Although the mind-altering effects of marijuana were known well into the 18th century, the plant wasn’t always used for that purpose. These other purposes are even less known today because scientists and researchers continue to find new medicinal properties of the drug, and growers continue to produce more potent weed. During the Colonial Times, farmers grew their plants in tight batches, which isn’t ideal for growing flowers where most of the THC is concentrated, so there’s no evidence to suggest Early America smoked their hemp. Also, the particular hemp that they grew was cannabis sativa L, which contains less than 1% THC, so even if they did smoke their product, they most likely wouldn’t get high.
Instead, they used the plant for its exceptionally strong and durable fibers. The plant’s strength was used for sails because it was the only material able to withstand the open waters. In 1588, when the Spanish Armada attacked, the British fleet was held up by hemp. According to historians, the ships used an estimated 10,000 acres of cultivated hemp. Then, with the emergence of larger fleets, the Virginia Assembly ordered “that every planter as soone as he may, provide seede of flaxe and hempe and sowe the same.”