What Is Hemp Good For?

The Wholesomeness of Hemp
Botanical name: Cannabis sativa

Hemp Nutrition Facts

A controversial crop that's been demonized for at least 80 years, hemp has run the proverbial gauntlet in the U.S. due to political dissent, special interests and downright suspicion.1 Nevertheless, every bit of this ancient plant is useful and valuable, and not just for rope,2 but for auto parts,3 cosmetics, textiles and medicine as well.4 In ancient China, hemp was used as food and medicine.5

Today, you'll find nutty-tasting hemp seeds in various products, such as hemp seed butter, energy bars, meal, oil and even milk.6 It's a niche market with a growing number of specialty outlets due to an increased understanding of this food's nutritional benefits.

Hemp is cultivated in at least 30 countries, with Canada as one of the world's top growers. In fact, much of the U.S. supply comes from this country.7 Worldwide, hemp seed production alone has soared from around 33,000 metric tons in the late '90s to more than 100,000 metric tons annually between 2005 and 2011.8

In 1938, Popular Mechanics called hemp the "Billion Dollar Crop,"9 praising its potential to produce over 25,000 different products, from dynamite to cellophane. However, American industrialists led by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (who owned paper mills) and DuPont executives had begun processing petroleum to create plastics, and had become disgruntled by the way hemp cut into their market shares. In an article by Dr. David Bearman on HuffPost, he writes that these two parties were "the force behind the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937."10

This perpetuated what may be one of the country's biggest frauds. Part of the confusion is that many people assume hemp and marijuana are one and the same, especially since they inexplicably share the scientific name Cannabis sativa.11 While they both belong to the same plant species, they're two distinct varieties.12

It's important to know the distinctions between the cannabis species so you can have an informed opinion. The list below briefly explains the three cannabis species:

  • Cannabis sativa — This annual herb in the Cannabaceae family has been cultivated for centuries for use as an industrial fiber, food, drug, medicine and spiritual tool. One of its earliest recorded medical uses is for pain during the Han Dynasty in China.13
  • Cannabis indica — The annual plant of the Cannabaceae family is considered a species of the genus Cannabis, but separate from Cannabis sativa. The plant is described as relatively short and conical with dense branches and short, broad leaves, while Cannabis sativa is tall with fewer branches and long, narrow leaves.14
  • Cannabis ruderalisn — Thought to be a cannabis species originating in southern Russia, it is much smaller, and can withstand much colder climates than Cannabis sativa. This species purportedly buds based on age rather than changes in length of daylight, known as auto-flowering.15

Perhaps the most important difference between hemp and marijuana is that marijuana has a high delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, which has medicinal properties and supplies the sought-after psychotropic effect.16 Hemp is just the opposite, with the "total THC less than 0.3% dry weight in leaves and buds."17 In fact, clinical studies show that cannabidiol (CBD) blocks the effect of THC in the nervous system. Both THC and CBD are cannabinoids,18 but it's the amount that needs to be examined.

Currently, CBD is easily obtainable in most states, with all of them having laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, which can be confusing.19 However, recent activity in Washington has legislators in every aisle waving banners for hemp. In 2019, 48 states produced bills to encourage industrial hemp production. The majority of states have also taken an interest in growing hemp due to revisions of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and considered it an agricultural product."20

Health Benefits of Hemp

Hemp seed can be considered a superfood because it contains proteins, as well as a healthy ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids that are important for proper biological function. It's also rich in other nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc.21

All of these nutrients in hemp work together to help reduce inflammation22 and may help manage neurological problems such "psychotic, anxiety and depressive-like behaviors,"23 as well as boosting your antioxidant profile.24 An article25 on Purdue University's agricultural website also has a lot to say about the positive benefits of hemp oil:

“Hemp is of high nutritional quality because it contains high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids … Linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are the only two fatty acids that must be ingested and are considered essential to human health … In contrast to shorter-chain and more saturated fatty acids, these essential fatty acids do not serve as energy sources, but as raw materials for cell structure and as precursors for biosynthesis for many of the body's regulatory biochemicals…”  

The article states that hemp is the only current natural food source of gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA:26

“…known to affect vital metabolic roles in humans, ranging from control of inflammation and vascular tone to initiation of contractions during childbirth. GLA has been found to alleviate psoriasis, atopic eczema and mastalgia, and may also benefit cardiovascular, psychiatric and immunological disorders.”

Purdue University also noted that hemp seed oil contains high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids essential for health, such as oleic acid, linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid.27 Each fatty acid has its own benefits — for example, oleic acid has been found to help improve immune response to eliminate pathogens quicker.28 Alpha-linoleic acid, on the other hand, is an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants, and is essential for better cardiovascular health.29

Another amazing thing about hemp is that it supplies all essential amino acids.30 These acids are the precursors to protein, which may help your body repair damaged tissue, or be used as an energy source.31

Dietary fiber is another area where hemp seeds excel — an amazing 27.6 grams per 100 grams.32 It is an important component to digestive health, and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as potentially lowering the risk of colorectal cancer.33 Furthermore, hemp seed is high in nutrients like iron, zinc and copper as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, carotene, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B6 and vitamin E.34

Other published studies have highlighted the many potential medical properties of hemp:

  • Antiemetic — Reduces nausea and vomiting35
  • Anticonvulsant — Controls seizures36
  • Antipsychotic — Fights psychotic disorders37
  • Antioxidant — Reduce damage from oxidative stress38
  • Anti-tumor/anti-cancer — Combats tumors and cancer cells39
  • Antidepressant — Controls depression and anxiety40

For more information regarding hemp, you may refer to the table below.41

Hemp Seed Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 3 tablespoons (30 grams), hemp seed, hulled
  Amt. Per
Calories 166  
Calories from Fat    
Total Fat 14.6 g  
Saturated Fat 1.38 g  
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg  
Total Carbohydrates 2.6 g  
Dietary Fiber 1.2 g  
Protein 9.47 g  
Vitamin A 3.3 IU Vitamin C 0.15 mg
Calcium 21 mg Iron 2.38 mg

Studies on Hemp

Scientists in Europe and North America concluded that hemp seed is an excellent source of nutrition. Numerous anecdotal incidences cited improvements in a wide range of acute and chronic conditions such as rapid healing of skin lesions and relief from flu, inflammation and allergies. The benefits were attributed to the presence of rich source of the essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid, and their respective biologic metabolites, GLA and stearidonic acid.42

A 2004 study examined the potential benefits of hemp seed oil with low (0.3%) THC content, with results indicating that the plant can be considered "a source of bioactive compounds contributing applications for hemp seed oil in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic food and other non-food industries."43

Scientists found DNA-altering, detrimental and damaging potential from ingested cannabis smoke, and even the possibility of initiating cancer development.44

Healthy Hemp Seed Recipe:
Creamy Hemp Pesto Sauce

Hemp Healthy Recipes


2 cups fresh basil, packed

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of salt and pepper

1/3 cup hemp seeds

2 garlic cloves

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup cashew cream


  1. To make the cashew cream, place 1 cup of cashews and 3/4 cup of water in a blender until smooth.
  2. To make the pesto, blend the basil, garlic, lemon zest, salt, pepper and hemp seeds until coarse in a food processor. Drizzle in olive oil while processing until smooth.
  3. Add the cashew cream. You can use this sauce for your zucchini noodles.

(Recipe adapted from One Green Planet45)

Hemp Fun Facts

Legend has it that Buddha went on a six-year fast, sustained by eating a single hemp seed every day. As the Purdue University Horticulture website terms it, "This apocryphal story holds a germ of truth — hemp seed is astonishingly nutritional."46


C.S. Lewis said "badness is only spoiled goodness."47 This may be an apt quote regarding the public perception about hemp. It's true that hemp's scientific name (Cannabis sativa) is the same as marijuana, but its constituents are far different. The three cannabis plants (sativa, indica and ruderalis) all have their own uses.

Hemp seeds contain essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid and even all the amino acids required to build protein. Altogether, hemp supplies innumerable health benefits. After decades of misunderstanding, scientists have again been tapping the amazing potential of this versatile plant.