What is Hemp?

Hemp is an extremely versatile plant, whose different constituents have the ability to provide shelter, textiles, and food. In fact, it is suggested that the uses for hemp extend to some 50,000 different products. Hemp is also good for the environment with its ability to sequester 8.9 tonnes of CO2 per acre, more than trees, but we will need a lot more hemp farmers to help the Irish government recover from its abysmal performance on the EU 2020 Climate Package.

Food products come from the top part of the plant, the seed, bud, and leaf. The seeds can be pressed into healthy oils that can contain >80% polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). These PUFA’s obtained from hemp contain a perfect ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fatty acids of 3:1, which are considered essential fatty acids since they cannot be synthesised by mammals. PUFA’s are necessary for many physiological processes such as cardiovascular health, skin integrity, metabolic and inflammation regulation, and brain development and function.

A by-product of pressed hempseed is the hempseed meal/cake which can be further processed into flour and a good source of protein (containing all essential amino acids), fibre, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. The bud and leaf of the hemp plant contain further health beneficial properties owning to its high cannabinoid and terpene concentration.

There are over 100 different cannabinoids in hemp, the most commonly known and most researched are THC the psychoactive component, and CBD (Cannabidiol) which interestingly possesses anti-psychoactive properties. However, there are many others of interest such as CBG (Cannabigerols), CBN (cannabinols), CBC (Cannabichromenes), CBL (cannabicyclols). Cannabinoids are of great interest because of their potential use in therapeutics, and have been often indicated for the treatment of pain, nausea, depression, inflammatory conditions, and neuralgia.

Another organic compound found in hemp is that of terpenes. Terpenes produced on hemp are responsible for its strong aromatic characteristics, and their role in protection and pollination of the plant. Terpenes are also gaining attention for their potential as novel therapeutics in many areas of biomedicine. However, the hemp industry is still in its infancy, and although much research suggests hemp exherts a plethora of health benefits, legislation prevents such products on the market to claim any health benefits. Although a quick read of some manufacturers reviews might tell a different story.