Hemp History Timeline: Past to Present

a person holding a hemp leaf in the air in front of a setting sun

Have you ever wondered about the hemp history timeline? I use a lot of hemp products in my everyday life, so I wanted to understand how a humble plant could create so many amazing products! I also wanted to know why it feels like all of a sudden you can find everything from hemp soap to hemp shoes when they weren’t always available.

It turns out the history of hemp is fascinating. Like did you know that the US government created a federal hemp program during World War II to make hemp rope for the military and our allies? Or that people in China first began using hemp over 10,000 years ago? 

If you didn’t know about any of that, keep reading. You’ll learn plenty more fun facts like that!


 a green field of hemp plants

Hemp is a cannabis plant that has less than 0.3% THC, which is the substance in marijuana that causes the high. So when we talk about hemp vs marijuana, the only difference is the level of THC. It’s the exact same plant. However, hemp does not get you high. Many cultures around the world, and throughout history, use hemp for medicine, as well as fuel, food, fibers for paper and clothing, and more. 


Hemp has been grown around the world, for centuries upon centuries. So let’s travel over to China for the first known date in the hemp history timeline. 

10,000 BC: in China, people used hemp rope to imprint designs onto pottery.

8,000 BC: people in Japan planted hemp seeds, possibly for ritual purposes.

 a dark hallway with colorful lanterns hung from the ceiling

2,700 BC: Hemp was used in China for food, paper, and medicinal purposes. In fact, some researchers believe that doctors would perform surgery using a mixture of wine and herbal extracts, including hemp, as a general anesthetic. I’ll still take the modern anesthesia, thanks very much! 

450 BC: People in parts of Europe would put hemp seeds onto hot stones or in fires in sweat lodges. A historical hot box if you will!

50 AD: Citizens of the Roman Empire used hemp fiber to make ropes and fishing nets

1400s: the Gutenberg Bible (yep, that old thing) is written on hemp paper. 

1492: Historical bad guy, Columbus, sailed the ocean blue on a ship with sails made from hemp canvas

1540: colonizers from Spain brought hemp seeds to Chile and began growing it, the first recorded cultivation of hemp in the Americas. 

a light-filled room with many easels and canvases

1600s-1800s: many artists used hemp canvas for oil painting, including Van Gogh and Rembrandt. 

1605: Native American hemp history records show that indigenous tribes in Namskaket, or what many call Cape Cod now, planted hemp to make fabric. A year later, Louis Hébert, a French apothecary, is said to be the first colonist to grow hemp in Nova Scotia

1619: the Virginia Assembly passes a law that encourages every farmer to grow hemp. 

1645: Colonists brought hemp seeds from England to make paper, fabric, and rope. 

1776:Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Betsy Ross weaved the first American flag out of hemp.

1840-1890: the most productive years of hemp harvesting in the US, with Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois leading the charge. 

five pairs of blue jeans hanging from a clothing line in front of a yellow wall

1860s: Gold rushers wore the original Levi Strauss jeans, made from hemp sailcloth. There’s gold in them thar hemp pants!

1937: The US Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which regulated any growing of the cannabis plant from which hemp is derived. You’d think they’d have more important things to think about with the Great Depression happening, Japan invading China, and Italy joining a pact with Germany and Japan…but apparently not!

1941: World-renowned jerk, Henry Ford, created a hemp car. It was both made entirely of hemp and fueled by hemp. Hey, a broken clock is right twice a day. 

1942: Hemp became enormously important in the war effort. The federal government created the War Hemp Program with slogans like “Hemp for Victory” to make things like naval rope. Some German prisoners of war were even sent to Wisconsin to work in the hemp mills.

Mid-1950s: Hemp production in the US plummeted because of the end of the war and the increasing association with marijuana. Unsurprisingly, the stigma against marijuana in the United States was first based on racist beliefs. 

 hemp plants growing in a greenhouse

1970: Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic and didn’t differentiate between marijuana and hemp. 

Mid 1990s: globally, hemp production decreased because of the increased availability of other fibers like cotton and the invention of synthetic fibers

1998: Tribal leaders of the Oglala Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota established rules allowing hemp cultivation on tribal land. Another win on the Native American hemp history timeline!

2014-2018: Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which removed many of the restrictions around growing hemp in the US.  It also established the Hemp Research Pilot Program, which allows farmers to grow hemp for research purposes only. This research has led to the discovery of many more hemp clothing benefits, as well as other hemp products. 

Then, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of controlled substances and allowed farmers to commercialize hemp production. These bills were the beginning of the current period of hemp production and use in the US across all industries.  


 two hands patting the first around a seedling

Some experts estimate that there are more than 25,000 hemp products available right now, including paper, rope, food, and pharmaceuticals. And while some like paper have been used for hundreds (or even thousands) of years, other products are newer or becoming more popular on the hemp history timeline. 


a woman wearing a black bra and high-waisted underwear set sitting on a bed.

Hemp underwear is the future, people! As a fabric, it’s ideal for underwear because it’s:

  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-smell
  • Extremely breathable (aka no swamp crotch)
  • Super soft
  • Very durable

And most importantly for my fellow tree-huggers, hemp is one of the most sustainable fabrics you can find. That’s because hemp requires a lot less water and fertilizer to grow. And it’s also a sister plant, which means it nourishes the soil for other plants. 

If you like the idea of comfortable and healthy underwear that’s also sustainable, you might love our:


Turns out, you can keep your house comfy with the same material that keeps your downstairs comfy: hemp! Hempcrete, which is made from a mixture of the woody core of the hemp plant and lime-based binder, is an incredibly energy-efficient and high-performance insulation option. And because it’s so lightweight and strong.

milk being poured next to a cup

If you’re eco-conscious, you may be worried about the environmental impact of the dairy and soy industry, but hemp milk is a much more sustainable option. Plus, hemp milk is very nutritious, and not many people are allergic to hemp, unlike soy or nuts. It has a lot more protein and healthy fats in it. 

You can also enjoy the benefits of hemp in other foods like:


Hemp fuel is an exciting prospect for those of us worried about the need for sustainable energy. And while it’s not exactly new (check year 1941 above), researchers have recently begun to study and improve it. It’s a very clean biofuel option and a lot easier and faster to produce than many other biofuels. 


hemp leaves with a dark tincture bottle laying on top

One very popular new use of hemp is cannabis oil, or CBD oil. Unlike THC, it’s not mind-altering and there is no evidence that it can cause addiction. However, research is still very new. 

Many people find that taking CBD oil can help them with:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Sleep problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Addiction
  • Inflammation
  • Focus problems 

However, there’s only one FDA-approved medical use of CBD oil: to treat severe epilepsy. So it’s a take-at-your-own-risk situation at this moment. And it’s important to find CBD that’s been third-party tested, so you know exactly what’s in your bottle. 


Learn even more about the history of hemp!


 a dropper filled with golden liquid in front of a cup and saucer

Scientists first isolated CBD from marijuana in 1940. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that the CBD structure was first reported and understood completely.

But even after it was discovered, it didn’t become popular until the late 2010s. That’s because that handy 2018 Farm Bill that allowed farmers to grow hemp for commercial use also legalized CBD that comes from hemp. So 2018 was a huge year in the history of CBD.  However, some states still haven't removed it from their controlled substances list. 


The first records historians have found about hemp come from China, where people used the plant for medicinal and practical reasons. It wasn’t until the 16th century that traders along the Silk Road brought it to Europe.


a map of the united states with red and black pins in it

Many US states in the middle of the country were consistent producers of hemp in the late 1800s, including:

  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Wisconsin
  • Missouri
  • Illinois


After WWII, production slowed down as trade started flowing again. However, it wasn’t until 1970 with the Controlled Substances Act that hemp production was officially banned. The 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills were instrumental in bringing back hemp!


a golden teapot and two tea cups with a hemp leaf resting on top

The history of hemp is long and spans the entire globe. So while it’s exciting to find new hemp products that make your life more sustainable and comfortable, we should recognize all of the indigenous people who came before us who cultivated hemp for years before we came along. 

What’s your favorite entry on the hemp history timeline? And what do you think is going to be the next big thing in the history of hemp? Let me know in the comments below. 

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