Hemp is growing once again at Mount Vernon, thanks to a partnership with the University of Virginia. Industrial hemp was once a vital part of American agriculture.
George Washington’s hemp farm is back, thanks to growers who want to spread the word about this crop and its history.
If we were to go back in time to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate around 250 years ago, we’d see row upon row of industrial hemp flourishing under the Virginia sun. Washington believed hemp could bring in more profit than tobacco due to its wider variety of uses.
George Washington’s hemp farm wasn’t unusual: hemp remained a vital American crop until it was banned in the early 20th-century.
Dean Norton, lead horticulturist at Mount Vernon, partnered with the University of Virginia to bring hemp back. Just like Washington, they see the potential profit in hemp and want to bring attention to the numerous ways it can be used.
“To bring this crop back it just really helps complete our agricultural story,” Norton told NPR.
To understand why George Washington’s hemp is so important, let’s look back at how hemp previously influenced Mount Vernon and the United States.
HEMP HISTORY: GEORGE WASHINGTON’S HEMP EXPERIMENTS BEGAN IN 1760
In the 1760s, Washington explored the profitability of hemp. George Washington’s hemp was used for rope, sail canvas, clothing, and repairing fishing nets (a key necessity for his fishing operations along the Potomac). He had a feeling it could bring in much more money than tobacco. Back then, there were no laws prohibiting growing.
Washington knew hemp could grow in places where other crops withered. With this knowledge, he wrote a letter to William Pierce stating, “ … on my farming plantation(s), I want you to make the most of hemp and plant it everywhere on my farmlands that haven’t been previously reserved for other things.” With that, George Washington’s hemp farm flourished.
During this time, the British Crown also commissioned American farmers to grow hemp. Hemp is highly adaptable and can grow in places that are otherwise left barren. When Washington grew hemp, it would not be surprising if you took a wagon ride down a dirt road only to discover fields of it.
Humans have used hemp as medicine for centuries, but there’s little to no evidence Washington or his contemporaries ever smoked their crop. While both hemp and psychoactive cannabis (‘marijuana’) are forms of the same plant, they’re grown and used in very different ways.
The unfortunate truth is hemp wasn’t as profitable as wheat. The country knew this and so did Washington. Though Washington continued to grow hemp, it wasn’t the sole focus of Mount Vernon.
Hemp remained an important crop until the U.S. banned cannabis in the early 20th-century. American hemp became important again during World War II. Otherwise, hemp remained illegal until the 2014 Farm Bill brought it back to America on a limited basis.
HEMP FLASHBACK: GEORGE WASHINGTON’S HEMP IS A SIGN OF A BRIGHT FUTURE
Hemp’s image is so twisted by unnecessary stigma, visitors are startled to see it on Mount Vernon. Tourists now take selfies with George Washington’s hemp. Some gaze in awe at the sight of the plant, with its distinctive leaves.
George Washington’s hemp farm is growing again thanks to horticulturists at his Mount Vernon estate and the University of Virginia.
There’s no doubt Washington would’ve found this a bit ridiculous. But the team involved in growing hemp on Mount Vernon want to end the fear attached to the crop.
Brian Walden, a Virginia hemp advocate, helped petition to bring hemp back to Mount Vernon. He told NPR’s Brakkton Booker that he considers himself a “hemp patriot.”
Walden hopes that bringing hemp back to George Washington’s farm will send “the message across that this is an innocuous plant that has real benefits and our Founding Fathers knew that and they planted it.”
Decades of prohibition have brought ignorance, and required us to fight for legalization,but there’s one benefit to this moment. Hemp has yet to become a commodity crop dominated by corporate agriculture. It’s still accessible to smaller farmers and experimental growers like the Mount Vernon team.
George Washington’s hemp is educating new people about this crop, and aiding the push for total legalization, which could soon become a reality at the federal level.
If one of our country’s most historic properties is benefitting from hemp, why shouldn’t the rest of America?
Many people assume that CBD is a rather new and innovative supplement, but CBD history actually goes back much further. Actually, scientists first isolated and began to research the effects of cannabidiol in the 1940s.
Many people assume that CBD is a rather new and innovative supplement, but CBD history actually goes back much further.
Actually, CBD as we know it today has been around for more than half a century. Let’s take a look at this chemical compound’s interesting history since it was first discovered and the journey it had to go through to become what it is today.
CBD HISTORY BEGINS IN THE 1940s
The first person who was successful in extracting CBD from the Cannabis sativa plant was a chemist who graduated from Harvard university, Roger Adams. However, when Adams first managed this in 1940 he wasn’t aware that he succeeded in extracting a chemical compound and didn’t even know what he had done. Years later, Adams and other scientists realized what he had done and started researching the possible benefits of CBD.
Most people consider CBD oil a modern discovery, but CBD history stretches back to the 1940s.
Modern CBD history begins in 1946, when Dr. Walter S. Loewe conducted the first CBD test on lab animals. These tests gave proof that CBD doesn’t cause an altered mental state. That same year Dr. Raphael Mechoulam identified CBD’s three dimensional structure and that’s why he’s often credited as the scientist who discovered CBD. Further research continued in the 1960s on primates and finally, the first CBD oil meant for therapeutic use was released by the British Pharmacopoeia.
In the next few decades, the research continued. In 1980, Dr. Mechoulam made another breakthrough in CBD history when he ran a study which showed cannabidiol could be a key factor in treating epilepsy.
HOW CBD IS USED TODAY
Today, the stigma surrounding CBD is starting to disappear as people are finally beginning to see its true potential.
Although CBD supplements and products are legal in all 50 states, there are cases in which it isn’t legal. The main factors in regards to its legality depends on a number of important factors determined by each specific state. The one crucial factor across all states is in relation to where the CBD is derived from, marijuana or hemp.
Even though CBD supplements made from industrial hemp are legal in all 50 states, there have still been some legal challenges. Major progress happened in 2014 when Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin passed laws legalizing CBD for medical purposes. It’s also legal as a supplement in the UK and many other countries around the world.
Today, CBD is used to relieve symptoms of numerous conditions, from anxiety and mental illness to chronic pain.
When it comes to healing, people use products such as CBD oil, CBD water and various CBD lotions to try and treat pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, stress and other illnesses. It’s commonly used by athletes to help relieve their bodies after workouts and performances, by people suffering from mental illnesses to calm their symptoms down and many others. Some people even replace classic painkillers and other medication with CBD products, claiming that they have a better effect and treat their symptoms quicker with little to no side effects.
THE FUTURE OF CBD
Nobody can know for sure what the future will bring but we can always be optimistic.
Since more and more people are seeing the benefits of CBD and hemp, it looks increasingly likely that hemp will be fully legalized in the U.S. soon. Scientists are still researching CBD and conducting experiments that reveal its beneficial uses. For now, it’s been discovered that CBD may be beneficial for treating arthritis, insomnia, epileptic seizures, diabetes and many other illnesses.
There are many organizations that are lobbying for thetotal legalization of hemp and they just might succeed.
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Hemp has been helping people heal for millennia. Like with many plants, we can’t be sure when people first began experimenting with hemp for medicinal purposes, but the first recorded use of hemp as medicine goes back to ancient China.
Hemp has been helping people heal for millennia.
Like with many plants, we can’t be sure when people first began experimenting with hemp for medicinal purposes. That said, Carl Sagan believed hemp was likely one of the first crops cultivated.
Most plants are used first in folk remedies. These aren’t necessarily written down for a long time, passing down via oral traditions. There is a good chance that hemp was used medicinally long before the effects were recorded.
One thing to keep in mind as you read this is that there isn’t necessarily a lot of distinction between hemp and marijuana in historical texts. What is clear, though, is the long history of using hemp for multiple purposes, researching its effectiveness on a variety of symptoms and maladies. While we’ve lost a lot of this knowledge due to research restrictions and the passage of time, we are finally beginning to reclaim and rediscover new things about hemp every day.
HEMP AS MEDICINE IN ANCIENT TIMES
Ancient China is where we first encounter medicinal use of hemp. From around 6000 BCE on, hemp was used in tools, clothing, shoes, and food.
It wasn’t until 2737 BCE that there is written evidence of hemp as medicine. Emperor Shen-Nung developed topical hemp oils and teas to aid in pain relief. He wrote his findings in the first editions of the Pen Ts’ao Ching. Later on, other pharmacopoeias would list the medicinal effects of flowers, leaves, and seeds of the cannabis plant. Hua Tuo was the first person on record to use cannabis as an anesthetic in the second century. He notes that this plant can also aid in the treatment of blood clots, tapeworms, and hair loss.
Hemp has likely been used as a natural herbal medicine since very ancient times. The first written use of hemp as medicine comes from ancient China.
The Romans had a long history of hemp use. Circa 77 AD, Pliny the Elder noted how helpful hemp was for the extraction of insects from ears and for pain relief. However, he made sure to note excessive use can negatively affect sexual performance. Around the same time, Disocorides wrote a pharmacopeia listing the medical benefits of hemp. These include assisting with ear pain, stomach-related issues, and burns. By 200 AD, Galen mentions again the ability of hemp to relieve pain, but notes that it can cause stomach pain, headaches, and dehydration.
Cannabis use was popular among many people in Middle Eastern regions, especially due to the prohibition on alcohol from Islam. With the abundance of the plant, it’s no surprise that physicians knew hemp well. They were aware of and noted the many benefits of the plant — it was found to be anti-inflammatory, pain relieving, anti-emetic, anti-epileptic, diuretic, and more.
These are far from the only regions known to utilize hemp plants medicinally. In India, the Atharvaveda lists hemp as a sacred grass. They’ve used pastes, drinks, and parts of the plant both medicinally and recreationally for centuries. Hemp has been found buried with Ancient Greeks. Egyptians wrote about using hemp in an eyewash in the Ramesseum III Papyri. Later writing would highlight both pain relief and inflammation.
Across regions and history, one thing seems clear — hemp was being used for pain relief.
THE HISTORY OF HEMP MEDICINE IN THE WESTERN WORLD
Hemp spread across the world through travel and use as fibers. Across Europe, hemp was used to treat tumors and coughs — as well as recreationally. By the sixteenth century, hemp was one of the main crops grown in England. In 1533, Henry VIII commanded farmers to grow hemp or face a fine. During this century, physicians Garcia de Orta and Li Shih-Chen discovered new uses for the plant — to improve appetite and as an antibiotic, respectively.
By the seventeenth century, hemp had made it to North America. It was grown in Jamestown and other colonies for use in clothing, building materials, and sails. In 1619, the Virginia Assembly passed a familiar law mandating each farmer to grow hemp. Similar laws would be passed in Massachusetts and Connecticut, with the plant being accepted as legal tender in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
During this time, Robert Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” recommends hemp use to improve and treat mental health disorders. In the eighteenth century, two additional pharmacopoeias listed hemp’s many medicinal properties. “The New England Dispensatory” and “Edinburgh New Dispensatory”list hemp as a treatment for pain and skin inflammation, and cough respectively.
Despite hemp’s listing in many medical texts, one man is often credited as the main person to popularize the plant in the West — W.B. O’Shaughnessy. As an surgeon and professor at the Medical College of Calcutta in the 1800s, the Irish O’Shaughnessy was conducting experiments about cannabis indica on animals, children, and adults. He noted the analgesic effects in addition to its ability to relax muscles. Patients with rheumatic diseases, cholera, tetanus, and hydrophobia were all treated with hemp under his care. While it wasn’t necessarily a true treatment for some of these conditions, O’Shaughnessy noted it offered hope and removed some of the negative emotional effects of illness.
Just before the Civil War, the third edition of the U,S. pharmacopeia lists hemp extract. The U.S. Dispensatory does as well, adding medical cannabis. It was known to be intoxicating, yes, but also pain relieving and sleep inducing. Hemp was recommended for a variety of health issues from neuralgia and convulsions to depression and gout. At the end of the nineteenth century, Dr. JR Reynolds’ research showed improvement in tics, migraines, asthma, and dysmenorrhea.
A historic Colonial-era pharmacy in Cuba. Western countries frequently used hemp as medicine, and extracts of cannabis were found in the standard doctor’s pharmacopeia.
At the turn of the century, hemp’s use medicinally declined thanks to the introduction of opiates and the development of the syringe. Still, medications like Chlorodyne — a cannabis and morphine combination to treat stomach issues — grew in popularity. On top of that, folk remedies and snake oil cures often included cannabis in addition to other drugs and medications.
When the war on drugs began, cannabis was prohibited, leaving patients using it for medical reasons often out of luck. In the 1970s, extracts and synthetic cannabis drugs were developed to help treat nausea associated with chemotherapy use for cancer and autoimmune conditions. Others were used to treat glaucoma as well. During this decade, the U.S. saw the beginnings of medical marijuana legalization ideals in places like New Orleans and New Mexico. While these programs helped patients with glaucoma, cancer, and other conditions, they were often short-lived due to DEA restrictions.
It wasn’t until 1996 that California would legalize medical marijuana for a number of conditions including HIV/AIDS and cancer. Arizona followed quickly. By the early 2000s, Canada legalized MMJ as well. Although research on hemp, cannabis, and marijuana is incredibly restricted in many places, the last decade has seen an increase in medications using these plants. One great example is Nabiximols (or Sativex), a THC/CBD spray used to help ease multiple sclerosis symptoms.
REEFER MADNESS AND THE WAR ON DRUGS
The twentieth century quickly saw changes in attitude towards cannabis, from intrigued to fearful. The Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 began to crack down on cannabis use by imposing restrictions on foreign and interstate traffic. Down the line, this law would also create the FDA. By 1913, California and other states began to prohibit the use of cannabis, often targeting Mexican immigrants in raids use the 1906 act.
The 1914 Harrison Act and the media — like the infamous film “Reefer Madness” — helped to turn much of the public against cannabis. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act classified hemp and marijuana as the same thing, something that still creates roadblocks today. By this time, marijuana was banned in over twenty states. During World War II, though, regulation of these laws was lessened to aid in the production of hemp materials for the war effort.
By 1970, hemp and marijuana cultivation was banned under the Controlled Substances Act. States could allow cultivation of industrial hemp but, like dispensaries in weed-legal states today, farms could be raided by the DEA. Cannabis was labeled as a Schedule 1 drug, which has heavily restricted research over the last nearly fifty years.
REDISCOVERING HEMP AS A MEDICINE: CBD OIL & BEYOND
Because of the intense limitations posed by the war on drugs, research on cannabis has been conducted at only a few universities across the United States. There are strict rules on who can conduct the research, which funding they can use, and even what forms of cannabis are studied. Successful studies include the effects of cannabis on spinal cord injury pain, HIV neuropathy, MS spasticity, and sleep.
A row of vials of CBD oil, a nutritional extract made from hemp. Only in recent years has science begun to rediscover the benefits of medicinal hemp and cannabis.
In 2014, President Obama signed the Farm Bill which helped eliminate some of the issues around growing hemp so that, currently, 30 states allow industrial hemp cultivation. That number looks to be growing, too.
This is a great thing for people who rely on CBD to treat their health issues. CBD research has been going on for over two decades. It’s been shown to have incredible effects on seizures, pain, anxiety, inflammation, insomnia, fibromyalgia, cancer, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, and more. There are currently studies being done on CBD’s effects on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and MS.
Unfortunately for people living with chronic conditions, past and current restrictions on hemp research mean a delay in relief of their symptoms. We have lost a lot of knowledge and information about hemp’s medicinal properties over the years. Many have missed out on the potential benefits hemp could bring them due to restrictions, laws, and stigma.
The good news, though, is that we are starting to rediscover this data and improve our knowledge about hemp’s medical properties.
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Many people don’t know that hemp was studied at great length in agriculturally-based states like Kansas. What better location to research crops than one of the largest remaining prairie ecosystems in the world?
Many people know government agencies and private companies influenced the prohibition of cannabis and industrial hemp.
However, something many do not know is that hemp was studied at great length in agriculturally-based states like Kansas. What better location to research crops than one of the largest remaining prairie ecosystems in the world?
Ironically, since Kansas was one of the last places to end hemp prohibition, what ultimately matters most was who funded and guided those studies that helped make it illegal in the first place. Historical information I recently uncovered shows that institutional proof exists about the importance of industrial hemp in Kansas, and why its reintroduction is crucial for numerous reasons.
Farmers care deeply about the environment and decisions are based on markets, therefore understanding these lessons of our past are more important now than ever.
For decades, America’s Heartland was a large contributor to the hemp industry. In fact, according to a state agriculture report, Kansas even ranked first in the U.S. for bushels per acre in 1863. But then, during the beginning of the war on drugs, hemp was banned along with psychoactive cannabis, a.k.a. marijuana.
An illustration of a hemp grower in Kansas harvesting a crop, circa 1901.
Despite prohibition, hemp simply refused to disappear from the Kansas landscape. When I was young, my father told me he participated in a project studying eradication methods of wild hemp in Riley County while earning his biology degree at Kansas State University during the 1970s. After searching for the report on and off for years, I finally found the work my father participated in, along with two others in September of 2017.
UNCOVERING THE FORGOTTEN HISTORY OF HEMP IN KANSAS
While citations can be found on the internet, full versions are restricted except by going through thousand-dollar paywalls requiring login information. After a challenging process, complete with archivists looking through original documents in a vault and sending them electronically, within a couple weeks I had one of the only (if not the first) digitized copies of “Identifying and Controlling Wild Hemp (Marijuana).”
What I found was that these reports helped legitimize the “war on drugs,” which forced millions of people into incarceration, in addition to justifying the use of taxpayer dollars for entering farmers’ lands to eradicate a plant. These efforts however, were not based on thoroughly-vetted evidence. When looking closely, the research projects benefitted competing industries because they were directly funded by chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers. The authors also gave acknowledgements to the state’s Marijuana Control Steering Committee.
Plus these studies originated from and referenced medical research, even though the intended purpose was agriculture-based. Much of the wording reflected what the aforementioned influencers wanted to categorize the plants as a single, weed-causing infestation that had to be eliminated (since embracing it would decrease their profits and those of other industries like cotton and wood paper).
These conflicts of interest in our country’s hemp history can no longer be ignored by environmentally-conscious farming communities. One of the most important and damaging of all findings claims a farmer could either practice deep plowing, which we know now is economically inefficient, and damaging to soil health. The only other option required farmers to use tons of chemicals “without disturbance of the soil profile.” The work also documented and even encouraged methods of eradicating “wild hemp” including harmful chemicals my father used that are known to cause fertility issues and even cancer, such as 2-4-D.
A final and crucial finding admits the varieties of cannabis that grow throughout Kansas are not only low in potency, but they do not fluctuate in cannabinoid content. This means authorities knew at the time of its ratification there was not an objective or scientific justification to outlaw hemp based on the sole argument that it was thought to be a drug — because of its agricultural origins, you simply could not use this hemp to get high.
An industrial hemp plant grows tall in a densely planted farmers’ field.
A FUTURE FOR CANNABIS IN KANSAS?
Thanks to modern genetics, it is becoming more commonly accepted that cannabis cultivated for medicinal or recreational purposes cannot be grown anywhere near industrial hemp, since cross-pollination is proven to always result in decreased potency. Variations between fiber and ‘drug’ types come in many forms, ranging from physical appearance and time of harvest, to expression of certain traits.
Taking into account limitations and biases during the early years of cannabis research, this data allows us to rediscover the importance of scientific integrity. Together we have the collective responsibility to identify and accept inconsistencies we find, and prevent the suppression of information that does not result in beneficial policies for our citizens or environment.
Farmers know industrial hemp grows well in many climates and requires fewer overall resources compared to other commodities like corn and soybean. Even as a rotational option to improve successive yields of other crops, hemp is proven to help in multiple aspects. Its cultivation promotes ways of regenerative and sustainable agriculture that are desperately needed, especially in places like Kansas after decades of depleting resources for irrigating water-intensive crops. Simultaneously, our soil and ecosystems need remediation from the damage of conventional farming practices.
Through embracing modern science to reduce harm and improve our environment, farmers are in a unique position to right the wrongs of the past. They can lead the way against unfounded restrictions, like the laws restricting hemp growing, that hold back progress for us all.