Hemp: Everything You Need to Know
Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is grown for use in many different products. Hemp is made into foods, health products, fabric, rope, natural remedies, and much more. Different parts of the hemp plant are used to make different products.
Hemp seeds are edible and highly nutritious. They have a high concentration of fiber. The seeds also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are nutrients that are important for heart and skin health.
Hemp is sometimes confused with marijuana. Hemp, however, contains only trace amounts of THC, the main chemical in the marijuana plant that makes people get “high.” Because hemp contains little THC, it is grown for non-drug use.
This article discusses some of the health benefits of hemp, its uses, and its potential side effects. It also answers some common questions about hemp and how it should be used and stored.
Forms of Hemp
There are three different plants in the Cannabis genus, also called the Cannabaceae family. These include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Hemp varieties of Cannabis contain 0.3% or less THC. Marijuana varieties have more than 0.3%. Higher amounts of THC can produce a high.
The seeds are the main edible part of the hemp plant. The leaves can be used to make tea, but most of the nutrients are in the seeds. In fact, hemp seeds are over 30% fat, including essential fatty acids. The potential health benefits of hemp, therefore, come mainly from its seeds.
- Hemp seeds: As the name implies, the seeds of the hemp plant. Hemp seeds have a mild, nutty flavor. They are similar to unsalted sunflower seeds, but the texture is not as hard.
- Hemp hearts: These are seeds that have had the shell removed.
- Hemp oil: Also called hempseed oil, it is made by cold-pressing hemp seeds. Just like any other type of healthy oil, hemp oil can be added to foods such as salads, dips, and spreads.
- Hemp protein: This powder is made from the seeds of the hemp plant.
Hemp Oil vs. CBD Oil
Hempseed oil is different from CBD oil. CBD oil is extracted from the Cannabis plant and then combined with a base oil, such as coconut or olive oil. Hempseed oil comes from hemp seeds only, not the leaves or buds. Hempseed oil does not contain any psychoactive properties. You can not use it to get high.
Uses of Hemp
Hemp seeds are legal in the United States and people use hemp as a remedy for many purposes. However, there is not enough clinical research data to back up claims that hemp is a safe or effective treatment for any condition.
Hempseeds, hemp oil, and hemp protein are also consumed for nutritional benefits and hemp oil may be used in skincare as a conditioner or moisturizer.
Research on hemp is limited, but some of the potential benefits may include:
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Whole hemp seeds contain 20% soluble and 80% insoluble fiber. The fiber in hemp seeds may help digestion. It may also help lower bad cholesterol and improve heart health. Higher fiber intakes are linked with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Hemp seeds also contain arginine, an amino acid that may offer benefits for blood pressure to help protect the heart. However, more research is needed.
Animal studies have suggested that hempseed oil may reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. This hasn’t been proven in human studies, though.
Hemp seeds and hemp oils contain many important nutrients including:
- Protein: Whole hemp seeds contain about 25% protein. This is higher than flax or chia seeds, which contain only around 20% and 18% protein, respectively.
- Minerals: Hemp seeds and oils supply magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc that are important for many essential body functions.
- Vitamin E: Hemp seeds and oils are great sources of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Hemp seeds and oils contain a 3-to-1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. This is considered an optimal ratio for heart and brain health.
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA): Hemp seeds and oils are a good source of GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid that has been shown to have many health benefits. A 2016 study found that GLA has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Hemp protein is a good choice for vegetarians or vegans because it contains essential fatty acids. Hemp protein contains all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Some studies, though, have shown that hemp protein isn’t as good a source of one amino acid, lysine, compared to soy protein.
One tablespoon of hemp seeds contains 3 grams (g) protein, 5 g fat, 120 milligrams (mg) potassium, 70 mg magnesium, 7 mg calcium, 1 mg zinc, and almost 1 mg iron.
Cooking hemp seeds or heating the oil to temperatures above 350 degrees F can destroy the healthy fatty acids. Hemp seeds and oil are best eaten raw. If cooking with hemp oil, use low heat.
Store hemp seeds and hemp oil in an airtight container. Keep these products in a cool, dark place. It is best to refrigerate hemp products after opening.
Aids in Digestion
Hemp seeds are high in soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber does not. Both types of fiber are important for digestion.
Because hemp hearts lack the fibrous shell, they are lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole hemp seeds.
Helps With Skin Disorders
Hemp oil is often used as a hair conditioner or a skin moisturizer.
Some studies found that hemp seed oil may improve dry, itchy skin and help symptoms of eczema, a common skin condition. When used for eczema symptoms, it may reduce the need for prescription medication.
May Reduce Menopause Symptoms
Animal studies suggest that hemp seeds may have potential to help reduce menopause symptoms and ease anxiety. However, human studies are lacking so it’s unclear whether or not it might be helpful in humans.
It’s believed that the gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in hemp seeds has anti-inflammatory properties that might help with menopause symptoms. A study that looked at evening primrose oil, which is rich in GLA, found that it helped reduce the frequency and intensity of night sweats—but not daytime hot flashes—in postmenopausal women. More research on GLAs and hemp seed are needed.
Hemp can have interactions with medications. Do not ingest hemp when taking cardiac glycosides or diuretics.
Diuretics are drugs that increase the amount of urine. They are used to reduce the amount of fluid in the body and lower blood pressure. Diuretics include:
An increase in the amount of urine may lead to a loss of potassium. Hemp can also decrease potassium. Taking diuretics and hemp together may result in dangerously low potassium levels. This might cause problems with heart function.
Taking whole hemp seed by mouth can cause many side effects, including:
- Throat irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bradycardia, or slow heart rate
- Hypertension, or high blood pressure
There is not enough clinical research data to prove that hemp is safe for use in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. There is also not enough research to show it is safe to use topically on the skin.
Eating hemp seeds is not considered as unsafe as is eating hemp leaves or other parts of the plant. But because of the high fat content, the seeds can cause mild diarrhea.
Hemp seeds are a good source of protein and fiber. They may also have other health benefits, though there is not enough clinical research to say for sure. Because hemp may interact with some drugs and cause certain side effects, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before adding hemp seeds to your diet.
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By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer’s research.