While there's a lot of discussions, controversy, and hoopla about marijuana, especially as an increasing number of states adopt medical marijuana laws, it's easy to overlook the plant's nonpsychoactive cousin, hemp. Even though you can't get high from smoking or eating hemp and the plant hasn't been granted medical use status, hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, and the plant itself have healthy and eco-friendly qualities that deserve our attention.
Before I talk about the health and planet healing benefits, it's time to dispel the smoke, per se, concerning the relationship between hemp and marijuana and the active ingredients in the latter, cannabidiol and THC.
What is hemp?
Hemp (aka industrial hemp) and marijuana share the same genus and species (Cannabis sativa), but they are genetically distinct and come from different cultivars. Cultivars are varieties of a plant that have been intentionally created and selected through cultivation. Note that this is definitely not the same as genetic engineering (GMOs)!
The three main cultivar groups of cannabis are cultivated for:
2. Seed (which can be used as a seed or for oil), and
3. Medicinal or recreational purposes.
What is marijuana?
Marijuana is in the latter cultivar group, and the plants are cultivated for high levels of the psychoactive ingredient known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The cultivars in the first two groups technically contain THC but in an extremely small amount; by law that amount is 0.3 percent per dry weight, which is found mainly in the hulls of the seeds. Once the hulls are removed and the seeds are processed, the remaining amount of THC is even less.
What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?
Hemp also contains about 4 percent CBD (cannabidiol), which has some psychoactive properties but at this level, it's not enough to result in a "high." When comparing the potential medicinal value of marijuana and hemp, only marijuana contains the significantly greater levels of medicinal terpenes, flavonoids, THC, and cannabidiol and in ratios that can be applied to specific treatment needs.
Benefits of Hemp
However, while hemp may lack "official" medicinal value, it provides some impressive nutritional and other practical contributions.
- Protein power. You can get a whopping 11 grams of protein in just 3 tablespoons of shelled hemp seeds. Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and can be enjoyed ground or whole as a veggie and cereal topping or in smoothies, salads, soups, and yogurt. Another way to sneak in extra protein is to stir ground hemp seeds into gravies, pasta sauces, dips, and salsa or when baking.
- Healthy fats. I picked up a carton of hemp seed beverage today that proclaimed proudly on the label that it contained healthy fats, including the omega-3 fatty acid linolenic acid, and two omega-6 fatty acids-linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). What a tasty way to get these important healthy fats! Linolenic acid is helpful for heart and brain health, rheumatoid arthritis, and menopausal symptoms, while GLA possesses anti-inflammatory properties and can assist in regulating blood pressure.
- Mineral mania. Hemp seeds are a rich source of essential minerals, including magnesium, iron, and zinc. One mere ounce of hemp seeds provides you with 45, 21, and 15 percent Daily Value of magnesium, zinc, and iron, respectively. Good levels of calcium, phosphorus, and potassium also are found in hemp seeds.
- Skin health. Some research suggests that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in hemp seed oil can be helpful in treating symptoms of atopic dermatitis. In a group of patients with atopic dermatitis, dietary hemp seed oil and olive oil were compared during a 20-week study. Investigators found that hemp seed oil made significant improvements in symptoms of atopic dermatitis, which they believe is related to the rich and balanced supply of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the oil.
- Heart health. Hemp seeds are a good source of arginine, an amino acid that leads to the production of nitric oxide. Adequate nitric oxide is necessary for optimal blood flow and maintaining healthy blood pressure, which helps reduce your risk of coronary artery disease. The GLA in hemp seeds is an anti-inflammatory, a characteristic that contributes to heart health.
- Digestive health. The high fiber content of hemp seeds contributes to good digestion and regularity. Hemp seeds provide both soluble and insoluble fiber, an essential feature because each type of fiber performs a different function. Soluble fiber breaks down in water and helps slow the digestive process, which makes you feel full longer, and makes it great for weight and appetite control. Soluble fiber also helps reduce the absorption of dietary cholesterol and assists in regulating blood sugar spikes. Insoluble fiber doesn't absorb water and instead adds bulk to your diet. Thus the insoluble fiber in hemp seeds helps speed up the transportation of waste through your intestinal tract. It also acts like a broom by scraping and cleaning the walls of the intestine and helps to prevent constipation.
- Planetary health. Hemp is ecologically more sound than crops such as cotton and trees. Per acre, hemp can produce more fiber than cotton and four times the fiber from an average forest. Hemp is naturally resistant to pests and so requires virtually no use of pesticides and herbicides. The long fibers in hemp make it possible to recycle hemp paper many more times than wood-based paper, and the production of hemp paper requires the use of fewer chemicals (e.g., dioxin) than wood paper. Hemp, unlike trees, is a rapidly growing crop, ready for harvest about 120 days after planting. The fact that hemp grows closely together also helps reduce and even eliminate soil erosion in some areas.
Hemp is an underappreciated crop that is a source of enormous nutritional value and practical, eco-friendly, everyday products. Barriers to its complete launch into the mainstream center around misinformation and misunderstanding. Yet no less than Catholic Online reported in 2014 that this "quintessentially American crop" has been "unjustly lumped in with such illicit narcotics as dope and heroin," but that "signs that this old stigma towards the crop is now rapidly fading."
Are you ready to embrace the wonders of hemp? Let us know if and how hemp is a part of your life.
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