For thousands of years, until 1883, hemp was the world’s largest agricultural crop, from which the majority of fiber, fabric, soap, lighting oil, paper, incense, and medicines were produced. In addition, it was a primary source of essential food oil and protein for humans and animals. Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids necessary for health. The oil from hemp seeds has the highest percentage of essential fatty acids and the lowest percentage of saturated fats.
An acre of hemp produces more paper than an acre of trees. Paper made from hemp lasts for centuries, compared to 25-80 years for paper made from wood pulp. The US Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.
In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which effectively halted hemp production in the United States. It was briefly overridden during the Second World War when overseas supplies dried up but the campaign, called Hemp For Victory, was quickly withdrawn after the war.
Hemp can be grown in virtually any climate or soil condition, and grows extremely fast, yielding up to 4 crops a year. Canada, China and France are major hemp producers. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp. Ben Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper. But today the United States is the only industrial country in the world where the growing of hemp is prohibited.
In 1941, the Ford motor company produced an experimental automobile with a plastic body composed of 70% cellulose fibres from hemp. The car body could absorb blows 10 times as great as steel without denting. The car was also designed to run on hemp fuel. Because of the ban on both hemp and alcohol the car was never mass produced. In 2008, Lotus Cars announced they will be using hemp in the production of body panels for their Lotus Eco Elise.