Cannabis, or hemp (Cannabis sativa, C. indica), is an annual member of the Cannabinaceae family, which includes hops (Humulus lupulus), and is native to Asia. The authors of Is Marijuana the Right Medicine for You? define hemp as ‘marijuana’s nonpsychoactive cousin.’ While hemp has no psychoactive properties, like marijuana it is illegal to grow or possess raw hemp in the U.S. However, sterilized hemp seeds, the oil, and products made from the seeds and fiber are currently legal in the United States; this is because they contain virtually no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that gives marijuana its psychoactive effect.
Hemp’s history in the U.S.
Cannabis seeds were first brought to America in 1632 by the Pilgrims. By 1850, cannabis was America’s third largest crop. During the late l9th century, cannabis was prescribed for appetite loss, insomnia, migraines, twitching, excessive coughing, and during withdrawal from alcohol and opiate addiction.
The Harrison Drug Act of 1937, which made cannabis species illegal, was intended to give a surge to the logging and synthetic fiber industries, which were in competition with hemp (which can be used to make rope, cloth, and paper, among other things). Later, in 1943, 146,000 acres of hemp seed were planted in the United States in the “Hemp for Victory” campaign to empower U.S. troops to rely on American resources for their military and personal needs.
What hemp has to offer nutritionally
Hemp seed contains protein, lipids, choline, inositol, and enzymes. There is virtually no THC in the seed; the same holds true for the roots and stalks.
Hemp seed contains all eight essential amino acids, and is second only to soybeans in vegetable protein foods. It contains about 16 percent more essential fatty acids (EFAs) than does flaxseed, and has a delicious nutty flavor.
Hemp seed oil has a superb 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. It’s an excellent land-based vegetable oil useful for helping to avoid essential fatty acid deficiency. In his book, Fats that Heal Fats that Kill, Udo Erasmus tells us that “Hemp seed oil can be used over the long term to maintain a healthy EFA balance without leading to either EFA deficiency or imbalance.” As far as taste goes, Erasmus says it is similar to sunflower oil. He says it is good for all food uses, with the exception of frying and deep-frying, and adds that hemp seed oil should be refrigerated or frozen and shielded from light to prevent rancidity.
Hemp seed oil also has a wide variety of cosmetic uses in salves, lotions, soaps, massage oils, hair-care products, and lip balms.
Bello, Joan. The Benefits of Marijuana: Physical, Psychological and Spiritual. Cottonwood, Calif.: Sweetlight Books, 1996.
Conrad, Chris. Hemp for Health: Medicinal and Nutritional Uses of Cannabis Sativa. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press, 1997.
Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal Fats that Kill. Burnaby, B.C., Canada: Alive Books, 1993.
Herer, Jack. The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Van Nuys, Calif.: Queen of Clubs Publishing, 1990.
Potter, Beverly and Joy, Dan. The Healing Magic of Cannabis. Berkeley, Calif.: Ronin Publishing, 1998.
Weil, Andrew, M.D. and Rosen, Winifred. Chocolate to Morphine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983.
Zimmerman, Bill, Ph.D., et al. Is Marijuana the Right Medicine for You? New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, 1998.
Brigitte Mars is an herbalist and nutritional consultant from Boulder, Colo., who has been working with natural medicine for 30 years. She teaches herbology through The Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, The Boulder College of Massage Therapy, and Naropa Institute. Brigitte has a weekly Boulder radio show called “Naturally.” A professional member of The American Herbalist Guild, she is the author of two books by Keats Publishing: Elder and Herbs for Healthy Hair, Skin, and Nails.
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