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A brief history of hemp

A brief history of hemp

Hemp file photo

Hemp is not a new crop. Versions of cannabis sativa have been grown for thousands of years. As late as the early 20th century, it was grown extensively in the United States, where its fiber was used for rope and other products. The word “canvas” is derived from “cannabis.”

The crop fell out of favor when the government became concerned about its connection to marijuana, a psychoactive drug made from the same base plant. A relaxation of laws nationally and in several states regarding production came into play a few years ago, with regulation mandating that industrial hemp contain only small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the substance that produces the high from marijuana.

Illinois began a pilot program in 2015 for experimentation, and in 2018 the Industrial Hemp Act became effective across the state. The act expanded the growing and processing of hemp outside of higher education and research, and allowed for farmers to plant and process hemp in the state. The rules became effective in April 2019.

Kentucky was one of the first states to allow growth of industrial hemp, with the passage of Senate Bill 50 in 2013. The 2018 farm bill ended federal prohibition of hemp production.

Hemp has three basic uses:

  • The flowers can be processed into oils and other products designed for various medicinal benefits, such as an analgesic and for treatment of conditions including epilepsy.
  • Hemp seeds are rich in protein, fiber and fatty acids, and are consumed by both humans and livestock. They are promoted as having anti-inflammatory properties, among other things.
  • Hemp fiber has a multitude of uses and is considered by many proponents as have the greatest promise. Hemp can serve as an effective replacement for petroleum-based binding agents, and as a component of fabric and industrial materials.

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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