Hemp has been called a plant of "major economic importance," as it grows like a weed, yet can be used in the production of food, personal care products, textiles, paper, and even plastic and construction materials.
Valued since ancient times as a fiber source for textiles, the hemp industry eventually made it to the US, where it flourished in the mid-1800s, through World War I and again briefly during World War II, when the war cut off supplies of fiber.
In the US, the cultivation of hemp has been banned since the 1970s when the federal Controlled Substances Act took effect. The law doesn't distinguish between marijuana, the drug, and hemp, the plant, despite major scientific differences.
Ironically, the US is the world's largest consumer of hemp products, yet is the only industrialized country that also outlaws its production. As a result, all US hemp products – a more than $600-million market in the US – are imported.As noted in "Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America:"
"Cannabis sativa [hemp] is extremely unusual in the diversity of products for which it is or can be cultivated.Popular Mechanics magazine (1938) touted hemp as 'the new billion dollar crop,' stating that it 'can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.'"
Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, but there are noted differences between the two plants. They both contain cannabidiol (CBD), which has medicinal properties. The amount of CBD however, differs greatly between the two.
Dosing, therefore, is dramatically different when you to try to use hemp in lieu of cannabis for medicinal purposes, as the latter, cannabis, is up to 100-fold more potent.
Another difference that appears to matter in terms of its usefulness as medicine relates to differing terpene profiles. Hemp contains very little of these valuable medicinal compounds.
Lastly, there's the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana; it's the molecule that makes you feel "stoned." (While cannabidiol (CBD) also has certain psychoactive properties.
It does NOT produce a high.) By legal definition, hemp cannot have more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in it. So to summarize:
Hemp has less value for medicinal uses, as it only contains about 4 percent CBD and lacks many of the medicinal terpenes and flavonoids.
It also contains less than 0.3 percent THC, which means it cannot produce a high or get you stoned. While hemp may not have the same medicinal uses as marijuana, it does have excellent nutritional value that may boost health.
Marijuana can act as a potent medicine courtesy of high amounts (about 10 to 20 percent) of CBD, critical levels of medicinal terpenes, and flavonoids, as well as THC in varying ratios for various diseases. The higher the THC, the more pronounced its psychoactive effects.
If there were still any question over whether or not hemp and marijuana are two different plants, it should be put to rest with the publication of a new study that shows the genetic difference between hemp and marijuana.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota's (U of M) College of Biological Sciences and College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences belong to one of the few groups of US scientists that have been granted federal clearance to study cannabis.
After more than 12 years of research, the team found a single gene that is responsible for the genetic differences between hemp and marijuana. As noted by Medical Daily:
"While hemp produces a non-euphoric cannabidiol (CBD) with approximately 0.3 to 1.5 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration, marijuana is packed with between five to 10 percent (or even higher) psychoactive THC concentration."
The researchers believe they have "indisputable evidence" that hemp and marijuana should be regarded as separate plants.
Nearly half of US states now separate hemp from marijuana. George Weiblen, a professor with a joint appointment in the U of M's College of Biological Sciences and College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, said:
"It's a plant of major economic importance that is very poorly understood scientifically… With this study, we have indisputable evidence for a genetic basis of differences among cannabis varieties, further challenging the position that all cannabis should be regulated as a drug."
One of the under-appreciated benefits of hemp, at least in the US, is as a food source. Hemp seeds, which are technically a nut and are also known as "hemp hearts," are rich in healthy fats, protein, and minerals.
Hemp seeds are usually consumed after the hard outer shell is removed, leaving just the soft, creamy "heart" behind. The seeds have a slight nutty flavor, making them incredibly versatile for use in cooking, baking, or for adding to smoothies and salads. Some of their primary health benefits include:
Excellent Source of Nutrition
Hemp seeds are composed of more than 30 percent healthy fats, including the essential fatty acids linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid (plant-based omega-3). According to research published in Nutrition & Metabolism.
"Dietary hempseed is… particularly rich in the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA) and also contains elevated concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid (ALA). The LA:ALA ratio normally exists in hempseed at between 2:1 and 3:1 levels. This proportion has been proposed to be ideal for a healthy diet."
Hemp seeds also contain gamma-linolenic acid, which supports the normal function and growth of cells, nerves, muscles, and organs throughout your body.
Hemps seeds are about 25 percent protein and also provide nutrients including vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, and zinc.
Hemp seeds contain numerous heart-healthy compounds, including the amino acid arginine. L-arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide in your body. It has been shown to enhance blood flow and help you maintain optimal blood pressure. Nitric oxide signals the smooth muscle cells in your blood vessels to relax, so that your vessels dilate and your blood flows more freely.
This helps your arteries stay free of plaque. When you have inadequate nitric oxide, your risk for coronary artery disease increases. The gamma-linolenic acid found in hemp seeds is anti-inflammatory, another bonus for heart health. Past research has also shown hemp seeds may help reduce blood pressure, decrease the risk of blood clots, and boost recovery after a heart attack.
Fatty-acid deficiency can manifest in a variety of ways, but skin problems such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels are common. Hemp seeds are a rich source of fatty acids in the optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Research suggests hempseed oil may improve symptoms of atopic dermatitis and potentially provide relief from eczema.
Although I believe protein from high-quality animal sources is beneficial for most people, if you are following a plant-based diet, hemp makes a healthy source of protein. With all of the essential amino acids and an amount of protein similar to beef (by weight), hemp seeds are an excellent form of plant-based protein.
Two to three tablespoons of hemp seeds provides about 11 grams of protein, complete with the amino acids lysine, methionine, and cysteine. Two main proteins in hemp seed protein, albumin and edestin, are rich in essential amino acids, with profiles comparable to soy and egg white. Hemp's edestin content is among the highest of all plants. Hemp protein is also easy to digest because of its lack of oligosaccharides and trypsin inhibitors, which can affect protein absorption.
PMS and Menopause Symptoms
The gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in hemp seeds produces prostaglandin E1, which reduces the effects of the hormone prolactin. Prolactin is thought to play a role in the physical and emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). GLA in hemp seeds may also help reduce the symptoms of menopause.
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