- Humans used hemp to make the first shirt of paper.
- Hemp was used to create the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.
- The war on cannabis caused suppliers to turn to wood for papermaking.
- Hemp grows in four months and creates four times more pulp than wood, making hemp paper a more sustainable choice.
The world is becoming increasingly aware that hemp products can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, there is more to hemp than meets the eye. This versatile crop was a staple in our ancestors’ lives because the plant’s fibers can be used in a variety of ways. As communication evolved, hemp paper became the first way for humans to record history that didn’t involve engraving cave walls.
Presently, wood is a far more common feedstock than hemp paper. However, hemp stalks can produce up to five times the amount of paper-making pulp as wood!! Could this make hemp paper a more sustainable option? Let’s take a look at the history of hemp paper and how it is used today.
History of Hemp Paper
Human beings and hemp have a long, complicated history. Experts believe that hemp was one of the original crops available to our very first ancestors when they first evolved into Homo sapiens. One of the oldest texts known to humankind is The Vedas. These Hindu scriptures reference cannabis as one of the five essential plants.
Prior to current recorded history, our ancestors were becoming eager to communicate. They would use rocks, walls, and animal bones as a means of jotting things down. Obviously, these options were a bit problematic. That’s why our ancestors graduated to more portable and practical options, such as clay and stone tablets.
Even with these improvements, rock-based writing materials weren’t conducive to the expansion of information that was on the horizon. As the need to express ideas and document life became increasingly vital, our ancestors had to find an economical way to communicate. Enter hemp paper.
How Was Hemp Paper Made?
Researchers point to the Han Dynasty of present-day China as the inventor of hemp paper. That means hemp paper production began as far back as 206 BC–220 AD.
Our ancestors created hemp paper by breaking down its thick fiber by repeatedly smashing the stalks. As the tough exterior began to unravel, they would begin to manipulate the threads, smoothing them down to create a flat surface.
Through this manipulation, more uses of hemp came to light. Early civilizations would use hemp fibers to create fabrics, shoes, and rope. Their dependence on this crop grew. Naturally, ancestors started to travel with supplies of hemp paper.
Hemp Paper Spreads Across Boundaries
As civilizations started to establish themselves, trade became vital for survival. Much like Amazon adding protective plastic bubble sheets to their containers, the Chinese took precautions with their exports. So, they started wrapping their goods in hemp paper to protect the products in transit.
The demand for hemp paper spiked. So, the Chinese came up with the first paper mill to ramp up production. The knowledge of papermaking spread beyond Chinese borders and into present-day Japan, India, and Korea. Inevitably, hemp paper made its way to Europe, where dependency on hemp paper reached an all-time high.
The advent of hemp paper transformed the lives of our ancestors. Creating paper mills helped evolve them into better-educated beings. While all of these inventions projected our ancestors forward, the printing press propelled their intellectual progress at an even more rapid pace.
Hemp Paper and the Printing Press
Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press in 1440 while on political exile from Germany in France. This invention was such a game-changer that his German hometown of Mainz even welcomed the inventor back.
With the printing press, the use of hemp paper exploded. Russians used hemp paper to create bank notes for currency. Meanwhile, our ancestors started to travel to the New World with hemp paper.
Information started spreading among communities more efficiently. These advancements opened the door for the information we readily have available at our fingertips today.
Notable pieces made of hemp paper include:
- Gutenberg Bible
- King James Bible
- Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Age of Reason
- Mark Twain titles
As the Americas started to form into the country we know today, our forefathers relied heavily on hemp paper. In fact, this writing source was essential in sparking the revolution to emancipate the New World from Britain.
Pamphlets made of hemp paper, such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense were administered throughout the colonies. This medium became the primary source for educating settlers and, inevitably, the catalyst for freedom. In fact, although the official Declaration of Independence was penned on parchment, the first two drafts were scribed on hemp paper!
At this time, hemp fabric was also a significant commodity. Learn more about this eco-friendly textile. Check out our article: What is Hemp Fabric?
The Fall of Hemp Paper
America was firmly established on the coattails of hemp. It was even considered a valid form of tender in some early states. Yet, the country would turn its back on the plant in the 1900s. Hot off the heels of prohibition, Puritan ideals took over the government. Small changes began to make it difficult for hemp paper suppliers to conduct business.
The war on cannabis started with the Marihuana Act of 1937. This legislation levied a heavy tax on products that contain hemp. Naturally, over-the-counter medicines that used cannabis turned to other sources for relief. Ultimately, these changes led to the rise of pharmaceutical companies.
Meanwhile, cotton became a popular export for America. Therefore, cotton-based clothing replaced hemp fabric as the textile of choice. Subsequently, the rise of cotton also saw the downfall of hemp paper.
Around the 1850s, paper suppliers started using cotton rags and linens to create paper. At first, this was done as a means of recycling. However, this green gesture would inevitably prove not to be such a sustainable option.
Eventually, our dependence on paper grew. Scraps of cotton and linen would no longer suffice. With increased restrictions on the hemp industry mounting, suppliers looked for other outlets to create paper. That’s when they realized wood could be a cheaper and more practical source than hemp. This realization would prove beneficial at first and problematic down the road.
Wood Paper vs. Hemp Paper
Long before America became the (overly) developed nation it is today; there were vast amounts of trees. This surplus seemed never-ending in the mid-1800s. Not to mention, trees weren’t seasonal like hemp. Therefore, paper mills can use wood to create paper all year long.
Fast forward two centuries later, and we’re on the precipice of a global environmental crisis. Carbon dioxide emissions have reached an all-time high. Our greatest defense against these rising gas levels is the very plants that soak up the excess carbon dioxide—trees.
Up to 160,000 trees are cut down every day. While many of our trees (including those within the Amazon rainforest) are chopped down to serve as feed for animal agriculture, a substantial amount is used to create paper.
On top of cutting down trees for feed and paper, we must now contend with climate change. Today, wildfires are breaking out everywhere, from California to Australia to South Africa. Our ancestors needed to adapt to find a more sustainable source for paper, and we might have to follow suit. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we might have to give a nod to our past and begin embracing hemp paper again.
Is Hemp Paper the Future?
Initially, our ancestors chose wood paper over hemp paper because there were a lot of trees that produced a lot of bark to create paper. Plus, trees can be harvested in all seasons, unlike hemp.
While hardy, hemp has trouble growing in extreme conditions outdoors. That made hemp paper a less sustainable choice two centuries ago when climate change wasn’t even a blip on the radar.
Technology has advanced exponentially since the 1850s. We now have the ability to cultivate hemp indoors. Not to mention, farmers have designed hybrids that can withstand a wide variety of temperatures. These advancements have made growing hemp easier than ever.
Why Growing Hemp for Paper is Easier Than Wood
Trees have a lifespan that far exceeds ours. Most won’t reach their maximum height and weight during our lifetime. Consequently, trees aren’t growing back at the pace necessary to keep up with our needs, nor to subsequently combat climate change. One has to give, and it’s not going to be the latter.
It only takes around four months to grow hemp. Thousands of hemp plants will reach maturity within your lifetime, compared to a few hundred trees.
On a per-acre basis, hemp pulp creates four times the amount of paper than wood does. Plus, it’s more abundant in cellulose than wood. Cellulose is a primary ingredient in paper, giving this writing tool a sturdy texture.
Furthermore, hemp contains fewer lignans than wood. These fibers lead to acid hydrolysis, which destroys paper in the long-term. Therefore, paper companies separate lignans from final paper products.
By creating hemp paper, they’d be using less human-power and energy to remove lignans. As a result, creating hemp paper would require fewer resources. With proper planning in place, hemp paper can be cultivated and harvested to keep up with the supply and demand of humans.
Growing Demand for Hemp Paper
While the war on cannabis began in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the end of 2018 that hemp got its just desserts. Under the new Farm Bill, hemp was declassified as a narcotic. Instead, it was downgraded to the lowest level of controlled substances. These reclassifications came just in time.
A new hemp renaissance is upon us. The legalization of hemp is encouraging consumers and manufacturers to find more sustainable options for our daily routines. We’re finding hemp in everything from milk to clothing to skin products.
In fact, hemp is rich in chemicals known as endocannabinoids. These molecules interact with receptors present in our skin. Therefore, using broad-spectrum hemp extracts can help you promote your natural glow. Joy Organics’ CBD Cream is all-natural and ultra-hydrating. Just throw in your purse or pocket and apply throughout the day to maintain healthy, vibrant skin.
How Much Does Hemp Paper Cost?
As the demand for hemp products continues to grow, it’s very possible to see the rise of hemp paper. Unfortunately, hemp paper isn’t the standard for papermaking. As per the laws of supply and demand, a lesser need for hemp paper will automatically make the product more expensive than its wood counterpart.
If you have the means, don’t let this deter you from making the switch. Every dollar spent on hemp paper helps the cause. With time, hemp paper will become more readily available. This shift in balance will cause the scales of supply and demand to decrease costs associated with producing hemp paper. In turn, hemp paper will become more affordable to the masses.
How to Get Hemp Paper
Hemp paper products are already starting to pop up in the markets. One of the most notable is that hemp paper is used to create rolling papers for marijuana and CBD flower.
Choosing hemp paper rolling papers is a healthier alternative to bleached wraps that have been commonplace in the last few decades. One of the most reputable brands for hemp rolling papers is RAW.
Every step you take towards a greener future is a step in the right direction. Canvas bags instead of plastic, organic foods, and avocado mania weren’t the norm a decade ago either. However, people sought change and made minor alterations in their life. Now, avocado toast is all the rage. With your support, hemp paper can be, too!
Have you ever used hemp paper? How does it compare to the traditional wood-based paper we’re used to? Share your experiences with our community in the comments below!
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Joy Smith is Joy Organics Co-founder and visionary. After her own life-changing experience with CBD, Joy started Joy Organics to create a line of sustainable and premium CBD products consumers could trust. Before founding Joy Organics, Joy worked as an itinerant speaker, traveling to over four continents to empower women across the globe.