Pubdate: Sun, 01 Dec 2002
Source: Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition (Canada)
Author: Darrell L. Tanelian, MD, PhD


That the hemp plant is used as food initially surprises and confuses most
people. The public information system has largely restricted knowledge of
hemp to its use in making rope and cloth from the fibre of the plant, and
paper from the plant stalk. Yet both the oldest Chinese agricultural
treatise, the Xia Xiao Zheng, written around 1600 BC, and other Chinese
records discuss hemp as one of the major grain crops grown in ancient China.

The cultivation and use of hemp (Cannabis sativa) has also been documented
by many other ancient civilizations, including India, Sumeria, Babylonia,
Persia, Egypt, Europe, the Aztec and Mayan civilizations of South America,
and native cultures in North America. Over thousands of years, hemp has
followed humankind throughout the world--or vice versa. Grown legally in
Canada since 1998, it is making a comeback as a highly sustainable crop that
grows easily in the Canadian climate, providing both health and
environmental benefits.

The strains of hemp used for food have been naturally selected to produce
little of the psychoactive substance delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
found in marijuana. And since the most modern handling and shelling of the
seed minimizes its contact with leaf resins, the shelled seed itself and the
oil, nut butter and other foods prepared from it have THC concentrations as
low as one part per million to nondetectible.

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

Hemp fats While hemp seed is an excellent source of protein that also
contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, its most important feature is
that it provides both essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed in the human
diet--linoleic (omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).
These fats are "essential" because they cannot be manufactured in the body
and so must be consumed as food. Hemp has an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 3.38,
which is closest to the optimum 4.0 average recommended by the World Health
Organization for the human diet.

Hemp for heart health EFAs are essential for the health of the heart.
Numerous studies show that substituting healthy polyunsaturated fats such as
hemp for saturated fats can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest and
fatal cardiac arrhythmia, as well as reduce blood cholesterol levels and
decrease the cellular buildup in arteries associated with atherosclerosis.
Hemp also contains phytosterols, which have been shown to reduce total blood
cholesterol by an average of 10 per cent and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
cholesterol by an average of 13 per cent.

Hemp for brain health Because EFAs make up a large portion of the brain,
hemp is especially beneficial for brain health, particularly memory
function. Membrane loss of EFAs has been found in such disorders as
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Research has shown that a diet with a
proper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids--such as in hemp oil--may
help delay or reduce the neurological effects of these diseases and improve
quality of life.

Hemp for skin health The critical importance of EFAs for healthy skin makes
hemp seed oil a highly effective skin care and cosmetic product. Its lipid
constituents allow it to permeate through the skin and nourish skin cells
directly. For this reason, hemp oil is beneficial for skin conditions such
as eczema or psoriasis. For the health of skin and hair, nourishing and
balancing hemp oil is now added to a multitude of soaps, shampoos, skin
lotions, lip balms, conditioners and other natural skin-care products.

The Chinese and other great civilizations of the world valued this plant for
its marvellous versatility. Let us rediscover its forgotten health benefits.
If properly understood and accepted, hemp can resume its rightful role in
nourishing the body and preventing disease.

References available on request.

Dr. Tanelian has held academic and professorial positions in neuroscience,
neurology and biomedical engineering at Stanford University and the
University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He has written and
published more than 100 peer-reviewed medical and scientific articles, and
currently conducts research in clinical nutrition and clinical biochemistry
as related to major disease states.