What is Hemp?

There has been much talk about hemp in the media and health realm in recent years and months. Yet, despite all the talk, there is still a lot of information about hemp that is unclear and uncertain. What exactly is hemp? How does it work? What health benefits does it offer and how can it be implemented in our lives in an effective way? This report aims to clearly explain the medicinal and nutrition profile of hemp and how it can be utilized to improve health and wellness. 

When it comes to hemp, it is important to clearly distinguish it from marijuana- the two are not the same. Though botanically hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa, the two come from different varieties or cultivars. So genetically hemp and marijuana are distinct and can be distinguished based on their unique chemical compositions and the differences in how they are cultivated. 

A 2011 study out of Canada concluded that “single nucleotide variant analysis uncovered a relatively high level of variation among four cannabis types and supported a separation of marijuana and hemp.”  

A 2015 study based in Canada also found that “marijuana and hemp are significantly differentiated at a genome-wide level, demonstrating that the distinction between these populations is not limited to genes underlying THC production (Congressional Research Service, 2019).”

The two also have separate statutory definitions as outlined in U.S. law. Marijuana tends to refer to the cultivated plant used as a psychotropic drug (whether recreationally or medicinally), whereas hemp is cultivated for use in the production of a wide range of products, to include foods and beverages, nutritional supplements, personal care products, and even manufactured and industrial goods (Congressional Research Service, 2019).  

Congress expanded the definition of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill (an amendment from the 2014 farm bill). This further distinguished hemp from marijuana under U.S. law. In Section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 hemp is codified as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” 

As defined in the statute, the hemp must contain no more than a 0.3% concentration of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC), which is marijuana’s primary psychoactive chemical (Congressional Research Service, 2019).

Marijuana is defined more broadly as “The term “marijuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. This term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of Germination.” 

Marijuana is considered a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, and therefore the unauthorized manufacture, distribution, dispensation, and possession of marijuana is not permitted. The statute does not specify a permissible limit for THC or any other cannabinoid for marijuana (Congressional Research Service, 2019). 

Hemp also differs from CBD. When looking specifically at hemp oil versus CBD oil, hemp oil comes from the seeds of the hemp plant. It lacks both CBD and THC. CBD oil is extracted from the stalks and stems of the hemp plant. These parts of the plant possess high amounts of cannabidiol, but only trace amounts of THC (Ruggeri, 2019). 

History of Hemp

Hemp has long been in use. Between 8000 to 2000 BC, hemp was used in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China for practical purposes, as material for clothes, rope, and paper. The world’s first book, the Gutenberg Bible, was printed on hemp paper, and the 1776 Declaration of Independence was also written on hemp paper by Thomas Jefferson who farmed hemp (Ruggeri, 2019). 

Hemp was also used for health purposes with the first recorded use being in China in 2600 B.C. Folk remedies and ancient health practices involved all parts of the plants including the seeds, roots, leaves, and flowers for purposes such as pain relief, digestion, and for its anti-inflammatory purposes among others (Ruggeri, 2019). 

Hemp was temporarily prohibited indirectly with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, and significantly damaged the U.S. hemp industry which profited heavily from growing hemp as a cash crop in the American South. The legislation imposed heavy taxes on hemp traders. However, just a few years later the tax was lifted in response to WWII.

The Navy was in need of locally grown hemp to keep their fleets well stocked since the U.S. was cut off from its prior Southeast Asian rope suppliers. The hemp was used to make rope, canvases, and uniforms. In just one year this campaign increased national hemp production 20-fold (What Is Hemp, 2020). 

In 1970, hemp was classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance with the classification of Cannabis. This made it illegal to cultivate or process any cannabis product because there was no distinction made between hemp and marijuana varieties at the time. However, the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow hemp in the United States (What Is Hemp, 2020).

The Nutritional Profile Of Hemp

The nutritional makeup of hemp is incredibly rich, making it a product that can offer a wide range of health benefits. 

The USDA National Nutrient Database reports that 2 tablespoons of hemp weighing 20 grams consists of the following nutrition breakdown (Waren & Olsen, 2018):

  • 111 calories
  • 6.31 g of protein
  • 9.75 g of fat
  • 1.73 g of carbohydrates (including 0.8 g of fiber and 0.3 g of sugar)
  • 14 milligrams (mg) of calcium
  • 1.59 mg of iron
  • 140 mg of magnesium
  • 330 mg of phosphorus
  • 240 mg of potassium
  • 1.98 mg of zinc
  • 22 micrograms (mcg) of folate

Hemp seeds also provide a source of vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Health Benefits Of Hemp

The health benefits of hemp are rich because of the strong nutritional breakdown of the product. The following outlines some of the significant health benefits hemp offers. 

1| Boost the Immune System

Hemp is rich in omega fatty acids which work to strengthen cells and help them in warding off germs and viruses (Focus Performance, 2017). Hemp also contains nutrients such as vitamin E, potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, and zinc. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, working to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also works to stave off invading bacteria and viruses.

While zinc supports immunity at a cellular level and is essential for antibody production (Diana, 2020). Research from a 2018 review found that CBD and other compounds in the seeds may offer neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory benefits that help to regulate the immune system (Crichton- Stuart, 2018). 

2| Fights Acne

The anti-inflammatory gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in hemp can help ward off acne. Not only can the hemp reduce inflamed and swollen spots, but it can also regulate hormones that might contribute to acne. It’s also been suggested that the use of hemp internally can help prevent the hardening of sebum which clogs pores. Hemp also contains proteins involved in healing, which can help with scarring of the skin (Bajarnadottir, 2018). 

3| Promote Healthy Digestion

Hemp is extremely high in fiber which can be quite beneficial for digestion. The insoluble fiber found in hemp seeds works to keep the digestive tract clear and clean, which can reduce stomach aches and prevent constipation. This can also prevent the development of serious gastrointestinal issues such as weight gain, diabetes, and colon cancer, among others (Focus Performance, 2017). 

A study conducted at Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Chinese Medicine looked at the link between hemp and digestion. The study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that a dose of 7.5 grams was more effective and therapeutic than doses of 2.5 or five grams and that the hemp seed pill treatment was effective for relieving functional constipation (Ruggeri, 2019). 

4| Lower Cholesterol

Due to their omega-3 levels and polyunsaturated fats content, hemp seeds and hemp seed oil can help to prevent arterial blockages and blood clots and work to lower cholesterol overall. Lower cholesterol levels in turn can protect against the risks of heart disease (Focus Performance, 2017). 

5| Combat Anemia

Hemp is rich in the essential mineral iron, meaning that when regularly incorporated as part of a routine it can combat iron-deficiency seen in anemia and during many women’s’ monthly cycles (Diana, 2020).

Ease PMS Symptoms: Studies have looked at the link between fatty acids and PMS symptoms and have found some benefits which make hemp a great resource as it is high in fatty acid content. Studies have found that diets richer in GLA – an omega-6 fatty acid – can help to significantly reduce some of the pain, depression, irritability, and fluid retention symptoms associated with PMS (Focus Performance, 2017).

6| Ease Menopause Symptoms

The GLA content of hemp seeds can also be beneficial for women dealing with menopause. Research suggests that the GLA in hemp seeds may regulate the hormone imbalances and inflammation associated with menopause, thereby alleviating some of its symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings (Centre of Excellence, 2020). 

7| Anti-Inflammatory Properties

The GLA found in hemp seeds produces an anti-inflammatory effect because the body converts it into anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds and properties can be beneficial for managing inflammation in the body, especially joint inflammation, nerve damage, and inflamed skin conditions (Centre of Excellence, 2020). Research published in ACS Omega indicates that hempseed has immunomodulating, antioxidant, and anti-aging effects (Ruggeri, 2019).

8| Promote Brain Health

The omega-3 fatty acids present in hemp are also incredibly good for brain health. This is because the brain and the cerebral cortex are built at least partially from DHA, one of the two primary omega-3 fatty acids. 

Eating foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids can keep the DHA levels in your brain high. Increased DHA levels can be linked to a decreased risk for the development of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions that affect memory and learning (Focus Performance, 2017). 

A study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that hemp seed extract has antioxidant properties resulting from the seeds’ cannabidiol (CBD) content. A 2018 review suggested that CBD and other compounds in hemp seeds offered neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects that could aid in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and neuropathic pain (Crichton- Stuart, 2018). 

9| Control Appetite

Hemp seeds can help to regulate your appetite because they help the body to feel full. Easing the feeling of hunger by adding hemp seeds to the diet can help control eating, thereby preventing overeating and weight gain (Focus Performance, 2017). 

A systematic review published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that the high content of fiber in hemp seeds is associated with lower body weight. This can likely be due to satiety and energy intake after eating a meal high in fiber (Ruggeri, 2019).

10| Stress Reduction

The magnesium and B vitamins present in hemp seeds can help in the management of stress. These components impact vital neurotransmitters in the nervous system which helps the body manage and counter the effects of stress (Centre of Excellence, 2020). 

Fight Heart Disease: Nutrients found in hemp seeds, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, can work to decrease risks of heart problems. Fatty acids improve arterial function and blood flow, lower your heart rate, and helps the heart to be healthier and more stable in general (Focus Performance, 2017).

11| Pain Relief

There are elements in hemp that work in conjunction with the body’s own cell receptors to help reduce pain. That combined with the anti-inflammatory properties of hemp can make it useful when dealing with autoimmune conditions, infection, injury, or other conditions that could cause pain (Centre of Excellence, 2020). 

12| Promote Healthy Skin

Hemp seeds and hemp oil contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which can be very helpful to people who suffer from dry skin conditions like dermatitis or eczema, or for those suffering from dry and itchy skin during the cold such as winter (Focus Performance, 2017). 

13| Cell Repair/Regeneration

The high protein content of hemp makes it great for cell repair and regeneration processes. The body uses proteins and amino acids as building blocks for repair and regeneration within structures such as the bones, cartilage, muscles, and blood (Centre of Excellence, 2020). 

Other claims involving the health benefits of hemp are believed to be decreased inflammation related to asthma and coughing, decreased bloating, lessened risk of urinary tract infections, and minimizing warts when applied topically. However, additional research is needed to back up these claims in their entirety (Christiansen, 2019).

How To Implement Hemp

Hemp can be added to one’s life via dietary and supplemental means in order to reap the many health benefits of the product. Products containing hemp include hemp seeds, hemp milk, hemp oil, hemp cheese substitutes, and hemp protein powder. 

Hemp seeds are also referred to as hemp hearts. Hemp seeds or hearts have had the fibrous shell removed and are lower in fiber than whole hemp seeds They are high in insoluble and soluble fiber, rich in GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), and offers a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (Christiansen, 2019). 

Hemp seeds can be sprinkled on salads, oatmeal, and yogurt and can be found in granola bars and meal replacement bars, as well as added to baked goods like muffins. Hemp oil can be used to make salad dressings (Warren & Olsen, 2018). 

Hemp hearts can be found in regular supermarkets, whereas whole hemp seeds themselves are typically not available at traditional grocery stores but can usually be found at health stores or organic food markets (Focus Performance, 2017).

Hemp seed oil can be used in items such as cooking oil, and added to foods such as dressings, dips, and spreads. It can also be added to creams and lotions that can be applied to the body for anti-inflammatory and pain relief benefits (Christiansen, 2019). 

Hemp protein is a powder made from the seeds of the hemp plant; it consists of more than 25% high-quality protein, nearly 20 amino acids, and nine essential amino acids. It can be added to protein powders for its many health benefits including essential fatty acids essential to overall health and wellness (Christiansen, 2019). 

Exposing hemp seeds to air for long periods of time or keeping hemp at high temperatures can cause the degradation of its healthy fat content. This could lead to trans-fatty acids, which are detrimental for the body. Hemp seeds and oil should be kept at cool temperatures, away from exposure to bright light, and in an airtight container. It is also best to refrigerate hemp products after they have been opened (Christiansen, 2019). 

Precautions 

While hemp can offer a variety of benefits, there are still some precautions that should be taken when using hemp, as there are a few minor side effects hemp can produce in the body. Adding hemp seeds to the diet increases the intake of polyunsaturated fat. 

Although this is a good fat for the body, it can lead to mild diarrhea especially if the body is not used to getting it on a regular basis. This side effect can be alleviated by starting with a small amount of hemp initially and gradually increasing the amount over time (Focus Performance, 2017). 

Another potential side effect linked to eating hemp seeds is that ingesting a large number of hemp seeds within a short period of time could generate trace levels of THC in the body. This could prove to be problematic if a drug test is required at some point, as there is a slight possibility the THC content of hemp seeds, which is not enough to cause a high, could cause someone to fail a drug test (Focus Performance, 2017). 

Hemp seeds also inhibit platelet formation and can interact with anticoagulant medications. This can lead to a higher risk of bleeding. Thus, those who have been prescribed anticoagulants should check with their doctor prior to consuming hemp, especially in larger quantities (Waren & Olsen, 2018). 

Final Thoughts

Based on the evidence, hemp has strong nutritional benefits that would make it a great addition to anyone’s lifestyle. Historically, hemp has been relied on in ancient cultures such as the Chinese culture via folk medicine practices to mitigate the effects of health ailments. 

Presently, research has shown the many physical health benefits hemp can offer when incorporated regularly into one’s life. Thus, hemp should be considered as a viable option and addition to one’s life via food or other ways as a way to help with current health ailments or prevent future ones.

References

Bajarnadottir, A. (2018, September 11). 6 evidence-based health benefits of hemp seeds. Healthline.  

Centre of Excellence. (2020, April 23). Healing with hemp – The top 10 health benefits.

Crichton-Stuart, C. (2018, September 18). 9 benefits of hemp seeds: Nutrition, health, and use. Medical and health information.

Christiansen, S. (2019). The health benefits of hemp. Verywell Health.

Congressional Research Service. (2019, March 22). Defining Hemp: A Fact Sheet. Federation Of American Scientists – Science for a safer, more informed world.

Focus Performance. (2017, October 13). 10 health benefits of hemp.

Ruggeri, C. (2019, May 9). What is hemp? Benefits, uses, products, types, and history. Dr. Axe.  

Waren, M., & Olsen, N. (2018). Hemp: Nutrition, health benefits, and diet. Medical and health information.