What you need to know before deciding if hemp is right for your health regimen
Hemp – the often misunderstood sibling to marijuana – isn’t just for teenagers who wear itchy clothing and smell like patchouli. And while it is enjoyed by New Agey, crunchy granola-types who insist on only consuming all-natural products, it’s not just for them, either. In fact, hemp has many beneficial uses that are often overlooked because people don’t understand the difference between hemp and marijuana.
What Is Hemp?
It’s a common misconception that hemp and marijuana are two different species of plant, when in fact they’re just two different names for the same flowering plant, Cannabis sativa. The real difference between the two is the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content (THC is the chemical primarily responsible for producing a “high,”). “Hemp” typically denotes cannabis that contains 0.3 percent or less THC content. In other words, hemp is like a neutered marijuana, in that it’s the same plant just without the ability to get users high.
Hemp is a remarkably versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways. Its strong fibers have been used to make rope, fabric, clothing, and even shoes for centuries. More recently, hemp has gained a name in the sustainability movement, and new uses include the production of bioplastics and alternative forms of cement and fiberglass.
For our purposes, though, hemp is a nutritional powerhouse that can provide a number of benefits.
Hemp and CBD Products
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive chemical that has been found to have a number of beneficial properties. Although CBD can be extracted from any cannabis plant, the CBD products that you see advertised everywhere are only federally legal if they are derived from hemp. CBD products are being used to treat chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, cancer-related nausea and appetite issues, and newer studies show it could even have an impact on heart health and some neurological disorders such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Although its popularity as an over-the-counter remedy has some calling CBD a modern day snake oil, the reality is that studies suggest otherwise. The human body contains a specialized system called the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in the regulation of sleep, appetite, pain sensation, and immune system response. Our body naturally produces endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors in our nervous system. Studies have shown that the way CBD affects that receptor activity, reducing inflammation, and interacting with the neurotransmitters.
The edible seeds, sometimes called hemp hearts, are packed with extractable oil and are a good source of protein, fiber, and magnesium. They have a mild, nutty flavor, and are a wonderful addition to salads, rice pilafs, oatmeal, yogurt or baked goods. Hemp seed oil has a low smoke point, so it’s a great oil for sautéing, but it’s also light enough for salad dressing.
Hemp seeds are also:
- Full of healthy fats (the Omega-3 fatty acids that you’re supposed to get more of in your diet) and phytosterols, which help remove fatty build-up in your arteries.
- Have all 10 essential amino acids, which makes them a great protein source, especially for those following a vegan diet. (Hemp seeds contain more than 30g of protein per 100g.)
- Have tons of magnesium, which plays an important role in the metabolism of food. Older populations often struggle with magnesium deficiency, which is linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, and osteoporosis.
What’s the catch?
Two things to be aware of before you consider adding hemp to your lifestyle:
- Hemp is high in phytic acid, which can inhibit the absorption of iron and other minerals (so it’s not great for people who are anemic, for example.)
- Hemp seeds in large amounts have been shown to inhibit platelet formation and interact poorly with blood-thinning medications, so people need to be aware of that as well.
As with all things related to your health, please talk to your medical professional before making any dietary changes.