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History And Regulatory Landscape Of Hemp And Hemp Products

What is Hemp?

Hemp is a species of cannabis plants. We know its scientific name to be Cannabis Sativa L. We also refer to it as industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is not the same as marijuana plants, although they both belong to the family of cannabis Sativa plants. There are different varieties of cannabis cultivated for three primary purposes. Growers produce the first group of cannabis for recreational purposes; these include marijuana and hashish.

They grow the second group for seeds, from which we extract oil, and the third group is mainly for fibre. We categorize the second and third groups as industrial hemp2.An acre of hemp produces as much fiber as 2-3 acres of cotton per year. The hemp plant is tolerant of frosty climates and has a strong resistance to pests and weed encroachment. Hemp grows well with moderate amounts of water and fertilizer.

An acre of hemp can produce the same amount of paper that we get from about 4 acres of trees. As such, hemp has many qualities that make it valuable as a more preferred sustainable resource. Perhaps the best thing about hemp is that it is an organic material. It propagates rapidly, and every part of the plant is useful.

History Of hemp

Hemp might be one of the first cultivated plant fibers. Agriculture started about 10,000 years ago, and research has traced hemp back to 8000 BC. We believe it to be one of the oldest proofs of human industry. Archaeologists discovered a piece of clothing made with hemp that dates back to 8,000 BC in Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is an area in modern-day Iraq and Taiwan. They also found pottery shards imprinted with hemp in China.

There are references to an emperor of China; Emperor Shen Nung teaching his subjects to cultivate hemp for cloth. China seems to have the longest history of hemp cultivation. They began using hemp to make paper around 150 BC. Other historical uses of hemp include pottery, food, and medicine. The hemp plant is also culturally significant to some ancient civilizations. The Hindus and Persians� ancient religious documents refer to it as a �sacred grass� or �king of seeds.� Hemp arrived in Europe around 1200 BC, and from there, it spread quickly to other parts of the world.

Uncovering The Genesis Of Hemp Usage

The hemp plant has a long history in India and is considered sacred by legends and religions. The ancient ayurvedic system of medicine is also seen to contain various references to hemp for healing and curing diseases such as diarrhoea, epilepsy, and haemorrhoids, amongst others.


The earliest mention of hemp is said to be in the Vedas, the sacred Hindu texts, and more specifically, in the Atharvaveda, dating back to 4000-3000 B.C. The Vedas contain many references to the use and consumption of hemp for medicinal and religious purposes. Lord Shiva (a Hindu deity) is also known for having a strong affinity towards bhang. In this regard, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report in 1894 ("Commission Report 1894"), recorded that "It is chiefly in connection with the worship of Siva, the. great god of the Hindu trinity, that the hemp plant, and more especially perhaps ganja, is associated." In the Zoroastrian scriptures of ancient Iran (that closely resemble the RigVeda), consumption of bhang is said to bring happiness.

Islam also regards bhang as a holy plant and in the Tibbi (the Islamic system of medicine), the plant is mentioned to have benefits to treat conditions such as asthma, dandruff, and urinary disorders. To certain Islamic sects, hemp is an embodiment of the spirit of the Prophet Khizer Elijah, the patron saint of water, and is often referred to as 'warak-al-khiyal' or 'fancy's leaf'.

The usage of hemp in drinks and offerings is also found during various festivals in India including Durga Puja in West Bengal, and Holi. Further, hemp offerings are also given as prasad in temples throughout India such as the Mouneshwara temple in Karnataka and various temples in Varanasi.

Indian Companies Making Hemp-based Products

  • Health Horizons, Delhi: This company makes organic products like body creams, hemp oil, and shampoos.
  • Foxxy, Mumbai: Foxxy Couture mixes high fashion and natural fibers to create a line of clothing. This company sells both office wear and casual wear. Hempsters, Hyderabad:
    Hempsters makes completely hand-made, hemp seed-based products in body care such as shower gels and soap bars.
  • Satliva, Bengaluru: This company, whose motto is �Nature is the best Nurture� offers skin and body care products made of hemp oil.
  • GreenJams, Vizag: This company makes hempcrete to promote green buildings.
  • Vedi, Bhubaneshwar: Vedi makes ayurvedic medicines from hemp, which it calls �a jewel in the court of Ayurveda�.

Legality of Hemp in India

The legal landscape around hemp in India has been evolving over 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 India 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.

Written By: Shashwata Sahu, Advocate, LLM, KIIT School of Law

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