By: Katie Lemon
It’s no secret that hemp is a miracle plant. From the myriad of hemp clothing benefits to the innovative creation of hemp toilet paper, this plant is one with a wide array of contributions to sustainability.
But even if you consider yourself an expert on the subject, get ready to be pleasantly surprised by these hemp facts. I’ve rounded up the most fascinating information on hemp’s history and modern use. So read on to find out the wildest facts about hemp, like what famous works were created on hemp paper, which founding fathers were fans of hemp, and so much more.
17 Hemp Facts That May Surprise You
(table of contents)
1. HEMP WAS ONE OF THE FIRST DOMESTICATED PLANTS
China has the longest history of hemp farming, going back about 6000 years. It was actually in Lei-Yang, China where a court official made the world’s first paper using hemp. Additionally, some of the world’s oldest medical papers, which were preserved from ancient Egypt, show the use of hemp plants for medicinal use.
Hemp was also likely the first-ever fiber used to make clothes, long before anything like hemp boxer briefs or the hemp bikini existed. Archaeologists found remains of hemp cloth in present-day Iraq that dates back to 8,000 B.C. Mesopotamia.
2. HEMP SEEDS CAN FIGHT WORLD HUNGER
If society made a shift in protein consumption, we could actually end world hunger utilizing nutrient-rich plant-based alternatives like hemp seeds. Protein-energy malnutrition is one of the deadliest threats in the fight against hunger, and hemp seeds are the answer.
That’s because hemp seeds are both affordable to cultivate and outrageously nutritious. They contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals and fatty acids to support a well-balanced diet. They’re an especially valuable source of Omega-3’s, vitamin E, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.
3. HEMP PROTECTS YOUR PRIVATES, NATURALLY
Hemp is the ultimate natural material for underwear, protecting your privates with its antibacterial properties and durable fibers. Hemp is super-soft and breathable, making it the perfect option for underwear whether you’re headed for a run or just lounging at home.
And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you, ladies. Women who like to avoid panty lines or want a sexy fit should definitely go for hemp thongs. If you like a bit more coverage while still being cheeky, grab a pair of my personal favorite: hemp hipsters.
If you are one to read reviews before buying anything online, go ahead and check out all of the rave reviews WAMA Hemp Underwear has been getting!
4. THE FIRST MARIJUANA LAW WAS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOU'D EXPECT
Long before the US criminalized hemp, America actually had a drastically different relationship with the plant. During the 17th and 18th centuries in colonial America, it was actually against the law in some places to not grow hemp plants.
Some other great hemp facts from early America: refusing to grow hemp in Virginia could even get you sent to jail from 1763 to 1769. From 1631 up through the early 1800’s, hemp was legal tender. That means residents could pay their taxes in hemp, and often people bartered with it.
5. HEMP PAPER HAS DOCUMENTED SOME FAMOUS WORKS
Not only was hemp the backbone of colonial America’s farming industry, but it also played an important role in the founding of the United States. The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp before it was immortalized on parchment.
Just a few hundred years ago, nearly everything was written on hemp paper. Documents written on hemp last a long time because hemp fibers can withstand folding and wear and tear better than other fibers used for paper. Notable documents first printed on hemp include the King James Bible, Lewis Caroll’s Alice In Wonderland, and the works of Mark Twain.
6. WE CAN MAKE BIOFUEL OUT OF HEMP
Scientists at the University of Connecticut were able to use industrial hemp seeds to create viable diesel fuel that’s actually sustainable. Using a process called transesterification, researchers were able to convert an incredible 97 percent of the hemp seed oil they used into biodiesel.
Hemp is the perfect fuel alternative because it doesn’t require high-quality land to grow and doesn’t compete with food sources. The team at UConn is now using grant money from the Department of Energy to build a biodiesel production facility.
7. THE WORLD ONCE SAILED ON HEMP
Hemp has long been a favorite in shipbuilding. For thousands of years, the plant was used in a variety of ways aboard ships, even as a form of waterproof caulking. Hemp has the longest natural fibers in the world, so it was perfect for crafting durable sails and rope.
Hemp fiber is inextricably linked to the history of sailing. The word ‘canvas’ actually comes from the Middle English word ‘canevas.’ This can be traced back to its Latin root, ‘cannabis.’
8. HEMP IS AN ART WORLD FAVORITE
Most early canvas paintings, including some created by masters like Rembrandt and Van Gogh, were painted on hemp canvas.
On top of that, many quality paints were once made using hemp seed oil. In 1935 alone, over 50,000 tons of hemp seeds were used in America to make paint products. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act brought that to an end, though, even after Sherwin Williams Paint Company tried to fight back.
9. HEMP CAN BE USED TO BUILD DURABLE HOMES
Step aside, concrete and brick. Modern builders are now using a material called hempcrete to build eco-friendly houses that will stand the test of time. The innovative material is a combination of the inner pulpy core of hemp plants and lime binders.
This new building material makes for homes that are naturally rot-free, mold-free, pest-free, and fire-resistant. It’s less brittle than concrete, so it can be used in all climates and doesn’t require expansion joints.
Hempcrete is also environmentally-friendly because it creates less waste during the building process and creates homes that use less energy than those made with traditional materials.
10. THE FOUNDING FATHERS GREW HEMP
George Washington famously cultivated hemp for years. He considered it one of the most important crops he grew, and his estate at Mount Vernon is now growing hemp on the same land the founding father once used.
Thomas Jefferson loved hemp so much that he smuggled potent hemp seeds into the US from China via France while working as an ambassador to the European country. He also received one of America’s first patents for a machine that improved the hemp processing system.
Benjamin Franklin was also a fan of the plant. He owned one of the country’s first paper mills that transformed hemp into parchment. Paper from his mill was even used for Thomas Paine’s inspirational pamphlets, including the infamous “Common Sense” pamphlet that helped inspire colonists to revolt against the British.
11. LEVI JEANS MAY HAVE ONCE BEEN MADE WITH HEMP
This one is a bit contested, but there are rumors that the first pairs of Levi jeans were made with hemp canvas. It’s even said that the hemp sailcloth was introduced by Levi Strauss himself during goldrush-era California to make sure miner’s pockets were strong enough to hold the heavy precious metals.
The company disputes the claim but is actually presently working on incorporating hemp into its denim designs. The relatively new Wellthread line is made with cottonized hemp and still has that iconic Levi’s indigo coloring.
12. HEMP CAN BE MADE INTO ECO-FRIENDLY PLASTIC
Hemp is revolutionizing the sustainable world through more than just clothing and fuel; now, companies are making bioplastics out of hemp. Heat and pressure are applied to the cellulose fiber of hemp plants and transformed into plastic material.
Not only is hemp plastic a greener alternative to traditional plastics, but it also packs a real punch of other benefits. For example, hemp plastic is non-toxic and completely biodegradable. And while it’s lighter than traditional plastic, it’s also more than three times stronger.
13. HENRY FORD MADE A CAR USING HEMP MATERIALS
Henry Ford debuted his hemp plastic car in 1941 after years of extensive research and testing. The car was 300 pounds lighter than traditional cars on the market. Amazingly, the hemp car proved to have ten times the impact resistance as cars made with steel.
However, Ford’s 1941 model was never commercialized. Nowadays, modern car manufacturers are reviving the hemp car. A man in Florida even made his own hemp vehicle with woven hemp imported from China.
14. HEMP CAN BE USED TO MAKE SUSTAINABLE BATTERIES
Scientists in Canada recently discovered that supercapacitors could be made from the pulpy center of hemp stalks. Hemp pulp is converted into carbon nanomaterials that are then used to make supercapacitors, a kind of battery that can charge and discharge in just a few seconds.
Supercapacitors can’t actually store much energy, so scientists are using those made with hemp to increase their storage capacity in a more environmentally-friendly way.
The study at the University of Alberta discovered that supercapacitors using hemp carbon outperformed traditional supercapacitors by 200 percent, and work is still being done to improve them even further.
15. HEMP HELPED REVERSE THE DISASTROUS EFFECTS OF CHERNOBYL
Scientists planted hemp at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the 1990s and successfully reversed some of the disastrous effects on the environment. This was possible because hemp is one of the best plants for phytoremediation, a natural process in which plants extract toxic materials from soil and neutralize them.
In 2001, German scientists were able to prove that hemp had extracted lead, cadmium, and nickel from the soil at Chernobyl. This, in turn, helped to reduce some of the disastrous effects of the nuclear disaster, and now scientists around the world are beginning to use hemp for similar purposes.
16. HEMP SEEDS CAN FIGHT PMS AND MENOPAUSE
Hemp seeds contain a wealth of fatty acids that can offset painful PMS symptoms. The gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) found in hemp seeds reduces the effect of prolactin, the hormone thought to cause PMS symptoms like cramping and aching.
One study gave suffering female patients 210 mg of GLA a day, which resulted in a significant decrease in PMS symptoms across the board.
The GLA present in hemp seeds is also thought to help fight the symptoms of menopause. One study used rats that were experiencing simulated menopause. The rats that were fed hemp seeds were less anxious and performed better than those that weren’t.
17. HEMP HELPED THE ALLIED POWERS TO WIN WORLD WAR II
And now for my favorite of all the facts about hemp: despite the fact that the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made growing hemp illegal, The US Department of Agriculture ran a program encouraging farmers to grow hemp during World War II.
The US had been importing hemp for shipbuilding materials but faced a shortage, so they created a video campaign called ‘Hemp For Victory.’ The video explains why growing hemp was so crucial to the war effort and even describes exactly how to grow industrial hemp.
Not only is hemp a wildly sustainable material, but it also has a rich, fascinating history interwoven with ancient civilizations and modern politics alike. And in today’s world, hemp is being used in a variety of creative ways: from sustainable batteries, to biofuel, to construction materials. It’s exciting to see eco-friendly versions available in such a wide variety of hemp products.
Of all the hemp facts, I couldn’t believe that the US government actually encouraged farmers to grow hemp after the Marijuana Tax Act was passed during WWII. Which fact surprised you the most? Do you know any other shocking facts about hemp that belong on this list? Let me know in the comments!