuana are Cannabis Sativa plants. Their differences arise from the application, function, and cultivation of these varieties. 

The marijuana variety yields trichomes that contain plenty of THC. Consequently, marijuana has infamously intoxicating properties. There are recreational and medical uses for marijuana. 

On the other hand, hemp is a taller Cannabis Sativa plant that shines in industrial applications. As such, it is valuable for its high-strength fiber in the textile, construction, and automobile industries. The ointment, supplements, and even plastics industries also use oils from this cannabis variety.

Only with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill did the Federal Government officially recognize the differences between these two varieties. Crucially, the bill denotes what makes hemp different from marijuana. The former is any Cannabis Sativa plant with less than 0.3% THC. In comparison, any plant with more than 0.3% THC is marijuana and, therefore, a Schedule I drug.

A Not So Fine Line

The distinction between what we call hemp and marijuana might seem slight. But it is a cornerstone of the booming cannabis industry, and so is very important. As such, many researchers and growers are developing new varieties in line with this standard distinction.

While hemp is legal to grow, process, transport, and sell under federal law, marijuana remains illegal. However, there is a trend of legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal applications. With time, it is expected more states will legalize the use of marijuana (cannabis Sativa plants with more than 0.3% THC).


Surprisingly, for a long time after it came to the Americas in the 1600s, hemp was an important cash crop to the U.S. In fact, England forced many states to cultivate it. 

The tide started to shift in the 1900s. For starters, cheap imports reduced the return on investment from planting it locally. This turn of events hit Kentucky particularly hard as it was responsible for over 75% of all the hemp fiber produced in the U.S. The dwindling value of the crop coupled with the government’s effort to fight drugs led to the first legislation curtailing hemp planting. 

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

The government enacted The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 to regulate the cultivation, importation, possession, and distribution of all varieties of cannabis Sativa. The taxation approach brought about by the new regulation made farming, processing, transporting, and selling hemp more difficult. 

With World War II starting, hemp experienced a slight resurgence. With its fiber in high demand, the Federal Government lifted the enforcement of The Marihuana Tax Act. Moreover, the Department of Agriculture actively encouraged farmers in the Southwest and Midwest to cultivate the plant. After the war, pre-war ways resumed. The government enforced The Marihuana Tax Act, discouraging the cultivation of hemp as a cash crop.

Under the rejuvenated war on drugs, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 came into effect. The act classified Cannabis Sativa as a Schedule I drug. It did not distinguish between the varieties of cannabis. Every type of cannabis was federally illegal, whether or not it contained high levels of THC.

In late 1999, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used its administrative authority to demand the U.S. Customs Service enforce zero-tolerance to any THC content in imported products. The ensuing legal tussle between the DEA and the hemp industry trade groups and retailers pertaining to these regulations stretched until 2004. At this time, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the trade groups and retailers.

Therefore, traders could deal (import and distribute) certain hemp products – dietary products – without facing any restriction from the DEA.

The Farm Bill 

The 2014 Farm Bill set out provisions for states to conduct hemp research under pilot programs. However, hemp could not contain more than 0.3% THC. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, farmers and processors could start growing, processing, and creating products from hemp.

The 2018 Farm Bill took the relaxation of restriction even further. Beyond lifting restrictions on hemp farming and processing, the 2018 Farm Bill encouraged farmers and processors to form businesses around hemp growing by providing legal certainty. If their plants had less than 0.3% THC, they encountered no restrictions on processing, transporting, and selling their products. 

In line with the Federal regulation, at least 47 states enacted legislation to establish and promote hemp cultivation, at least at the research level. Furthermore, the USDA announced the availability of some crop insurance programs (Multi-Peril Crop Insurance and Whole-Farm Revenue Protection) for hemp farmers in 2020.

hemp farmAgriculture

While hemp cultivation has been legal across the US for years, it might be awhile before we reach the full potential for growing it. For starters, the majority of states are still only setting up the genetics, infrastructure, and education. Fortunately, most farming equipment can meet the needs and demands for hemp cultivation. As for techniques, it is relatively easy for farmers to utilize both orchard farming and extensive farming, given that hemp is a perennial crop.

On the soil quality front, hemp needs flat land with well-percolated soil. It requires an ample supply of water and nutrients, and a short summer. It will also thrive in locations with an extensive diurnal temperature range. As for its growing season, it is a summer crop and takes 3 to 4 months to grow to maturity. This hearty plant tends to thrive in locations with hot summers and cold winters – generally locations outside the tropics.

What is Hemp Made Of?

Hemp contains a wide variety of compounds and cannabinoids. However, it can only have trace amounts of Delta-9 THC and THCA. Other cannabinoids present include:

-CBDA (cannabidiolic acid)

-CBD (cannabidiol)

-CBGA (cannabigerolic acid)

-CBG (cannabigerol)

-CBC (cannabichromene)

-CBN (cannabinol)

-CBDV (cannabidivarin)

An in-depth analysis of the chemical profile will reveal that hemp also contains: 

-glucosides (sucrose, p-coumaric acid hexoside, isorhamnetin), 

flavonoids (N-coumaroyltyramine, kaempferol, N-caffeoyltyramine, cannflavin B N-feruloyltyramine isomer 1 and 2,), 

-acids (linolenic acid, α-linolenic acid, oleic acid), and 

Terpenes (responsible for scent and many benefits as well)

For the textile industry interested in the chemical composition of the fiber, the chemical composition of the fiber consists of:

-Cellulose at 77.5%

-Hemi-cellulose at 10%

-Lignin at 6.8%

-Pectin at 2.9%

-Fat and wax at 0.9%

Main Uses

After thousands of years of humans exploiting hemp, the entire plant has utility. For instance:


the manufacture of animal feed



non-dairy milk (hemp milk) 

dietary fiber

baking additive 



cooking additive dietary supplement

salad dressing 

body care product and ointment 


paint and much more






-manufacturing automobile parts 


-animal bedding

-manufacturing pulp and paper (can produce more paper per acre than trees)

-as a recycling additive

Health Benefits

Healthy fat – hemp is a great source for omega-3 fatty acids

Additionally, hemp has alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and serves as an alternative source for individuals who do not consume fish or eggs. Other healthy fats include phytosterols and GLA. 

Protein – raw hemp is a healthy alternative for all ten amino acids, making it a superb source for proteins. Incredibly, hemp is also devoid of phytates, which hinder the absorption of minerals in the body.

Magnesium – hemp seeds are a good source for magnesium, an essential mineral for numerous bodily functions. Magnesium aids over 300 enzymatic reactions in our bodies, ranging from protein and fat synthesis to metabolism.


The entire story and worth of the hemp plant could easily take up an entire encyclopedia volume. This article touches on many of the main uses and facts about the diverse plant. One gap in this discussion is all of the research on each individual cannabinoid. Amazingly, each chemical part of the hemp plant, especially the cannabinoids, has a slew of potential health benefits. The research on all of these possibilities is skyrocketing lately, and consumers are reaping the benefits of the findings. Tanasi is a company that has jumped on the hemp train, growing and making use of what hemp has to offer. Tanasi’s full spectrum hemp extracts are the shining star of their labor. Feel free to explore this blog and learn everything you can about what magic lies within this miracle plant.

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