Cannabis Sativa: History, Chemistry & Uses


Biotics Research Article


Hemp and marijuana are both from the same Cannabis sativa plant, but hemp is marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin mostly used for the extraction of cannabinoids. As legislation around hemp and marijuana change in the US, it’s important to understand the history and to know the difference between the plants.

In this article we’ll explore the history of hemp in the US, legislation surrounding hemp and marijuana, abuse potential, and the difference between cannabinoids such as CBD versus THC.


The History of Hemp

Hemp was originally grown in China and was introduced to the US in the 17th century. In the 17th and 18th century, it was legal to grow hemp in the US. In fact, if you refused to grow hemp you could get incarcerated. Back then hemp was used to produce fabric, sails and ropes, and as such was essential. Hemp was used as the main ingredient in the production of textiles, fabric, bed sheets and curtains.


The first Ford car was made out of hemp plastic and used hemp gasoline (hemp fuel actually produces 47% fewer emissions when compared to diesel). Another random fact: both the Gutenberg Bible and the King James Bible were first printed on hemp paper.

There is no end to the uses for hemp. The word “canvas” comes from the latin word cannapaceus, which translates as “made from hemp”. Artists didn’t just paint on hemp canvas, they also painted with hemp seed oil based paints.


In the 1820s cotton was introduced to the US, reducing the requirement for hemp. Hemp was subsequently banned in the US in the 1930s, when the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act came into effect making it almost impossible to buy or sell marijuana in the US. Prior to the 20th century, there were no illegal drugs in the USA - all illicit substances such as cocaine and heroin were freely available.


The 1970 Controlled Substances Act classified cannabis (including hemp) as a schedule 1 drug.


Why Is Marijuana Illegal in Some States?

People’s attitude toward hemp or marijuana began to change in the early 1900s when the Poison Act in California classified cannabis as a poison. Marijuana was subsequently prohibited in 16 states. We are currently seeing the same pattern in reverse, as states begin to legalize marijuana, with California being the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.


Following conflicts that resulted from an influx of Mexican immigrants (associated with the use of marijuana) back in 1910, a media campaign was launched to convince the public that marijuana would make you crazy. The pinnacle of this campaign was a film called Reefer Madness that was released in 1936. The film told the story of youths that became violent and criminal because of marijuana. Many more films were later released to cement the idea that marijuana was bad and should be made illegal.


What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?