Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds: Hype or Reality?

Hemp is the new wonder plant that a lot of people are talking about these days. Hemp seeds, hemp oil, hemp plastic, hemp fiber, hemp fuel – all are supposedly miraculously beneficial for human beings and mother earth. It is not illogical to wonder the extent to which these claims are real.

In this article, we look only at what evidence exists for the health benefits of the hemp seeds.

Some Basic Facts

Hemp, or industrial hemp, is not a newly discovered plant. It is one of the earliest plant species that human beings cultivated and used. A 2015 article in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, published by the University of Toronto, mentions that humans used hemp fiber some 10,000 year ago. 

Why, then, all the hype about hemp is so recent? Why have we not been using the plant and its products till very recently? The simplest response to these questions is: as a result of the myopic vision of finite human beings.

Hemp cultivation and use got banned in the US and many other countries across the globe in the late 20th century. The US first controlled hemp cultivation and the derivative industries way back in 1937. But it was in 1970 that the Controlled Substances Act effectively killed hemp production in the US.

This Act named hemp and hemp products as contraband. Much of the world soon followed. A plant in use for thousands of years got obliterated just like that. There are controversial conspiracy theories that link the attacks against hemp with vested interests of specific synthetic products, but we won’t get into that.

Hemp belongs to the plant species Cannabis Sativa. The psychoactive marijuana also belongs to that same species. The powers that be who banned hemp production only saw this much.

They overlooked a rather significant difference between these two plant cousins. Both plants contain the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). But its presence in the hemp plant is too low to cause the “high” that marijuana can.

A 2015 article in the North Dakota Law Review mentions that hemp has 0.3% or less concentration of THC. Marijuana, in contrast, contains anything between 4-12% of THC. Hemp has a much higher concentration (about 5%) of another chemical cannabidiol (CBD). This CBD content eliminates the psychoactive effects of hemp.

That is the crucial difference that lawmakers in the US and across the world failed to note. However, the turn of the millennium has brought humans back to their senses where hemp is concerned. Many countries have legalized hemp cultivation and industry, including the USA.

That is the reason behind hemp returning to the arena of public discourse only recently.

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Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds

Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds

The health benefits of this unduly maligned plant relate to its seeds, the oil derived from them, and the other kind of oil derived from its flowers, leaves, and stalks. In this article, we will explore only the health benefits of hemp seeds.

We present some reliable evidence about the nutritional value of hemp seeds. We also look at academic publications that extol the medicinal value of hemp seeds.

Hemp Seeds: Nutritional Value

Hemp seeds are edible and highly nutritious, especially with regard to amino acids and fatty acids vital for human health. On their website, the US Department of Agriculture offers a detailed nutritional breakdown of every 100 grams of dehulled hemp seeds. Dehulled means unshelled.

This breakdown reveals that 100 grams of dehulled hemp seeds contain 31.56 grams of protein. That makes these seeds an ideal source of protein especially for vegans. No plant protein other than hemp seeds contains all the 10 amino acids that the human body needs.

Another advantage of the hemp seed protein is that it contains no phytates. Phytates are a salt derived from phytic acid, the form in which organisms store phosphorous. Phytates can obstruct the absorption of minerals by the human body.

Hemp Seeds: Nutritional Value

Several beans, cereal grains, nuts, legumes and seeds contain phytates and phytic acid. Hemp seeds, however, are entirely free from them.

A special feature of hemp seeds is the ratio in which they contain omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids contain good fat that the human body needs.

According to experts, the ideal ratio of these two fatty acids for human beings is 1:3 – one portion of omega 3 fatty acids to 3 portions of omega 6. Hemp seeds contain this exact ratio. That has given these seeds the “super food” tag.

Dehulled hemp seeds also contain several essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Hulled or shelled hemp seeds retain much of the nutritional value, except the fiber. Hulled hemp seeds also go in the name of hemp hearts.

A 2019 article mentions that crushed hemp seeds after oil extraction through cold-press still contain 30-50% of protein. Hemp protein meal (HPM) is the name given to this version of hemp seeds. It is possible to further process HPM to derive hemp protein concentrate (HPC) which contains nearly 65% protein when dry.

The same article mentions that even dehulled hemp seeds are easily digestible by 2-5 year old pre-school children and elderly people.

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Medicinal Properties of Hemp Seeds

Several recent articles talk extensively about the medicinal qualities of hemp seeds and the need for further research in contemporary pharmaceutical industry. A 2004 article in the Euphytica mentions that hemp seeds and the oil derived from them have been used in traditional oriental medicine for treating a number of diseases and medical conditions.

An earlier study in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics systematically traces Arabic medicinal practices from the 8th to the 18th century to highlight the healing properties of hemp seeds. The authors inform us that the earliest mention in Arabic medicinal literature relates to the treatment of earache with oil derived from hemp seeds.

A recent article in the Nutrition & Metabolism Journal mentions the therapeutic properties of hemp seeds for the cardiovascular health of humans. The authors emphasize the need for further pharmaceutical research for improved utilization of hemp seeds for heart health in particular.

Parting Thought

All that is being said about the hemp plant may not be hype, after all. It is time we got rid of our earlier myopia and utilize the many benefits of this easy-to-grow plant.