What is Industrial hemp?

Industrial hemp means strain that comes from the plant species Cannabis Sativa and has been used worldwide to produce a wide range of industrial and consumer products like building material, textiles, paper products, personal care items, food, and health supplements. Hemp is a source of fiber and oil in more than 30 countries. In the US, hemp production is controlled under drug enforcement laws. And farmers who want to produce industrial hemp must obtain the Drug Enforcement Agency permit1.

Sometimes industrial hemp is used equally, but industrial hemp is a more specific term referring to the plants that are grown specifically for industrial use. The word hemp is often applied to any plant of the Cannabis family.

Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp both derive from the species Cannabis Savita and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they are distinct strains with unique phytochemical compositions and uses.

Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of CBD. Hemp’s THC levels are between less than 0.3 percent up to 1.5 percent. To compare consumable marijuana’s THC level is between 5 to 10 percent. In the rare case, it can be even higher and reach 30 per cent1. Soil characteristics, latitude, and climatic stresses have been found to have significant effects on THC concentrations. Also, there are seasonal and diurnal variations2.

Hemp is probably indigenous to temperate Asia. Later it was adapted to grow in soils around early settlements and quickly became a domesticated plant. Hemp was harvested by the Chinese more than 8500 years ago. For most of its history, the plant was valued as a fiber source and oilseed crop. Cultivation in Europe became after 500 CE3.

According to historical documents, hemp was brought to North America in 1606. The hemp industry flourished in Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois between 1840 and 1860 because its fiber was used to manufacture sailcloth2.

Gradually hemp was substituted by flax as the main textile fiber. And in 1938, the hemp cultivation was ended up under the Marihuana Tax Act4.

The situation changed only in recent decades when the plant was thoroughly studied, and new regulations were provided. Under which, commercial development of the hemp industry was allowed after certification of relevant authorities2.

Today industrial hemp is marketed as fiber, as a seed, or as a dual-purpose crop. Although, detailed market information for hemp products is not available. Estimates from Vote Hemp show that the total retail value of hemp products in the US in 2017 was 820 $ million. This figure includes food and health products, clothing, building materials, and other products1.

This evidence is sufficient enough to say that industrial hemp has been recognized as an important economic crop. And a variety of products manufactured show it is being reintroduced into different industries. Economists expect it will only increase in the future.


  1. Industrial Hemp | Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. https://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/fiber/industrial-hemp. Accessed November 13, 2019.
  2. Small E, Marcus D. Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (Eds.), Trends in New Crops and New Uses. Alexandria, VA: ASHS Press; 2002:284-326. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-284.html. Accessed November 13, 2019.
  3. Shultes RE, Hofmann A. The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens. Illinois: Springfield; 1980.
  4. Deitch R. Hemp: American History Revisited: The Plant with a Divided History. Algora Publishing; 2003.



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