History of Hemp in India | What is Hemp?

A History of Hemp in India

History of Hemp in India

You might not immediately associate hemp and India, but they actually share a long history. Traditional hemp use in India stretches back thousands of years, with its origins in Ayurveda. But the history of hemp in India has not been a smooth one. After more than a century of increasing regulation and even criminalization, we are finally starting to see a new dawn for hemp in India. But before we explore the history and future of the Indian hemp industry, let’s learn a bit more about what hemp is and what the fuss is all about. Hemp – the miracle plant! Photo by: Ulrike Leone (Pixabay)

What is Hemp?

Hemp is a plant, every part of which can be used: the stalk, seeds, and flowers. It is an environmentally friendly, sustainable and climate-adaptive crop. Hemp can be grown without pesticides, and requires a lot less water than other crops, like cotton. It is also a more productive per area of land than other crops. In fact, hemp can be considered a weed, and grows really fast!

It is also extremely diverse. Hemp can be refined and used in the manufacturing of a variety of commercial items such as pharmaceuticals, paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, beverages, furniture, construction, personal care, and animal feed. Talk about a wonder plant!

Despite its incredible versatility, hemp often gets a bad rap because of its association with marijuana. But guess what? They are NOT the same thing!

Actually, marijuana comes from the plant cannabis indica, which can have tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations as high as 5-10%. This is the cannabis we historically associate with psychoactive products. They are known by many names in India, like bhang, charas, ganja and hashish.

Hemp comes from the plant Cannabis Sativa, which is different from its cousin, cannabis Indica. Cannabis indica is grown for its psychoactive properties, whereas hemp has many practical uses and does not produce any psychoactive effects. Photo by: Herbal Hemp (Pixabay)

Hemp, on the other hand, comes from cannabis Sativa, a totally different – but related – plant. Does hemp have THC? Well, it does, but way, way less. Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which decreases or eliminates the psychoactive effects of hemp products. The THC levels in industrial hemp are typically between 0.2% and 0.3%. It’s this low THC content that gives hemp such practical application over its more psychoactive cousin.

Origins of Hemp in India

Cannabis in India has a long history. Most historians agree that the cannabis plant is native to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, in the Himalayan mountains from Kashmir through to Nepal, and even Bhutan and Myanmar. Even today, it is believed that 60% of all districts in India have wild cannabis.

Its use by humans can be traced back as far as 8000 BCE, where archaeological evidence of hemp has been found in China, Taiwan and Japan. In fact, it’s known that hemp was traditionally used in China to make clothes, shoes, ropes and an early form of paper.

Hemp and India go back thousands of years, too. In fact, the Vedas, estimated to be at least 3400 years old, refer to it as one of the five most sacred plants.

Traditionally, hemp in India was used for preparing natural medicines, nutritional foods and also fibre to make textiles. Traditional hemp use in India is associated with Ayurveda, a holistic medical system that focuses on promoting good health and preventing illness through healthy lifestyle practices and herbal remedies. Ayurveda originated nearly 3000 years ago and it elaborately characterises different parts of the hemp plant for a variety of curative purposes.

Indian Hemp & the Law

Is hemp legal in India? Good question! The legal landscape around hemp in India has been evolving over the centuries. The question, does hemp have THC, has been at the forefront of this battle. Despite its unending variety of industrial uses, hemp constantly comes up against the stigma of its psychoactive cousin, and whether the cultivation of hemp in India can ultimately lead to the production and distribution of drugs.

The regulation of hemp in India began in the colonial era, when cannabis was being restricted across all British colonies starting at the beginning of the 19th Century. In 1894, the British Indian government completed a wide-ranging study of cannabis in India. From then on, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission (1894-1895) began to regulate the use and processing of cannabis in India. During the British India period, the various Indian states made different laws suppressing and criminalizing the cultivation of hemp in India, and the processing and use of cannabis products, especially narcotic products.

Hemp has been used for centuries in India, but ever tighter regulations around narcotics starting in the 19th Century have unduly limited the ability to cultivate hemp in India. Photo by Suzanne Jutzeler, suju-foto (Pixabay)

Hemp and India in the 20th Century and beyond

The criminalization of cannabis on the international stage began in the early 20th Century. In 1925, the International Opium Convention in The Hague banned the exportation of “Indian hemp” to the countries that had prohibited its use.

Following two UN conventions – the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) – the Government of India passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (the NDPS Act) which regulates the cultivation, production, sale, transport, possession and use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and other manufactured drugs. It is under this legal framework that the hemp plant has been grossly suppressed and demonized.

A movement to liberate hemp from criminalization and to promote its industrial usefulness has been underway since 2015, as countries around the world begin to decriminalize hemp and marijuana. Luckily, the NDPS Act allows individual states to regulate hemp cultivation in India, as long as they have the infrastructure in place to ensure a THC content below 0.3%. The Uttarakhand state was the first to make hemp legal in India, permitting the legal cultivation of the plant.

Is Hemp Legal in India Now? The Legalities of hemp Cultivation in India today

Uttar Pradesh has now joined Uttarakhand in legalizing hemp farming in India. Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and many other states are ready to open up as well. In view of the brightening legal landscape for hemp in India, local entrepreneurs and industries are taking note.

Currently, hemp companies in India depend on imports of raw hemp from Europe, North America and China. There are no restrictions on the import of raw hemp, as long as it complies with India’s phytosanitary guidelines. There is hope now that industrial hemp cultivation in India will also take off, so that India can supply its own manufacturers as well as contribute to the global market for hemp.

Hemp: “the OG Miracle Crop”

Hemp has so many practical uses, the opportunities for industrial hemp in India seem limitless.

Medicinal Uses of Hemp

You may be familiar with “medical marijuana,” but hemp has non-psychoactive medicinal applications, too. We’ve already seen how hemp was an important part of Ayurvedic medicine going back thousands of years, but it also found a home in modern medicine starting in the 19th Century.

Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (1809-1889) is recognized as the person responsible for introducing cannabis to Western medicine while he was serving the East India Company in Bengal, and it remained popular until the 20th Century.

Pharmacological researchers discovered many hemp based treatments for a variety of ailments; cannabis leaves alone were found useful to treat more than 25 diseases! In general, hemp has been found to be useful as an analgesic, a narcotic, a stomachic, an antispasmodic, an anodyne and as a sedative agent. And the research continues. More than 1000 publications have described the medicinal uses of cannabis sativa in the last 50 years.

Hemp has many industrial applications in constructions, like insulating blocks and this rope. Photo by: LoggaWiggler (Pixabay)

The Use of Hemp in Construction

Industrial hemp strands are extremely strong, and some of the manufacturing methods can make them up to 200 times stronger than steel! Most of the time, though, hemp is mixed with lime to create blocks of insulation for use during construction. Not strong enough to support the structure on their own, these hemp blocks act as an insulating layer between concrete blocks. When mixed with even larger proportions of a lime-based binder, hemp can also be used to create an insulating plaster. Another really interesting use for hemp is in the creation of composite panels for cars. Fibreglass, hemp fibre, flax and another fibre, kenaf (also known as Deccan hemp or Hibiscus cannabinus) are mixed together to make a composite material that has been used by car manufacturers since 2002!

Hemp is a nutritious food

Today, hemp seeds and hemp seed oil constitute a major part of the hemp industry in India. Hemp seeds in India are consumed to supplement protein and iron requirements. The seeds can be eaten raw, ground into hemp meal, sprouted or made into dried sprout powder. They are delicious sprinkled on cereal, mixed into baked goods or added to a shake. Hemp seeds can also be used to make “hemp milk,” a satisfying non-dairy beverage. Hemp seeds are a delicious and nutritious addition to many of your favourite dishes. Photo by: Luisella Planeta Leoni (Pixabay) Not just for humans, hemp seeds have been used in bird feed mix as well. A survey in 2003 showed that more than 95% of hemp seed sold in the European Union at that time was used in animal and bird feed. But wait, there’s more! Not to be outdone, the leaves of the hemp plant can also be consumed. They are eaten raw as a leafy vegetable, or, pressed to make juice.

Hemp Clothing in India: Hemp is an amazing sustainable fibre for textiles Hemp is one of the oldest natural fibres known to man. Like linen (which comes from flax), hemp is a bast fibre. Bast fibres have great cooling characteristics, making them perfect for warm-weather clothing. They are also strong with good resistance, naturally lending them to the manufacture of utilitarian items like ropes and sacks. These days, bast fibres like hemp and linen are often blended with other natural and man-made fibres, including cotton, silk or polyester.

Hemp can be used to create textiles, including hemp clothing in India, cloth bags and more. (Pixabay) Hemp fibre can also be used to make paper! Hemp is a great choice for paper, not least of which because it is fast-growing and more sustainable than wood. The fibres in hemp are up to five times longer than wood pulp fibres, making the resulting hemp paper much stronger, with higher tensile strength and tear-resistance. It also has a significantly lower lignin content, making it less vulnerable to degradation over time compared to paper made from wood pulp. As a result, fine quality hemp paper is mostly used in cigarettes, banknotes and technical filter paper. Other uses for hemp: Bio Fuels, Cooking Oils, Paint, Agriculture and more!

Hempseed oil is another “wonder product” to come out of hemp, with a wide variety of potential uses. (And before you ask, but does hemp oil have THC? the answer is yes, but they are negligible amounts, just like any other hemp product.)

What can you use hemp oil for?

  • Cooking

  • Oil-based paint and plastics

  • A moisturizing agent in creams

  • Biodiesel

Filtered hemp oil can be used directly to power diesel engines, though it is expensive compared to other raw materials. An alcohol-based fuel can also be made by fermenting the whole hemp plant.

Hemp can also be refined into oil. Hempseed oil has a variety of applications, from culinary to medicinal to industrial. Photo by: Julia Teichmann (Pixabay) When oxidized, hempseed oil becomes solid which makes it so versatile for cooking, beauty products, paint and plastic. Beyond these uses, hemp can also be used for animal bedding (i.e., in horse stalls), for weed control and for water and soil purification. Hemp has phytoremediation properties to remove toxins, unwanted contamination and radioisotopes from the soil. Imagine that! Hemp Production in India Today With the legal landscape gradually opening up and the growing demand for organic and eco-friendly materials, the hemp business in India is booming. A recent study by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy found that the global market for hemp products is estimated to be worth USD $4.7 billion. Right now, India’s contribution to that market is a mere 0.001%. With the world market expected to grow to USD $26.6 billion by 2025, now is the time for Indian hemp products to try to grab a bigger piece of the pie – and the country’s entrepreneurs know it. Increasingly, many companies and entrepreneurs are coming forward to promote the production and use of industrial hemp in India. People have started strongly lobbying for the hemp industry in India. New products such as sunscreen, car parts, building materials, non-toxic ink, batteries, cosmetics, and more are continually being discovered.

Fields of hemp. Hemp in India is cultivated for many industrial applications. Photo by: TinaKru (Pixabay) Here are just some of the hemp companies in India emerging onto the scene of hemp in India today:

Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO) – Co-founded in 2013 by Jahan Peston Jamas, BOHECO is changing the very landscape of industrial hemp cultivation in India. BOHECO is involved in all aspects of industrial hemp in India from food to hemp fabric to clothing to medicine and operates its own fashion brand, B Label. But they are no ordinary company. Driven by a social vision, they state that they have assisted the livelihood of over 500 farmers in the Himalayas.

Hemp Fabric Lab – is another innovative player in the Indian hemp industry. The Hemp Fabric Lab produces innovative textiles that are made from either pure hemp or hemp blends with organic cotton, Tencel, silk, and wool. One of the things that make the Hemp Fabric Lab stand out in the textile industry is its willingness to sell just a few metres of hemp fabric at a time, instead of forcing burdensome minimum order quantities on its customers. This helps encourage even small designers and clothing companies to use hemp fabric from India in their creations. Himalayan Hemp – Started by a group of young entrepreneurs, they claim that hemp can be converted into 25,000 different types of hemp products in India! They also have a fascinating blog if you want to read more about all the properties and applications of hemp.

Indian Industrial Hemp Association (IIHA) – a non-profit group, is promoting the use of nutritional and industrial hemp in India, generating awareness about the benefits of hemp and providing data analytics about the industry.

Gohemp – focuses on hemp-based materials for buildings and interiors. Building blocks and boards are the company’s main products.

HempCann Solutions – the first clinic in India to offer cannabis-based medical treatment opened in Bangalore in 2020.

Other start-up companies getting into the hemp business in India include Health Horizons, Foxxy, Hempsters, Vedi, GreenJams, HempStreet, NHempCo., Health Horizons, Satliva, Greenjams…just to name a few!

The Future of Hemp in India is Now Even though there are only two states that have currently legalized hemp farming in India, this is a good beginning and a positive sign about things to come. Gradually, other state governments should open up to the cultivation and industrial production of hemp in India. Industry and entrepreneurs simply need to continue to explore innovative ways of exploiting this miracle crop.

And with hemp, it truly seems like the sky’s the limit.

  • hemp

  • India

  • sustainable fashion

  • sustainability

  • law

  • sustainable agriculture

  • Regeneration

History of Hemp | Rise, Fall, and Rise of Hemp

The crop that is possibly among the very first to have been cultivated on a mass scale by humans since antiquity is making a comeback. And that has only piqued the interest of everyone in the ins and outs of the plant. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of hemp, its origin, growth, and popularization (and un-popularization) through time.

General Introduction

Hemp is the most versatile plant we know of. It is a variety of the cannabis Sativa plant though we often confuse it with marijuana. It’s fair because it contains fairly the same ingredients as marijuana. However, the concentration of the psychoactive compound (THC) in hemp is much lower and, therefore, causes no psychoactive effects on the human body.

We cultivate Hemp particularly for the industrial uses of its byproducts. It typically grows in the Northern Hemisphere. Hemp is among the first fibres to be spun into fabric. Owing to technological inventions, we can today refine hemp into a varied range of commercial items such as paper, clothing, textiles, paint, insulation feed, and many more.

History of Hemp: Origin & Early Uses

Hemp’s origin lies in Central Asia. The cultivation of hemp for use as fibre was recorded in China back in 2800 BCE. It then spread to the Mediterranean countries of Europe in the early Christian era, spreading to the rest in the Middle Ages. In 1500, Chile started planting hemp and a decade later, North America was involved in hemp cultivation too.

The earliest evidence of hemp usage walks all the way back to 8,000 BC in Taiwan where hemp cords were a prime ingredient in pottery. According to archaeology reports, traces of hemp cloth are found in Mesopotamia around a similar time period. Around 6,000 BC that hemp seeds and oil are a food source in China and in 4,000 BC, evidence of hemp textiles in the same region is present. Around the same time, hemp served as a warfare tool in China. History of Hemp beyond Food and Fashion

The first 4,000 years of the history of hemp indicate that the various uses of the plant were almost exclusively of China and some parts of the Middle East. Moving forward to 200 BC, China invented its first hemp-based paper. This was done by crushing the hemp fibres, mixing them with bark, and adding water. The oldest documents written on hemp paper are Buddhist text from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD

Though China kept this invention to itself until the 5th century, it eventually found its way to other cultures, the true value coming on when it became a part of the Gutenberg Bible—the world’s most expensive, and most translated, book. The history of hemp changed once the plant caught the eye of American entrepreneurs. Hemp was the second most common material in making boats. While this was happening, China was using the plant and its various ingredients for curing a multitude of illnesses and as a source of nutrition. Multiple folk remedies and ancient medicines refer to the curative values of the leaves, seeds, and roots of the hemp plant. In ancient times, hemp seeds and flowers helped in difficult childbirth, rheumatism, insomnia, arthritic joints, and convulsions.

History of Hemp during the Middle Ages

Moving on to the history of hemp in the middle ages, it became an important crop of great economic and social value. It served much of the world’s need for food and fibre. Owing to thrice the strength of cotton and resistance to saltwater hemp ropes found popularity in sailing ships. Up to the 1920s, hemp was in 80% of the world’s clothing.

Popularity and Trade Organization It was only a matter of time before the crop would spread to regions across the world and find its way into every aspect of life. In 1994, forty companies met in Arizona to form the Hemp Industries Association. The aim of this faculty was to promote hemp and define product standards. This was very similar to the trade organization promoting cotton, wool, and linen.

Eventually, hemp became the most versatile crop with its use in food, tax-payment, clothing, and whatnot. Crisis for Hemp The main crisis for hemp arose in the 1930s. This was because of the propaganda created by companies entrusted in new petroleum-based synthetic textile companies. They saw the hemp industry as the enemy.

The US government, under their influence, proposed prohibitive tax laws and levied an occupational excise tax on hemp dealers. This was in September 1937 preceding a ban on hemp production altogether. The Canadian government followed suit and prohibited the production under the Opium and Narcotics Act on August 1, 1938.

The rest of the world followed soon after. Eventually, hemp was scheduled as a narcotic drug and its production, trade, and consumptions were either prohibited or highly governed by strict guidelines.

Hemp for Victory Campaign

The Hemp for Victory campaign is perhaps one major movement in the history of hemp that deserves special mention. The hemp plants played a crucial role for the US in the Second World War. World War II provided a new chance for the revival of the hemp industry. The 1942 Japanese invasion of the Philippines cut the United States off from their major source of imported hemp. To meet the demands of the war, the governments of Canada and the United States lifted the bans and restrictions.

Multiple farmers were given a special permit to grow hemp during the war period. The United States Department of Agriculture released a film titled Hemp for Victory in the same year. The film stated “patriotic farmers at the government’s request planted 36,000 acres of hemp seed, an increase of several thousand per cent. The goal for 1943 is 50,000 acres of hemp seed.” The agenda of the film was to encourage farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. It featured a short history of hemp and hemp products. And a quick manual on growing hemp and processing it into rope, cloth, cordage, and other products.

The Curse Continued Though hemp contributed to the victory of the United States in the Second World War, the ban on growing this plant continued after the war. Its association with marijuana cursed it to suffer the fate of a narcotic drug. Despite its strong commercial record, it couldn’t convince the Controlled Substances Act to make a distinction between hemp and marijuana. Industrial hemp was labelled as a Schedule 1 drug, its cultivation and use strictly prohibited.

Hemp’s Storied Past

Before we discuss the rather recent renaissance of the plant, let’s briefly tour the history of hemp.

The Agricultural Revolution, Antiquity, and Post-classical Era:

8000 BCE: the first clear signatures of entrance in human lives in the form of cords imprinted on ancient pottery shards from China and Taiwan and hemp cloth from ancient Mesopotamia.

2000 BCE – 800 BCE: Hemp moves easts to Korean Peninsula and Japan and south towards the Indian subcontinent. The compilers of Atharvavedaanoint cannabis as sacred grass. By 1200 BCE, the plant was prevalent in ancient Egypt.

800 BCE – 200 BCE: Hemp reaches across Asia, North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean. The Scythians from Central Asia bring cannabis to modern-day Germany around 800 BCE and by 200 BCE, the Greeks are advocating the plant’s curative properties.

200 BCE – 500: Chinese make hemp paper.

500-1000: Hemp spreads to the far ends of modern-day Europe. The Moorish invasion brings hemp to the Iberian Peninsula. By 1000, hemp is the first choice for ropes and cordages from southern Russia, Greece, Spain to the British Isles.

1000 – 1450: Hemp traces a route into sub-Saharan Africa.

The Early-Modern Era and the Colonial Period:

1492: Hemp fibre is used to make sails and ropes of Christopher Columbus’s ships.

1533: England notes the commercial potential of hemp and mandates the English farmers to grow the profitable crop.

1606 – 1616: Early American farmers put hemp to use in varied roles—rigging of their ships to lamp fuel.

1632 – 1700: Hemp’s value to the economy is deemed essential and by the end of the century, farmers all across the colonies are legally required to grow hemp as a staple crop.

The 20th Century:

1937: Hemp is caught in the crosshairs with marijuana. The American Congress passes the Marijuana Tax Act levying heavy taxes on all cannabis varieties including hemp.

1942 – 1945: Japan’s invasion of the Philippine Island cuts America off from its primary source of imported hemp. The Hemp for Victory campaign begins lifting the ban from hemp production and cultivation.

1970: Hemp is classified as a Schedule 1 Drug and its cultivation and use across America are prohibited.

 Future of Hemp or Hemp for Future?

After decades of legal purgatory, hemp’s potential benefits—in commerce and medicine—make a renewed comeback.  The world witnesses a rising wave of grassroots and political support for industrial hemp.

1998: the government can no longer ignore the increasing domestic demand for hemp products and thus lifts restrictions on the import of food-grade hemp.

2004: The Hemp Industries Association manages to convince the 9thS. Circuit Court for a verdict that puts permanent protections in place for domestic imports and sales for hemp-based food and baby-care products.

2007: The govt. issues first American Hemp permit in over 5 decades.

2014: The govt. passes the much famous Farm Bill allowing the state agriculture departments and research institutes to oversee pilot research programs for hemp cultivation.

2017: In 3 years of the passing of the Farm Bill, more than 25,000 acres of American hemp is growing with nearly 15,000 farmers across 19 states. At the same time, more than 30 different research institutions are researching on hemp.

Where is India in the picture?

Cannabis is one of the five holy plants in Hinduism since before the compilation of Atharvaveda. In local linguistics, cannabis is lexicalised as charas (resin), ganja (flower), and bhang (seeds and leaves).

The cannabis Sativa plant is one of the many plants that were the main ingredient in preparing the soma in the Vedic period. The plant and its many therapeutic benefits find praises in the Rigveda, the Atharvaveda, the Ayurvedic texts, and the tantric texts.

A Wave of Change

The history of hemp in India changed when in 1798, the British Parliament enacted a tax on cannabis as an attempt to reduce cannabis consumption. The govt. moots these attempts. They continue in 1838, 1871, and 1877, and the govt. moots them again.

In 1961, the international treaty Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs classifies cannabis with hard drugs. When the Indian delegation opposed to this, the treaty laid out a strict definition of cannabis and India agreed to limit the export of Indian hemp.

The treaty gave India a time period of 25 years to clamp down on recreational drugs. By the end of this period, the Indian Government passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 which banned the production and sale of cannabis resin and flowers but allowed the use of leaves and seeds asking the states to regulate the latter.

In 2015, the Great Legalization Movement India makes an attempt to re-legalese cannabis in India with many ministers supporting the idea of decriminalizing cannabis in India for industrial and medicinal purposes. However, among these restrictions, the National Policy on NDPS continued to recognize cannabis as a source of biomass and fibre. The cultivation of cannabis for industrial and horticultural use is legal in India. In July 2019, the Delhi High Court agreed to hear a petition filed by the Great Legalization Movement Trust challenging the ban on cannabis defining its grouping with other drugs under the NDPS Act 

Disclaimer: This article is originally published on https://www.nomomente.org/post/hemp-in-india

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

More To Explore