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History of Hemp in India

1. Introduction

Although you would not immediately link hemp (Cannabis sativa) or hemp seed with India, the two have a long history together. Hemp has been used in India for thousands of years and has roots in Ayurveda. However, hemp has had a tumultuous past in India. We are finally seeing a new dawn for hemp in India after more than a century of rising regulation and even prohibition.

But, before we get into the history and future of the hemp business in India, let’s first define hemp and see what all the buzz is about.

2. What is Hemp, exactly?

Hemp is a plant that can be used in its whole, including its stalk, seeds, and flowers. It is a climate-adaptive, environmentally beneficial, and sustainable crop. Hemp takes far less water than other crops, such as cotton, and may be cultivated without pesticides. It also produces more per acre of land than other crops. Hemp is, in reality, a weed that grows quite quickly!

Its use in terms of commercial production is also varied. Pharmaceuticals, paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, drinks, furniture, construction, personal care, and animal feed are just a few of the commercial cultivation products that may be made from hemp. Hemp seeds and hemp oils constitute a major part of the hemp industry in India.

In addition, Hemp yields 3 to 4 times more usable production of hemp fiber per hectare per annum than forests. There is also no need for pesticides or herbicides for the cultivation of cannabis.

3. Hemp's origins in India

Cannabis has a long history in India. The cannabis plant or so-called technical hemp (cannabis sativaL.) is native to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, including the Himalayan mountains from Kashmir to Nepal, as well as Bhutan and Myanmar, and East Asia according to most historians. 

Its use by humans can be traced back to 8000 BCE in China, Taiwan, and Japan, where archaeological evidence of hemp has been discovered. In truth, hemp has a long history in China, where it was once used to manufacture clothing, shoes, ropes, and an early type of paper.

Hemp is first mentioned in the Vedas or sacred Hindu books, and notably in the Atharvaveda, which dates back to 4000-3000 B.C. Many references to the usage and use of hemp for therapeutic and religious purposes may be found in the Vedas. Lord Shiva (a Hindu god) is also well-known for his fondness for bhang.

Hemp has been utilized in India for centuries to manufacture natural medicines, nourishing foods, and production of hemp fibre. Traditional hemp use in India is linked to Ayurveda, a holistic medical philosophy that emphasizes healthy lifestyle practices and herbal medicines to promote good health and avoid illness.

Ayurveda, which dates back approximately 3000 years, characterizes various portions of the sacred plant for a range of therapeutic purposes.

According to the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report of 1894, “the hemp plant, and more notably presumably ganja, is linked with the worship of Lord Shiva, the supreme god of the Hindu trinity” (“Commission Report 1894”). 

4. Hemp in the twentieth century and beyond

Cannabis was first made illegal on a global scale in the early twentieth century. The International Opium Convention, signed in The Hague in 1925, barred the exportation of “Indian hemp” to countries that had banned its usage.

Following two UN conventions, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), India passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (the NDPS Act), which governs the cultivation, production, sale, transportation, possession, and use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, and other manufactured drug types. The hemp plant has been severely stifled and stigmatized as a result of this regulatory system.

Since 2015, a global push to decriminalize hemp and promote its industrial utility has been ongoing, as countries throughout the world begin to decriminalize hemp and marijuana.

Fortunately, the NDPS Act allows individual states in India to regulate the cultivation of hemp as long as they have the infrastructure in place to ensure that the THC concentration is less than 0.3 per cent. The state of Uttarakhand was the first in India to make hemp legal, allowing for its growth.

Hemp seed oil offers excellent moisturizing effects without blocking your skin pores. Therefore, you can readily use it as a skin toner and makeup remover. This essential oil aids in cleaning the skin deeply without letting the chemicals in the makeup products settle into your skin pores. 

The Hemp seed oil can further alleviate the harm caused by the chemicals in cosmetic products and even out your inner skin tone. To use the Hemp seed oil as a toner or makeup remover, all you need to do is dip a cotton ball in the oil or put some oil on your face with the dropper and gently rub it across your face for removing the makeup or using it as a toner.

Once you remove all your makeup, wash your face either with cold or lukewarm water and pat it dry. After a face wash, you can again take some drops of Hemp seed oil and gently massage over your face and neck in circular movements to deeply moisturize the skin. 

Apart from helping in makeup removal and skin toning in women, Hemp seed oil is equally beneficial for men to use before and after shaving to reduce inflammation and keep the skin supple and healthy. 

5. The Law and Indian Hemp

Is it legal to grow hemp in India is a long-drawn question. In India, the legal status or framework surrounding marijuana has evolved over the centuries. The topic of whether hemp contains THC has dominated this debate. Despite its numerous industrial applications, hemp is continuously confronted with the stigma of its psychoactive relative, and hemp farming in India can eventually lead to drug manufacture and sale.

Hemp regulation in India originated during the colonial era when the usage or cultivation of cannabis was prohibited in all British territories beginning in the early nineteenth century. The British Indian government completed a comprehensive study of cannabis in India in 1894.

The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission (1894-1895) began regulating the use and processing of cannabis in India from that point forward. Various Indian states passed laws repressing and criminalizing hemp production in India, as well as the processing and consumption of cannabis products, particularly narcotic goods, during the British-India period.

5.1 The Law and Indian Hemp

Hemp farming is currently legal in India. Uttar Pradesh has joined Uttarakhand in legalizing hemp production. Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, and several other states are also planning to open up. Local entrepreneurs and industries are taking notice of the improving legal status of hemp in India.

Hemp businesses in India currently rely on raw hemp imports from Europe, North America, and China. Raw hemp can be imported with no limitations as long as it follows India’s phytosanitary criteria. There is now anticipation that industrial hemp farming will take hold in India, allowing India to feed its manufacturers while also contributing to the global market.

5.2. Process for obtaining a license

  1. Under Rule 36(3) of the NDPS Rules, an application for a license must be submitted to the State Government. Since just three states have begun issuing cannabis growing permits, it is unclear to whom applications in other states should be directed. Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh are the three states that currently have hemp cultivation policies. In Uttarakhand, the application must be filed with the District Magistrate, whereas in UP and MP, it must be filed with the Excise Department.
  2. An application for an excise certificate must be submitted to the State Government before an import license may be granted.
  3. An application for a license (under Form 24-A) must be submitted to the Licencing Authority recognized by the State Government under the Medicines and Cosmetics Act for the manufacturing and sale of ASU drug types containing cannabis. In Karnataka, for example, an application must be submitted to the Drug Controller, Drugs Control Department, which is overseen by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  4. The medications’ composition, benefits, and methods of administration will have to be shown. It is recommended that you seek the advice of an ASU medical professional for more detailed instructions.
  5. The clinical trials must be done following the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, Rule 158(B). Clinical trials must be carried out in compliance with the Indian Council of Medical Research’s recommendations.

5.3. Legal obstacles

  • Because cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are not recognized in Ayurveda, we are unable to mention them on Ayurvedic packaging.
  • Under Section 14 of the NDPS Act, 1985, Uttarakhand has devised a policy authorizing industrial or horticulture hemp cultivation
  • When it comes to textiles, food and nutrition, and cosmetics, there is a distinct market today; it all depends on where it is placed and distributed, as well as at what price.
  • There are two ways to look at the rules and regulations around cannabidiol (CBD). For starters, any unique medicine made under the State Ayush Regulation can contain both THC and CBD. Because Ayush laws only allow whole leaf plant extracts under the whole spectrum scope, this is permissible. When you get into any other type of isolation or remove any other type of broad-spectrum, CBD becomes more complicated and falls outside of Ayush standards.

6. Medical applications of Hemp

You may be familiar with the term “medical marijuana,” but hemp also has non-psychoactive medical uses. We’ve already seen how hemp has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, but it was also used in contemporary medicine beginning in the nineteenth century.

While serving with the East India Company in Bengal, Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (1809-1889) is credited with bringing cannabis to Western medicine, and it remained popular until the twentieth century.

Many hemp-based remedies for a range of disorders have been identified by pharmacological experts; cannabis leaves alone have been reported to treat more than 25 maladies! Hemp has been proven to be effective as an analgesic, narcotic, stomachic, antispasmodic, anodyne, and sedative in general. The investigation is still ongoing. In the last 50 years, more than 1000 publications have reported the medical applications or medicinal cannabis therapy of cannabis Sativa.

7. Hemp as a source of nutrition

Hemp seeds and hemp oils are now a significant element of India’s hemp business. In India, hemp seeds are used to replenish protein and iron needs. Raw seeds, processed into hemp meal, sprouted seeds, and dried sprout powder are all options. Sprinkled on cereal, baked goods, or combined into a shake, they’re delightful. Hemp seeds can also be used to generate a satisfying non-dairy beverage known as “hemp milk.”

Hemp seeds have been utilized in bird feed mixes as well as for humans. According to a survey conducted in 2003, more than 95% of hemp seed sold in the European Union at the time was used in animal and bird feed. Moreover, the hemp plant’s leaves can also be eaten. They can be consumed raw as a leafy vegetable or pressed into juice.

8. Hemp as a building material

Industrial hemp strands are extraordinarily strong, with certain manufacturing techniques capable of making them 200 times stronger than steel! The majority of the time, though, hemp is combined with lime to form insulating blocks for use in construction. These hemp blocks operate as an insulating layer between concrete blocks because they aren’t strong enough to maintain the construction on their own. Hemp can also be utilized to make an insulating plaster when combined with even higher amounts of a lime-based binder.

Hemp is also used to make composite panels for automobiles, which is a fascinating use. Fibreglass, hemp fibre, flax, and another fibre, kenaf (also known as Deccan hemp or Hibiscus cannabinus), are combined to create a composite material that has been used by automobile makers since 2002!

9. Hemp clothing in India

Hemp was used in the early days for fibre production. Hemp is a bast fibre, similar to linen (which is manufactured from flax). Bast fibre production has excellent cooling properties, making them ideal for summer clothes. They are incredibly durable and robust, making them perfect for utilitarian products such as ropes and bags. Hemp and linen are frequently combined with various natural and man-made fibres, such as cotton, silk, or polyester, these days.

The Bottom Line

The use of Hemp or cannabis Sativa L. in terms of commercial cultivation, the production of hemp fibre, medicine or drug types, is vast and notable. Moreover, technical hemp or industrial hemp also plays a major role in India.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the uses of hemp?

There are over 50,000 known uses of the plant from paper, and hemp fibre to medicine.

What can Cannabis Sativa L. be used for?

Cannabis Sativa L. is used for medicinal cannabis therapy for the treatment of pain, spasms, asthma, insomnia, depression, and loss of appetite.

What is hemp used commercially?

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