Updated on April 30, 2021

Hemp History Timeline (CBD History)

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Key takeaways

  • Hemp was first cultivated in China around 8000 BCE from where it spread to other parts of the world.
  • Ayurvedic texts documented the use of hemp for treating a variety of conditions, including pain, swelling, and digestive issues.
  • Ancient use of hemp included fiber, food and medicine.
  • The Greeks and Romans recognized hemp's versatility, not only as a material for practical use but also for its medicinal properties.

Hemp has a long and diverse history that goes back thousands of years and is closely connected to human civilization. What we know as the hemp or marijuana plant today has undergone several cross breeding to favor THC production. THC is the psychoactive compound that makes users high. Over the years, companies and cannabis breeders decided to crossbreed cannabis landraces until they found the ones with the highest THC percentage and started marketing it to the world. 

Well, this was not always the case as people who first discovered and cultivated the cannabis or hemp plant solely did it because of its industrial and medicinal properties. Information from recent findings shows that most undiscovered landraces have little concentrations of THC with a high concentration of minor cannabinoids like THCV, CBG and cannabinoid acids. In this article, we would explore the history of hemp and how it has evolved over time. 

Where was hemp first cultivated?

Scientists believe Hemp was first grown and used in China, where it probably came from. People moving around likely took hemp to Europe, where it spread widely. By the 16th century, it was grown for fibers, and the seeds were cooked with barley or other grains for food. 

Timeline of major activities in hemp history

Ancient Uses (8000 BCE - 1000 CE):

Hemp fiber 

Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world. It has a history dating back to 8000 BCE. The plant was believed to have originated from China. The Chinese discovered the incredible use of hemp for industrial products like hemp fibers for making textiles. This single discovery led to the rapid spread of hemp cultivation in different parts of Asia, the Middle East and Europe. This made hemp an integral part of people’s life.


Beyond its application in textile production, hemp's seeds were also used for their nutritional value. Recent research data shows that the hemp seed is a superfood packed with special nutrients. These nutrients act as mini energy boosters that make you feel strong and powerful. Hemp cultivation reached new heights in Europe between 500 BCE and 1500 CE. During this time people did not only utilize the plant for its strong fiber but was a common food. Hemp seeds were cooked together with other grains like barley.


Hemp fibers were used as bandages for battle wounds and this was how the people discovered its healing properties. In ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine, which dates back to around 600 BCE, hemp was considered a valuable medicinal plant. Ayurvedic texts documented the use of hemp for treating a variety of conditions, including pain, swelling, and digestive issues. 

Hemp had a presence in ancient Egyptian medicine between 3000 BCE - 300 CE where it was utilized for its therapeutic properties. Archaeological evidence suggests that hemp was used for making medical preparations, and it is believed to have been employed for addressing conditions such as swelling and pain. 

In ancient Greece and Rome, hemp was recognized for its medicinal properties. The Greek physician Hippocrates, often regarded as the "Father of Medicine," referenced the use of hemp for various medical applications. Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder documented the use of hemp extracts for pain relief. The plant was also utilized for making poultices and topical applications.

Spread to Europe (500 BCE - 1500 CE):

The journey of hemp continued as it made its way to Europe between 500 BCE and 1500 CE. This marked a transformative period where hemp moved to several regions of the world. In Europe, hemp cultivation took root and flourished, evolving into an essential crop with diverse applications.

The significance of the hemp plant extended beyond the realms of agriculture, as it became a cornerstone for the production of ropes, textiles, and sails. Its strong fibers were prized for their durability, making hemp an indispensable resource in the maritime and textile industries. This era witnessed the weaving of hemp into the fabric of European economies and daily life.

Moreover, the Greeks and Romans recognized hemp's versatility, not only as a material for practical use but also for its medicinal properties. Hemp found a place in ancient recipe, with its therapeutic benefits acknowledged and utilized for various health purposes. This dual role of hemp, both as a crucial industrial crop and a medicinal resource, solidified its position as a versatile and valuable plant during this pivotal period in European history. 

Hemp found a major use in healing battle wounds, whole plant hemp extracts were also used for stomach upsets, pain and many other medicinal applications. 

Medieval Period (500 - 1500 CE):

During the medieval period from 500 to 1500 CE, hemp maintained its status as a crucial crop, playing a pivotal role in the economies and daily lives of European nations. Its versatility made it a staple resource, with a range of applications that contributed to the sustenance and development of medieval societies.

Hemp's significance extended beyond traditional uses, becoming a key player in the dissemination of knowledge. In a landmark development during the 15th century, Gutenberg's printing press revolutionized the world of communication by utilizing hemp-based paper for the production of the first printed books. This innovation not only marked a significant leap forward in the history of printing but also promoted the importance of hemp as a foundational material in the spread of information and the preservation of knowledge.

As Europe navigated the challenges and advancements of the medieval period, hemp stood as a strong and indispensable crop, weaving itself into the fabric of societal progress and cultural evolution. 

Colonial America (1600s - 1700s):

In the 1600s, hemp found a new home as European colonists introduced it to North America. This period marked the beginning of hemp's cultivation in the American colonies, becoming a vital player in the agricultural landscape. Its resilient fibers made it a sought-after crop with diverse applications.

Hemp's importance in Colonial America extended beyond personal choice, as laws in certain regions mandated farmers to cultivate it. Recognizing the economic and industrial value of hemp, some colonial governments implemented policies to ensure its widespread cultivation. The fiber extracted from hemp plants became a valuable commodity, supporting various industries and contributing to the economic development of the colonies.

The cultivation of hemp in Colonial America not only met the practical needs of the growing colonies but also reflected the plant's deep-rooted significance in the fabric of everyday life. 

Hemp in the 19th Century:

The 19th century witnessed the continued prevalence of hemp cultivation, solidifying its status as a cornerstone crop with diverse applications. Throughout this era, hemp remained a key player in the production of textiles, paper, and various other goods, reflecting its enduring versatility and utility.

During this era, hemp was traditionally grown for its fiber content, hemp varieties in temperate climates typically had minimal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The introduction of hemp to North America occurred in the early 1600s, with a significant role in Pennsylvania's agriculture during the 1700s and 1800s. It became a prevalent crop across various parts of the state, with Lancaster County alone boasting over 100 water-powered mills dedicated to processing hemp fiber. Additionally, numerous hemp seed oil mills pressed surplus hemp seeds into oil, utilized in the production of paints, inks, varnishes, and lamp oil. Hemp's versatility extended to rope, grain bags, Conestoga wagon covers, and clothing. However, the mid-1800s witnessed a decline in hemp production with the rise of cotton as a fiber crop and the cultivation of tobacco. Although hemp production persisted into the twentieth century, it became increasingly limited.

Hemp in the 20th Century and beyond:

This transitional era was characterized by the diminished use of industrial hemp, there was a notable shift in focus towards recognizing the medicinal potential of hemp. This evolving interest culminated in significant breakthroughs, notably the discovery of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) in 1945. These groundbreaking findings paved the way for a deeper exploration of the plant's therapeutic properties. In 1988, the identification of the endocannabinoid system added another layer to our understanding of how cannabinoids interact with the body, marking a pivotal moment in cannabis research.

These advancements in knowledge sparked a resurgence of interest in the medical applications of hemp. Over the years, the cannabis industry has witnessed a series of crucial discoveries, propelling it into a new era of medicinal innovation. The success of cannabinoids, particularly in the treatment of various diseases, has reshaped the landscape of healthcare. This ongoing journey of exploration and discovery holds promise for the development of novel treatments and therapies, positioning hemp and its constituents as important contributors to the evolving field of medicine.

Future of hemp

The future of hemp is marked by significant shifts in policy, product development, and societal acceptance. The ongoing global reconsideration of hemp cultivation laws presents expansive opportunities for farmers and industries. Hemp's versatility is fueling innovation, with its integration into diverse products, including biofuels, bioplastics, and sustainable building materials. Sustainability is a key focus, as hemp's eco-friendly attributes, such as reduced pesticide use and carbon sequestration, align with growing environmental concerns. In the health and wellness sector, hemp-derived products, particularly those containing CBD and CBDa, are gaining traction amidst a trend toward natural alternatives. Technological advances, global trade collaborations, consumer education, and cannabis research further contribute to hemp's promising future. Challenges persist, but as regulations evolve, and with continued innovation, hemp appears poised for positive transformation, shaping a sustainable and diversified global economy. 

Want to Learn More?

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The content on Nesa's Hemp blog is for educational purposes only. We meticulously research and cite our sources, but advise consulting a professional before making decisions based on our information. We derive our content from reputable studies and publications, but individual circumstances may vary. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or applicability of our content to every situation. Nesa's Hemp blog and its authors are not liable for any loss or inconvenience resulting from reliance on our information. By using our blog, you waive any claims against us regarding the accuracy or completeness of our content.

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