Evolution of Hemp Culture in India

Selling and smoking Cannabis in India was legal until 1985. On 14 November 1985, the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act, 1985 came into force. As stated by the Act, consumption of cannabis and its derivatives (charas/hashish, bhang and marijuana), which has higher amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is considered illegal while cannabis with THC lower than 0.3% can get legal approval for commercial cultivation from state governments.

Industrial hemp was for a long time wrongly linked with marijuana which is why not many know about the importance of this sustainable plant. While the level of THC in an average batch of marijuana is 5% to 20%, the maximum THC content in industrial hemp is 0.3%. 

The ancient crop is slowly making its comeback to the mainstream. Uttarakhand is the first state in India to legalise the cultivation of industrial hemp. Uttar Pradesh and Manipur are the other two Indian states to allow the cultivation of the crop for commercial purpose. 

Recently, several designers have started incorporating hemp fabric into their work. Agricultural training programmes are also being set up to spread knowledge of hemp across farming communities. Due to the rising demand and interest in hemp-based products, a number of companies have started selling hemp products in the market today

Importance of cultivating industrial hemp

In the textile and agricultural industry, the productivity of hemp is 2 to 3 times more than that of cotton. If the cultivation of hemp in India keeps expanding it can soon make the country one of the largest producers in the world. It will not only increase the GDP per capita but also improve the socio-economic standards of Indian farmers as well as become a profitable source of income for them.

Hemp, which is a variety of the cannabis Sativa plant, is a climate adaptive crop. Its seeds are rich in nutrients so it does not strep the soil of nutrients instead returns 60% to 70% of nutrients to the soil. It is a carbon negative crop so it actually absorbs CO2 from the air. As compared to cotton, it can be produced with half the amount of water and soil and has thrice the tensile strength. Loamy soils that are rich in nitrogen are considered ideal for the cultivation of hemp. The central plains of India near the Ganges river basin have the perfect soil and weather conditions to grow the plant. It can grow from 90 cm to 4m in height depending on the weather conditions, availability of water and the seed varients.

India being a tropical country has greater photoperiod which promotes growth and flowering of the plant. What makes the plant so unique is its ability to grow without any pesticides or herbicides. It is a low maintenance crop unlike marijuana.

Hemp can further be redefined into a variety of commercial items like paper, clothing, textiles, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food and animal feed. It can be a great alternative to plastic which has a huge contribution to global warming.

In the long run, if India sees the potential of this plant and takes the production to a larger scale then it can do wonders for the country.

Difference between hemp and marijuana

As far as awareness on hemp is concerned, India is far behind. It is still a taboo and has been stigmatised for years. While many are familiar with marijuana, not many have the knowledge on the significance of hemp. 

Marijuana, also known as psychoactive cannabis is mostly used for recreational and medical purposes while hemp is used in various forms like cosmetics, textile, accessories, dietary supplements, etc. The main difference between the two is in its chemical composition. While hemp grows organically and with minimal care, marijuana, on the other hand, is grown in carefully controlled atmosphere. In terms of appearance, the leaves of hemp are skinner and are concentrated at the top while that of marijuana are broad with tight buds.

Can hemp get you high?

The answer is no. Many consider hemp and marijuana the same which makes them think that hemp can give the same high as marijuana, only it does not. Due to the low THC content, one cannot get high on hemp.