It’s Rope, Not Dope: Learn About Hemp’s Rocky History in the U.S.—And How You Can Help Shape Its Future

Last Update: September 27, 2022

To celebrate the 10th annual Hemp History Week June 3–9, 2019, we’re going to clear up some of the confusion around hemp. It’s gotten a bad rap because, like marijuana, it comes from the cannabis plant. But unlike marijuana, this nutritious oilseed and useful fiber crop, doesn’t contain enough of the psychoactive ingredient, THC, to produce a high when ingested.

Pretty big distinction, right? And yet it’s been illegal to grow the crop in some states, which is part of hemp’s rocky history in the U.S. Grown here since European settlers arrived in the early 1600’s, industrial hemp quickly became a staple of early American agriculture. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper! But during Prohibition in the 1930’s, hemp came under increased scrutiny, requiring farmers to register their crops and purchase a pricey tax stamp. The thinking changed during World War II when the USDA began encouraging farmers to grow hemp for rope and other industrial supplies. But sentiment swung again in 1970 when hemp was lumped in with marijuana, and farming of the crop became illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

Hemp Legalized in the U.S.

When the 2018 Farm Bill became law on December 20, 2018, it officially removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing farmers to pursue hemp cultivation permits under States’ regulations. “This is the first Hemp History Week where hemp is fully legal to grow in the U.S. Now we’re clear for takeoff in pretty much every state,” says Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner. Currently, 41 states have passed laws supporting hemp cultivation, and consumers can easily access nutrient-rich hemp extract oil, hemp hearts, hemp oil for cooking, and even hemp-infused skin care products.

A complete, plant-based protein

The only feel-good vibes associated with hemp are purely of the nutrient-dense, superfood variety. Its seeds contain all 20 amino acids—and all 9 essential ones—making it a complete source of protein. A 3-tablespoon-sized serving of hemp hearts contains 10 grams of protein, and 20% of the recommended daily serving of iron, making hemp protein powder a popular smoothie addition among vegetarians and vegans. The seeds also contain many important minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Their mildly nutty taste makes them great for sprinkling over salads, yogurt, and vegetables for added nutrients and texture.

Cold-pressed hemp hearts (as the seeds are also known) yield a nutritious oil that can be mixed into salad dressings, added to smoothies, or drizzled over freshly roasted vegetables. It’s also very nourishing on the skin when incorporated into lotions and soaps.

A versatile, eco-friendly material

Hemp’s versatility extends far beyond the household. The plant’s durable natural fibers and high cellulose content can be used for product packaging, bioplastics, and even car panels and interiors. Recent technological advancements are finding hemp fiber can be used in the supercapacitor batteries used to power electric cars and handheld devices. And hemp is also very sustainable. It doesn’t require a lot of water and is extremely hearty so it can be grown without pesticides or herbicides. When rotated with other crops, it can help improve soil conditions so farmers see great potential for its cultivation on sustainable and regenerative farms.

To learn more about how you can help support full-scale industrial hemp farming in the U.S., visit the Hemp Industries Association or

Photo caption: Farmer Cee, Green Heffa Farms, North Carolina
Photo credit: Hemp Industries Association

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Melinda Gross

Melinda writes about health, wellness, and food for the Thrive Market blog. She started her career as a financial journalist in NYC and has written for Where Magazine, Worth, Forbes, and When she's not reading or writing, she enjoys working out, sketching, and playing with her daughter and mini-dachshund, Goliath.

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