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 Hemp: Nature's Forgotten Nutraceutical: Hemp: Nature's Forgotten Nutraceutical - As Seen in Natural Pharmacy Magazine 
 
Dr. Darrell Tanelian L. MD, PhD ©
That the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) is used as food initially surprises and confuses most people. The public information system has largely restricted knowledge of hemp to its use for obtaining marijuana (Cannabis sativa), with its leaf content of the psychoactive substance delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), rope and cloth from the fiber of the plant, and paper from the plant stalk. Yet both the oldest Chinese agricultural treatise, the Xia Xiao Zheng, written in the 16th century BC, and other Chinese records discuss hemp as one of the major grain crops grown in ancient China.1, 2

Besides its propagation in China, the cultivation and use of hemp has, since the beginnings of recorded history, also been documented by many other great civilizations, including: India, Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt, and other nations of the Near East; and the Aztec and Mayan civilizations of South America; as well as by native cultures in North America and Europe. Indeed, it might be said that over these thousands of years, hemp has always followed humankind throughout the world, or vice versa.

Nutritionally, the key point about hemp is that its edible portion--the meat of the shelled seed--resembles the seeds of other cultivated grains including wheat and rye, and does not contain THC.

Moreover, the strains of hemp plant used for food have been naturally selected so as to produce little THC, generally. These nutritional varieties of hemp plant grow in temperate climates to heights of 14 feet, and as with many agricultural grains, their seeds can be harvested in a conventional manner with a combine. Since the most modern handling and shelling of the seed minimize its contact with leaf resins, the shelled seed itself and the oil, nut butter, and other foods prepared from the seed have been made with THC concentrations as low as 1 ucg/g (ppm) to nondetectible. These modern hemp products, when consumed in normally recommended amounts, should all but eliminate positive urine tests for THC.3 Studies conducted on older versions of hemp seed oil found some to contain THC concentrations that resulted in positive urine tests.4

Nutrients in Hemp Seed
The most basic hemp seed product is the shelled seed, sometimes referred to as the "hemp seed nut." The other major hemp food products are hemp seed nut butter, which resembles peanut and other nut butters, and cold-pressed hemp seed oil and hemp seed flour. These basic products can be consumed alone or used along with or instead of other grains, seeds, nuts, and oils in any appropriate recipe.

In terms of its nutrient content, shelled hemp seed is 34.6% protein, 46.5% fat, and 11.6% carbohydrate (Table 1). The most important feature of hemp seed is that it provides both of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed in the human diet--linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid--as well as a complete and balanced complement of all essential amino acids.

Hemp Fats
As compared with most nuts and seeds, the 46.5% fat content of shelled hemp seed is relatively low, and hemp food products have a low cholesterol content and high content of the natural phytosterols that reduce cholesterol levels. Hemp seed oil has on average the highest mono and polyunsaturated fat content of all oils, taken collectively, of 89% (Table 2). The polyunsaturated linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, is present in hemp seed oil in a content of 55.6 g/100 g, and alpha-linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid, is present at 17.2 g/100 g. The ratio of the two EFAs is 3.38, closely approximating the 4.0 average ratio recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), Sweden and Japan for the human diet.5

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