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

what is hemp

Posted on June 2nd, 2022

Times are changing, and we’re learning to appreciate cannabis products for more than just their recreational uses. Which is why, if you want to learn more, your first question to ask should be, “what is hemp?” And we’re here to tell you!

There are two main variations of the Cannabis Sativa plant: marijuana and hemp. And they’re distinguished by their THC and CBD concentrations. Technically known as industrial hemp, the latter has very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Instead, its chemical makeup is dominated by CBD and other cannabinoids. So, as the most significant cannabidiol (CBD) source, millions of people use hemp products every day.

While CBD products are relatively new, this plant has a storied history spanning over 10,000 years. And being one of the fastest-growing plants on earth, it has many uses. So dive in with us and learn more!

Plant History 

We can trace the plant’s use back to tens of thousands of years ago, when it was spun into usable fiber. Remnants of hemp clothes were found in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran and Iraq), dating back to 8,000 B.C. This suggests it was one of the first products humans domesticated and cultivated. 

what is hempEvidence also suggests that the Chinese have cultivated hemp for approximately 6,000 years. And that this plant played a major role in weaving and pottery in East Asia, especially in China. Archeological finds also teach us that the Yangshao used hemp fiber to create pottery imprints as far back as 5000 B.C. 

Later, the Chinese expanded its uses for manufacturing paper, shoes, ropes, and clothesFrom China, it spread to the Middle East and later to Europe. By medieval times, Germans used hemp in food, including soup. Later on, it was mainly grown for its  fibers, which people used for clothes and rope. As historians frequently note, Christopher Columbus used hemp rope when he sailed across the Atlantic to reach the Americas.

Coming to America

On this continent, we first met Cannabis Sativa in 1606. And it caught on quickly! Believe it or not, our founding fathers were fond of the plant, encouraging its cultivation for commercial purposes. 

It may sound crazy, but this is no tall tale (like that famous apple tree reference.) In fact, George Washington farmed hemp for ropes, lamp fuels, and papers. He even imported Asian plants to improve his crop. It seems he sparked a farming revolution because Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Madison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin Pierce all followed in his footsteps. 

So, in this country’s early days, people accepted and embraced all cannabis varieties. But at the start of the 20th century, the tides started turning. In 1937 came the Marijuana Tax Act, allowing the U.S. government to tax commercial  cannabis dealers. During World War II, the Department of Agriculture lifted the tax to help ramp up US production. So, by 1942, production greatly increased thanks to the “Hemp for Victory” program.

Still, the love was short-lived. By 1957, commercial cultivation all but ceased. And then came the 1970s Controlled Substance Act, categorizing all cannabis varieties as illegal substances in Schedule 1. For years, that control was constant. But things shifted again in 2004, when the Ninth Circuit Court ruled for the Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA, protecting the sale of hemp food and body care products.

Just 10 years later, President Obama signed the first Farm Bill, giving research institutions a legal framework for cultivating hemp under piloting farms. In 2015, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134) followed. And, in 2018, the next Farm Bill, legalized hemp,  creating the environment we enjoy today. 


Hemp vs Marijuana

Because of its complex history, very few people truly understand cannabis. What is hemp, what is marijuana, and what are their differences? There are so many wrong answers! For instance, many people belief that hemp plants are male while marijuana plants are female. But that’s just not true.

Truly, they are different varieties of the same plant. As the International Association of Plant Taxonomy notes, both are Cannabis Sativa plants. Their differences arise from their application, function, and cultivation. 

The marijuana variety yields trichomes that contain plenty of THC. Consequently, marijuana has infamously intoxicating properties. People use marijuana recreationally and medically

Hemp is a taller plant that shines in industrial applications. It’s valued for having high-strength fiber that’s useful for the textile, construction, and automobile industries. The ointment, supplements, and even plastics industries also use oils from this cannabis variety.

The true differences come from that 2018 Farm Bill we just mentioned. Because, with that law, the Federal Government officially recognized the varieties’ differences. Crucially, it defined hemp as 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

This distinction might seem slight. But it’s a cornerstone of the booming cannabis industry, and so it is very important. As such, many researchers and growers are developing new strains that fall in line with this distinction. Even as that happens, more states are legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal applications.


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

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

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 regulated cultivating, importating, possessing and distributing all varieties of cannabis Sativa. This new taxation approach made farming, processing, transporting, and selling hemp more difficult. 

With the start of World War II, hemp experienced a slight resurgence. Now its fiber was in high demand, so the Federal Government stopped enforcing The Marihuana Tax Act. Moreover, the Department of Agriculture actively encouraged farmers in the Southwest and Midwest to cultivate this plant. After the war, the old 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. This classified Cannabis Sativa as a Schedule I drug. It did not distinguish between cannabis varieties. Every type of cannabis was federally illegal, whether or not it contained high levels of THC.

In late 1999, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) flexed its administrative authority. They made t the U.S. Customs Service enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding THC content in imported products. The ensuing legal tussle between the DEA, hemp industry trade groups and retailers stretched until 2004. At this time, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of 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 it’s been legal to cultivate hemp across the US for years, it might be a while before we reach its full growing potential. 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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