Hemp is a tad of controversial topic, particularly because hemp wasn’t legalised in Australia until recently. For so long, hemp was sold as an ingredient for use in cosmetic products only. The history behind its illegality for consumption doles down to the fact that it is a species of cannabis. The two best known species of cannabis are cannabis indica (marijuana) and cannabis sativa (hemp). Cannabis plants are renowned for their content of cannabinoids, chemical compounds which give cannabis plants their unique qualities (1). Cannabinoids have the ability to bind to different receptors within the human body, producing a wide range of psychological and biological effects (1), maintaining homeostasis.
Present in all mammalian species, including the human body, is the endocannabinoid system (1). Within this system are receptors which have the ability to bind to certain neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids, which are naturally found in the body (1). This system plays an important role in the normal functioning of the nervous, immune and endocrine systems (1). There are 2 receptors found in this system, CB1 receptors found in the brain, and CB2 receptors found throughout the body (1).
Cannabinoids found in plants are referred to as phytocannabinoids (1). Of the most well-known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which have different qualities. THC is responsible for marijuana’s ability to cause a mind-altering ‘high’, as it binds to the CB1 Receptors in the brain. THC also binds to the CB2 Receptors throughout the body, assisting in the improvement of pain and lowering of inflammation. THC is present in marijuana at quantities between 5 and 35% (2), and in quantities less than 0.3% in hemp (2). Because this amount of THC is so low, it doesn’t have an effect. Furthermore, CBD in the presence of THC directly reduces the binding of THC, therefore suppressing its activating qualities (3). Whilst CBD binds minimally to CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD has been found to bind to several non-cannaboid receptors and ion channels (4). These include receptors that regulate serotonin (anti-anxiety neurotransmitter) and those that modulate pain, inflammation and body temperature (4). Naturally, hemp has a higher concentration of CBD than marijuana.
Amongst the presence of CBD remains many other benefits of hemp. Hemp is a good source of fatty acids, particularly polyunsaturated acids (PUFAs), which make up 80% of its total fat content (5). The most potent sources of PUFAs in hemp are omega-3 and omega-6, which are termed essential fatty acids as the human body does not have the ability to produce them and they therefore must be obtained from the diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are present in hemp in the forms of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and stearidonic acid (6). In general, omega-3s are integral to the formation of cell membranes, the functioning of their receptors, and cellular division (7). In the body ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, however the conversion rate is very low (7). As a result, do note that it is necessary to obtain DHA and EPA from marine sources, particularly fatty fish, shellfish and marine algae (8). Both DHA and EPA are well known for their benefits in supporting health of the heart, brain and eyes (8). ALA as a result is mainly used as an energy source (7).
Omega-6 fatty acids are present in hemp as linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid (6). In general, omega-6s contribute to the structure and functioning of cellular membranes, as well as regulate genetic activity within the cell (9). Linoleic acid cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained through the diet (9). It serves as a precursor to gamma–linolenic acid and arachidonic acid, which is abundant in the brain (9). Gamma-linolenic acid serves as a precursor to prostaglandins and other related substances that assist with blood clotting, inflammation and smooth muscle tone (9).
In general, healthy fats assist with so many bodily functions. They are a source of energy and provide satiation due to their richer calorie content. When eaten as healthy sources, they may assist with healthy weight gain. They assist with the production of hormones which rely on the presence of fat in the body, including oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. They insulate and protect our vital organs. One of the major functions of fats is there role in assisting with the absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A,D, E, and K).
One amazing benefit I have found from eating hemp seeds is that my skin has improved dramatically. The pigmentation, tone, and texture of my skin has evened out, and if I don’t eat hemp seeds for a week or so, I notice my skin developing more pimples/blackheads/bumps. Through the research I have done, I believe this is particularly due to the effects the fats have on the body, particularly the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6.
Many of us look to animal protein as a complete source of protein, but who knew hemp is actually a plant-based source? Up to 36% of the seeds of the hemp plant contain protein, present as 20 amino acids (10). Of these amino acids, 9 are essential, which means that our bodies cannot produce them on their own, and therefore we must obtain them through our diet. Protein has many vital functions in the body. It is required for growth, maintenance and repair as it provides the building blocks for many bodily structures including skin, muscle, organs, bones, hair etc. It is essential for digestion as enzymes that assist with breaking down food are made from protein. Hormones, which are chemical messengers that assist with regulating bodily processes, consist of protein, particularly insulin (assists with regulating of blood sugars) and human growth hormone (assists with regulating growth). Antibodies which form a major component of our immune system consist of a protein structure, without them we wouldn’t be able to fight off the bad bugs!! Protein assists with chemical homeostasis, including balancing fluid and electrolytes, buffering the body’s pH. And finally, it assists with transportation of fats, vitamins, minerals and oxygen within the body. Whether you’re vegetarian or trying to cut down on your consumption of animal protein, hemp could be a good alternative for you. You can read more about protein here.
Hemp seeds are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sulphur, iron, zinc and potassium (11), and a number of B group vitamins which assist with many bodily functions (12). Hemp seeds also contain a significant amount of vitamin E in the form of tocopherols (11). Vitamin E is vital for reproductive health and maintenance of body cells (13). It is also a major antioxidant, with its roles including; the protection of fats and other components of cells (including cell membranes) from oxidation, the prevention of oxidation of polyunsaturated fats, and the protection of cells, including the cells of the lungs where there is significant exposure to oxygen (14).
Hemp seeds. What’s not to love about this nutrition powerhouse? Keep an eye out for some upcoming recipes I plan to publish when I get back from my holiday in Croatia. I truly believe hemp seeds have improved my health and they can improve yours too. Why not give them a try, I promise you won’t regret it!
1. What Are Cannabinoids? [Online] 2017. https://www.leafscience.com/2017/10/25/what-are-cannabinoids/.
2. Are Hemp and Marijuana the Same? . Ministry of Hemp. [Online] https://ministryofhemp.com/hemp/not-marijuana/.
3. What are the Differences Between CBD and THC? Medical Marijuana, Inc. News. [Online] 2017. https://news.medicalmarijuanainc.com/differences-cbd-thc/.
4. How CBD works . Project CBD . [Online] https://www.projectcbd.org/science/cannabis-pharmacology/how-cbd-works.
5. Nutritional Composition . Hemp Oil of Canada . [Online] https://www.hempoilcan.com/why-hemp/nutritional-composition/.
7. The Critical Differences Between Omega-3 Fats From Plants and Marine Animals. Mercola . [Online] 2016. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/09/11/omega-3-from-plants-vs-marine-animals.aspx.
8. Fact: Not all omega-3s are created equal. Always Omega 3s. [Online] https://alwaysomega3s.com/learn/epa-dha-ala-omega-3s.
9. Omega-6 Fatty Acids . Michigan Medicine, University of Mihigan. [Online] https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-10007437.
11. Berardi, John. All About Hemp . Precision Nutrition . [Online] https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-hemp.
12. Hemp Foods Australia. Nutrition. [Online] https://www.hempfoods.com.au/page/nutrition/.
13. Vitamin E Benefits, Foods & Side Effects. Dr. Axe. [Online] https://draxe.com/vitamin-e-benefits/.
14. Vitamin E . National Institutes of Health . [Online] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/.