Hemp 101: Everything You Need to Know About This Often Misunderstood Plant
If you’re up on the latest trends in the green and natural world, you may have noticed that hemp — the sober first-cousin of marijuana — is kind of a big deal right now. The marijuana industry is undergoing a massive boom, and the humble hemp plant is riding on its coattails. Hemp products can be seen everywhere, from the fashion world to food world to beauty and beyond. Hemp is a powerhouse plant that offers a myriad of benefits, from whole-food nutrition to skin-loving beauty to sustainable agriculture.
Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know to about hemp products — what hemp is, how it’s used, and all the benefits of different hemp products.
What is hemp?
You’ve probably gathered that hemp is somehow related to marijuana, but how exactly are the two connected? Hemp — a non-psychoactive plant grown for medicinal, food, and industrial purposes — and marijuana — a THC-containing plant most often used to get high — are different forms of the same species: Cannabis sativa.
Humans have been growing the cannabis plant for millennia. It’s thought to be one of the first crops that humans domesticated. Over time, different varieties of the plant were grown different purposes. Sturdier plants were selected for their strong materials, and eventually became what we now know as hemp. Other plants were bred to enhance their psychoactive effects, and these are now known as marijuana.
People have used the hemp plant for many purposes throughout history. Hemp fibres can be used to make rope, paper, and fabrics. It has also historically been used as medicine and as food.
Today, much of the world’s hemp supply is grown in China. The cannabis plant is native to China, so it thrives in Chinese growing conditions. It’s also highly profitable — moreso than other crops — so many farmers are switching to growing hemp. Despite this, hemp farming is illegal in many jurisdictions in China, as well as in the US and some other areas due to its association with marijuana. This is despite the fact that hemp contains very little of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC.
The demand for hemp has been rising over time, partly because it’s the source of choice for the ever-popular non-psychoactive compound CBD. Other hemp products, such as hemp hearts, hemp creams, and hemp clothing are also in high demand because they have a number of desirable benefits.
What are the benefits of hemp products?
Hemp is a versatile plant with a number of benefits, whether it’s being used as a supplement, as a whole food, or in beauty products. Hemp is a highly nutritious food, offering omega-6 and omega-3 fats, minerals, and protein in a tasty, crunchy package. Hemp can also be made into protein powders and oils for supplementation. In the beauty realm, hemp is a moisturizing, nourishing ingredient that can benefit both the skin and the hair.
One of the biggest overall benefits of hemp is that it is sustainable and eco-friendly. The plant is naturally resistant to pests, meaning fewer pesticides are needed during production. Crops like cotton produce dioxins and other toxic chemicals during production, while hemp does not. The whole hemp plant can be used, including the fibres, the oils, and the seeds. Hemp is overall considered to be an efficient use of farming land.
Hemp Food Products
Hemp seeds can be shelled and eaten whole, also known as hemp hearts. These crunchy, flavourful seeds are delicious and versatile. Hemp hearts contain high levels of protein, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, GLA (gamma linoleic acid), and fibre. They’re widely regarded as a superfood, and are especially loved by those who are looking for a plant-based source of omega-3s.
Hemp hearts are often compared to flax seeds and chia seeds. Hemp seeds contain more protein, more omegas, and more iron than flax seeds and chia seeds, making them a better choice than these other seeds for those looking for dense nutrition.
There are a number of other hemp food products. Hemp oils can be used as a salad dressing or nutritional supplement. Hemp milk is a popular cow’s milk alternative, with a different nutritional profile than soy or almond. Hemp is also a popular ingredient in breakfast cereals. When it comes to hemp food products, the options are endless.
Hemp is a popular source of plant-based protein, and there are a number of hemp protein powders on the market. Hemp offers a complete plant protein that’s only rivalled by soybeans, and it’s considered one of the better-tasting plant-based protein powders. People who are sensitive to dairy-based proteins like whey may benefit from hemp, as it’s generally reported to be easy on the stomach.
Hemp can also be processed into a nutty, grassy-tasting oil. This product, known as hemp seed oil, contains high levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Many vegans like to take hemp seed oil as a supplement to boost their intake of these essential fatty acids. Hemp oil is also thought to contain a number of different trace minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium and zinc. Cold-pressed hemp oils contain more nutrition than refined versions.
Hemp Beauty Products
Hemp is also a great ingredient to look out for in beauty and skincare products. Hemp seed oil is often used in body washes, skin creams, and other skin products. It functions as an emollient, meaning it’s moisturizing to the skin. Hemp also contains essential fatty acids and micronutrients that are good for the skin.
What does science have to say about hemp and beauty? A 2005 study found that dietary hemp seed oil reduced the symptoms of eczema, meaning the beauty benefits of hemp are not limited to topical application. Hemp seed oils also contain antioxidants, which may help reduce the impact of free radicals on the skin aging process.
Aside from skincare, hemp is also used for hair care. It’s a great ingredient to look out for in shampoos, conditioners, and serums. Hemp seed oils seal in moisture without weighing your hair down. The fatty acids and micronutrients can also help nourish your hair, and hemp protein can help repair damaged hair.
While the marijuana revolution sweeps the planet, the versatile, eco-friendly hemp plant is also having its own heyday. Humans have been using hemp for millennia as a source of materials, medicine, and nutrition. Today, there are a number of hemp products available on the market.
From skin-smoothing creams, to muscle-building protein powder, to crunchy, flavourful hemp hearts, there are plenty of hemp products to choose from. This sustainable, beneficial plant contains a complete protein, omega 3’s and 6’s, and a number of vitamins and minerals. Whether it’s used topically or as a food, hemp is sure to enhance your healthy lifestyle and align with your eco-friendly values.
Laura Tennant is a Toronto freelance health writer. She holds an Honours B.Sc. in Neuroscience from the University of Toronto. She loves using her writing to help others make better-informed choices about their health and lifestyle. When she’s not writing, she’s tending her houseplants, working out at the gym, and finding reasons to laugh.