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Olga Boiko

The hemp plant has a storied history in China. It was probably twisted into the world’s first rope there around 2,800bc. In the West, you find it in cigarette paper and Bible pages. In the East, it is woven into uniforms of the People’s Liberation Army (pla). Since its cooler sister, marijuana, became legal for recreational use in Canada and many American states last year, industrial-use hemp—a variety of cannabis that contains trivial amounts of weed’s mind-altering substance, thc—is flourishing in a country that until a few years ago banned its cultivation outright and where cannabis traffickers can face the death penalty.

China grows nearly half the world’s legal hemp. In 2018 sales, mostly of textile fibre made from the plant’s stalk, totalled $1.2bn. Now global demand for its seeds, leaves and flowers is surging. Packed with fulsome fatty acids, seeds go into snacks and oil. Leaves and flowers contain cannabidiol (cbd), a non-intoxicating compound that reduces anxiety and inflammation. It is being added as a supplement to food, drinks and cosmetics across the West. In June America approved the first cbd medicine, for epilepsy.


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