Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. that contains minimal (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is a tall, slender, fibrous plant similar to flax or kenaf. Various parts of the plant can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed and other products.

Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp

Hemp and Marijuana both come from the same plant - Cannabis Sativa L. The term 'Hemp' commonly refers to the industrial/commercial use of the cannabis stalk and seed for textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials while the term 'marijuana' refers to the medicinal, recreational or spiritual use involving the smoking of cannabis flowers. Industrial hemp contains only about 0.3% - 1% THC (THC is what makes you high) while marijuana contains 5%+ THC. Smoking hemp is more likely to cause a headache than a high.


Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants known. It has been cultivated by many civilizations for over 12,000 years. Hemp use archaeologically dates back to the Neolithic Age in China, with hemp fiber imprints found on Yangshao culture pottery dating from the 5th millennium BC. The Chinese later used hemp to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and an early form of paper.

Historically, hemp production had made up a significant portion of antebellum Kentucky's economy. 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. The reasons that hemp was also included in this law are disputed—several scholars have claimed that the Act was passed in order to destroy the US hemp industry, with the primary involvement of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family.

One claim is that Hearst believed that his extensive timber holdings were threatened by the invention of the decorticator, which he feared would allow hemp to become a very cheap substitute for the paper pulp that was used in the newspaper industry. Another claim is that Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America at that time, had invested heavily in DuPont's new synthetic fiber, nylon, and believed that the replacement of the traditional resource, hemp, was integral to the new product's success.

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. Much of the hemp used was cultivated in Kentucky and the Midwest. 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.

Hemp's Uses

Hemp as Food

Hemp 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 consumed in salads. Products include cereals, frozen waffles, hemp milk ice cream, hemp tofu, and nut butters. A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the seed oils, whole hemp grain (which is sterilized by law in the United States, where they import it from China and Canada), 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.


Approximately 44% of the weight of hempseed is edible oils, containing about 80% essential fatty acids (EFAs); e.g., 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%). Proteins (including edestin) are the other major component (33%). Hempseed's amino acid profile is close to "complete" when compared to more common sources of proteins such as meat, milk, eggs and soy. Hemp protein contains all 21 known amino acids, including the 9 essential ones adult bodies cannot produce. Proteins are considered complete when they contain all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities and ratios to meet the body's needs. 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.


Hemp fiber was widely used throughout history. Items ranging from rope, to fabrics, to industrial materials were made from hemp fiber. Hemp was often used to make sail canvas, and the word canvas derives from cannabis. Today, a modest hemp fabric industry exists, and hemp fibers can be used in clothing. Pure hemp has a texture similar to linen.


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".

Filtered hemp oil can be used directly to only 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.

According to one researcher, with today’s enzyme technology, hemp ethanol could be produced for $1.37 per gallon plus the cost of raw material, with the technological improvements and tax credits reducing the price by another dollar or so per gallon. The cost of raw materials would decrease as hemp was grown for more products, providing more free (or nearly free) hemp stalks as a “waste” product. Could you imagine paying 50 cents per gallon for your hemp ethanol? With gas prices averaging around $3.15 (January 2014) that would be a huge money saving area.

Building Material

Concrete-like blocks made with hemp and lime have been used as an insulating material for construction. Such blocks are not strong enough to be used for structural elements; they must be supported by a brick, wood, or steel frame. However hemp fibres are extremely strong and durable and have been shown to be used in replacement of wood for many jobs including creating very durable and breathable homes.

Plastic and Composite Materials

A mixture of fibreglass, hemp fiber, kenaf, and flax has been used since 2002 to make composite panels for automobiles. The choice of which bast fiber to use is primarily based on cost and availability. Various car makers are beginning to use hemp in their cars, including Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Honda, Iveco, Lotus, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Saturn, Volkswagen and Volvo.


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. Recycled hemp clothing, rags and fishing nets were used as inputs for paper production. The Saint Petersburg, Russia paper mill of Goznak opened in 1818. It used hemp as its main input material. Paper from the mill was used in the printing of "bank notes, stamped paper, credit bills, postal stamps, bonds, stocks, and other watermarked paper."

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 the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. This is known as phytoremediation - the process by the cleaning radiation as well as a variety of other toxins from the soil, water, and air.

Weed Control

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. 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. It has been used extensively to kill weeds in agriculture.


The world-leading producer of hemp is China, with smaller production in France, Chile and Russia. Over thirty countries produce industrial hemp, including Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.

The United Kingdom, and Germany resumed commercial production in the 1990s. British production is mostly used as bedding for horses; other uses are under development. Companies in Canada, the UK, the 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 fiber.

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 made the cultivation of industrial hemp legal, but these states — North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, California, Montana, West Virginia and Vermont — have not yet begun to grow it because of resistance from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2013, after the legalization of marijuana in the state, several farmers in Colorado planted and harvested several acres of hemp, bringing in the first hemp crop in the United States in over half a century.

U.S. Lawmakers in December 2014 also gave final approval to a provision prohibiting the federal government from funding efforts to interfere with state-sanctioned industrial hemp programs, including those that allow for the plant's cultivation. In February 2014, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant.


Hemp production in tonnes 2004 Source: FAOSTAT

  • China - 24000 - 79%
  • France - 4300 - 14%
  • Chili - 1250 - 4%
  • Russia - 200 - 1%
  • Turkey - 150 - < 1%
  • Ukraine - 150 - < 1%

Typical nutritional analysis of hulled hemp seeds

Calories/100 g 567 kcal
Protein 30.6
Carbohydrate 10.9
Dietary Fiber 6.0
Fat 47.2
Saturated Fat 5.2
Palmitic 16:0 3.4
Stearic 18:0 1.5
Monounsaturated Fat 5.8
Oleic 18:1 (Omega-9) 5.8
Polyunsaturated fat 36.2
Linoleic 18:2 (Omega-6) 27.6
Linolenic 18:3 (Omega-3) 8.7
Gamma-Linolenic 18:3 (Omega-6) 0.8
Cholesterol 0 mg
Moisture 4.7
Ash 6.6
Vitamin A (B-Carotene) 4.0 IU/100g
Thiamine (Vit B1) 1.4 mg
Riboflavin (Vit B2) 0.3 mg
Pyridoxine (Vit B6) 0.1 mg
Vitamin C 1.0 mg
Vitamin E 9.0 IU/100g
Sodium 9.0 mg
Calcium 74.0 mg
Iron 4.7 mg

More Information and Links

Vote Hemp, Inc.

Hempethics is an excellent site for information.

Norway, cultivating hemp 1000 years ago, likely for fiber.

Hemp.com is a great place to start to learn about this amazing fiber, whose history of use by humans goes back at least 10,000 years. A hemp twine-like embellishment has been found on the outside of a clay pot, possibly as a decoration, and dating back about 10,000 years. (Medical references from India and China date back at least 5000 years, and likely refer to the psycho-active type of cannabis, not the industrial fiber. 

For a summary of the hemp seed science, try this short piece. 

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul champions industrial hemp fiber. 10/17/2012

A Somewhat More Commercial hemp site with more information on available products.

Hemp Oil and Hemp Seeds for nutritional applications.

A combination of extensive hemp fiber information, as well as a market for hemp products.

Dr. Bronner has been a long-time champion of cannabis sativa in its many forms.  He is the same Dr. Bronner (and the son of) of the famously environmentally-friendly soap.  This YouTube addresses industrial hemp.

An excellent source of general information is found at Hempbasics.

Hemp oil is suggested by some as a favorable alternative to fish oil by more than one source.

As to hemp fact and fiction, Internet research suggests that although the Declaration of Independence was written on parchment, as was the US Constitution.  Parchment is an animal product. Both that, and the paper used for the first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence were obtained from a Dutch company.  According to the Library of Congress, the drafts are on "plant fiber."  There appears to be an open question about whether or not it was hemp fiber paper.  The story, true or not, is widely believed.  The presentation at the linked site was compelling.

The sails and lines on Old Ironsides, as well as on the ships of Christopher Columbus, were made from hemp fiber.  In general, the history of hemp is fascinating, extending over so many years and so many applications.  Columbus also carried hemp seeds for nutritional reasons.  Hemp was used in sails and iines until the mid to late 19th Century.  Some are in use today.

Hemp for Victory, produced by the US Government is a fascinating movie, released in 1942 or 1943. Farmers were being encouraged by the US Government to grow hemp to help win WWII.  Our ships would have inadequate lines without it.  Parachutes would not be attached to the poor dangling guy below. The movie is in high quality.  Farmers are instructed in hemp techniques, from planting to processing.  The procedure with the fiber is similar to that used with flax. 

The utility of hemp fiber is nicely spelled out in a 1938 Popular Mechanics, noting the 60 tons of hemp on the USS Constitutution.

Hippie Butter mission is to procure, provide, and test the best hemp seed products available with great customer service. We take great pride in our company, our commitment to customer service and in the hemp seed products we sell.

Maintoba Harvest heart hemp foods SO much we see no reason to love any other, and that’s why we ONLY manufacture and sell hemp foods. When it comes to hemp foods, we want to know as much as possible and be involved at every level - from seed to shelf.