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Outside/In: Reefer madness, the CBD bubble, and the future of hemp

Advocates say you can make over 25,000 different things from hemp, such as these sunglasses.
Felix Poon
Advocates say you can make over 25,000 different things from hemp, such as these sunglasses.

Hemp used to be a staple of life in America. King James I demanded that colonists produce it. Hemp rope and fabric were ubiquitous throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The USDA even produced a WW II newsreel called “Hemp for Victory.”

But other materials came to replace hemp: wood pulp for paper, and cotton and synthetics for fabric. Why?

For that matter, what is hemp? Is it different from weed? And does it actually have 25,000 uses as its proponents claim?

Featuring Hector “Freedom” Gerardo, David Suchoff, John Fike, and Danny Desjarlais.

Hemp For Victory - USDA Full Official 1942

Hector “Freedom” Gerardo shows that hemp can grow taller than a person.
Felix Poon
Hector “Freedom” Gerardo shows that hemp can grow taller than a person.


Learn more about how the Lower Sioux Indian Reservation has worked with hempcrete, and how they hope it’ll transform their economy (Grist).

The 2018 Farm Bill inadvertently led to a multibillion-dollar market of hemp-derived THC products. Twenty-two state attorneys general are now calling on Congress to fix the legal loophole that has “[forced] cannabis-equivalent products into our economies regardless of states’ intentions to legalize cannabis use.” (The Hill)

Cannabis sativa in the U.S. only came to be called “marijuana” in the early 1900s, when the anti-cannabis movement wanted to link it to its “Mexican-ness.” But, as The Mysterious History Of 'Marijuana' (NPR Code Switch) explains, the etymological origins of “marijuana” are still debated: does it come from the Chinese word ma ren hua? Or the Bantu word for cannabis: ma-kaña? Or something else?

Hemp for Victory! (YouTube)


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Host: Nate Hegyi
Reported, mixed, and produced by Felix Poon.
Editing by Taylor Quimby, with help from Rebecca Lavoie
Our staff includes Justine Paradis.
Executive producer: Taylor Quimby
Rebecca Lavoie is NHPR’s Director of On-Demand Audio.
Special thanks to Fitsum Tariku, Director of the Building Science Centre of Excellence.
Music by Blue Dot Sessions, Mike Franklyn, Jules Gaia, Dusty Decks, and Rocket Jr.
Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder.
Outside/In is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Felix Poon first came to NHPR in 2020 as an intern, producing episodes for Outside/In, Civics 101, and The Second Greatest Show on Earth. He went to work for Gimlet Media’s How to Save a Planet before returning in 2021 as a producer for Outside/In. Felix’s Outside/In episode Ginkgo Love was featured on Spotify's Best Podcasts of 2020.
Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.
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