07 Jun Hemp History in Ireland & Europe
Hemp evolved on the eastern Tibetan Plateau in ancient days, according to a US pollen study published in May 2019. The plant still grows wild across Central Asia. More than 4000 years ago Chinese farmers began to grow it for oil, fibre, rope, cloth, and paper. And Ireland’s hemp history goes way back too.
Irish Hemp History
After obtaining dominance of Ireland in the 17th Century, Queen Elizabeth I sought to encourage Irish farmers to grow hemp for supply to English factories. England removed customs taxes on hemp imports from Ireland but the Irish were already using hemp fibre alongside wool to develop their own textiles industry.
In the early 1800s the threat of Napoleon loomed. Ireland was forced to supply the British admiralty with hemp and flax for making sails and rope. This was the largest navy in the world and it remained so up to WWII – so that’s a lot of hemp! As Napoleon’s power peaked, Britain urgently needed more supply. The British Admiralty and government came up with a grand plan – drain Ireland’s peat bogs and acquire over a million acres of land to grow hemp! Very creative; and nice soil for hemp!
The scheme ceased when Napoleon fell into decline.
Meanwhile back in the bogs, while some panicked over the threat to their main source of fuel and income – not damage to the environment – others realised the great economic potential of hemp. People like Irish scholar George Sigerson, a prominent member of the Gaelic Literary Revival, who published a booklet entitled Cannabiculture in Ireland; its profit and possibility, calling for the mass production of hemp in Ireland to help the struggling economy.
- An 850 year old artefact – a piece of hemp cord – is kept in the Dublin City Archives.
- An account of Hemp cultivation in Limerick is referenced in the Topographia Hibernica, a journal of the landscape and people of Ireland by Gerald of Wales, published in 1188.
- Irish rebel Robert Emmet was executed in 1803 with a rope made from hemp.
- Hemp bales were used for cover during the 1916 Rising and hemp seed was looted by civilians.
- During WWII Ireland saw hemp shortages just like other Western countries. This inspired the Hemp for Victory campaign in the US.
- In the 1930’s University College Cork did research into the properties of hempseed oil. They grew their own hemp to do it!
- In the 1960’s hemp research was undertaken by An Foras Taluntais, the predecessor to Teagasc.
- Recently, an excerpt from a 17th century book of law, showed the appropriate customs fees charged on a “HogsHead” of Hemp for export.
William Brooke O’Shaughnessy an Irish Doctor, was knighted by Queen Victoria for his research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis.
Born in Limerick in 1809, he studied medicine at Trinity College and later the University of Edinburgh from where he graduated in 1829. Medicine, chemistry, forensic toxicology and anatomy were among his disciplines. In 1833 O’Shaughnessy took a job with the East India Company as an assistant surgeon in Calcutta. And so began his lifetime interest in India and research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis. He discovered that cannabis and other plants had been used medicinally and for recreation in the region for thousands of years.
His first publication, On the preparations of the Indian hemp, or gunjah (Cannabis Indica), their effects on the animal system in health, and their utility in the treatment of tetanus 6 and other convulsive disorders; was released in 1839. It presented research and case studies on patients suffering from ailments such as: cholera, rheumatism, hydrophobia, tetanus, rabies and a 40 day old baby with convulsions.
- Rheumatism – noticeable pain relief was provided by the cannabis.
- Cholera and Hydrophobia – beneficial calming and pain relief effects from cannabis.
- Tetanus and rabies – successful in quelling the muscle spasms associated with the conditions.
- Convulsions (febrile seizures) in a 40 day old infant – “the profession has gained an anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value”.
- O’Shaughnessy believed that although cannabis was not a complete cure for such ailments it was beneficial as part of a treatment. He also advised that delirium “may be occasioned by continual hemp inebriation” and so cautioned fellow doctor’s to start with low doses when administrating cannabis to their patients. Remember, O’Shaughnessy was working with locally grown hemp that contained naturally occurring cannabinoids, CBD and THC.
O’Shaughnessy’s many lectures and publications spread knowledge of medicinal cannabis throughout Europe, Canada and the US. Thanks to his careful documentation, local doctors and chemists were able produce their own potent tinctures. After his death the Dublin Quarterly Journal of Science published the following as part of his eulogy.
“If the history of the Materia Medica were to be divided into Epochs, each determined by the discovery of some remedy of transcendent power, the period of the introduction of Indian hemp into medicine would be entitled to the distinction of a new era… The [Irish] public and the profession owe a deep debt of gratitude to professor O’Shaughnessy.”
What’s happening today
- Sadly, the criminalisation of Cannabis put a stop to Ireland’s contribution to cannabis culture, but cannabis friendly days are back on the horizon.
- Teagasc is undertaking more hemp research and actively promotes and issues guidelines for hemp farming.
- Hemp has been grown legally (under licence) in Ireland since 1997.
- In 2017, 200ha of hemp was grown by 17 farmers.
- There are numerous other independent hemp cooperatives and groups emerging to support hemp farming.
- In June 2019 the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) was introduced. MCAP enables a medical consultant to prescribe a cannabis-based product for a patient under his or her care for the following medical conditions, where the patient has failed to respond to standard treatments:
- Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.
- Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
- Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy, including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
- To date, four products have been accepted by the HPRA for inclusion on the list:
- Aurora High CBD Oil Drops (CBD:THC ratio of 20:1).
- CannEpil (CBD:THC ratio of 20:1).
- Tilray Oral Solution (CBD:THC ratio of 1:1).
- Aurora Sedamen Softgels (THC-only product).
What would the GG like to see happening
Take a leaf out of George Sigerson book and call for the mass production of hemp across Ireland and Europe to help the struggling economys.