Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, but there are noted differences between the two plants. They both contain cannabidiol (CBD), which has medicinal properties. The amount of CBD however, differs greatly between the two.
Dosing, therefore, is dramatically different when you to try to use hemp in lieu of cannabis for medicinal purposes, as the latter, cannabis, is up to 100-fold more potent.
Another difference that appears to matter in terms of its usefulness as medicine relates to differing terpene profiles. Hemp contains very little of these valuable medicinal compounds.
Lastly, there's the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana; it's the molecule that makes you feel "stoned." (While cannabidiol (CBD) also has certain psychoactive properties.
It does NOT produce a high.) By legal definition, hemp cannot have more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in it. So to summarize:
It also contains less than 0.3 percent THC, which means it cannot produce a high or get you stoned. While hemp may not have the same medicinaluses as marijuana, it does have excellent nutritional value that may boost health.
Hemp has less value for medicinal uses, as it only contains about 4 percent CBD and lacks many of the medicinal terpenes and flavonoids.
Marijuana can act as a potent medicine courtesy of high amounts (about 10 to 20 percent) of CBD, critical levels of medicinal terpenes, and flavonoids, as well as THC in varying ratios for various diseases. The higher the THC, the more pronounced its psychoactive effects.
Health Benefits of Hemp
One of the under-appreciated benefits of hemp, at least in the US, is as a food source. Hemp seeds, which are technically a nut and are also known as "hemp hearts," are rich in healthy fats, protein, and minerals.
Hemp seeds are usually consumed after the hard outer shell is removed, leaving just the soft, creamy "heart" behind. The seeds have a slight nutty flavor, making them incredibly versatile for use in cooking, baking, or for adding to smoothies and salads. Some of their primary health benefits include:8
Hemp seeds are composed of more than 30 percent healthy fats, including the essential fatty acids linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid (plant-based omega-3). According to research published in Nutrition & Metabolism:9
"Dietary hempseed is… particularly rich in the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA) and also contains elevated concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid (ALA). The LA:ALA ratio normally exists in hempseed at between 2:1 and 3:1 levels. This proportion has been proposed to be ideal for a healthy diet."
Hemp seeds also contain gamma-linolenic acid, which supports the normal function and growth of cells, nerves, muscles, and organs throughout your body.
Hemps seeds are about 25 percent protein and also provide nutrients including vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, and zinc.
Hemp seeds contain numerous heart-healthy compounds, including the amino acid arginine. L-arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide in your body. It has been shown to enhance blood flow and help you maintain optimal blood pressure. Nitric oxide signals the smooth muscle cells in your blood vessels to relax, so that your vessels dilate and your blood flows more freely.
This helps your arteries stay free of plaque. When you have inadequate nitric oxide, your risk for coronary artery disease increases. The gamma-linolenic acid found in hemp seeds is anti-inflammatory, another bonus for heart health. Past research has also shown hemp seeds may help reduce blood pressure, decrease the risk of blood clots, and boost recovery after a heart attack.
Fatty-acid deficiency can manifest in a variety of ways, but skin problems such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels are common. Hemp seeds are a rich source of fatty acids in the optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Research suggests hempseed oil may improve symptoms of atopic dermatitis10 and potentially provide relief from eczema.
Although protein from high-quality animal sources is beneficial for most people, if you are following a plant-based diet, hemp makes a healthy source of protein. With all of the essential amino acids and an amount of protein similar to beef (by weight), hemp seeds are an excellent form of plant-based protein.
Two to three tablespoons of hemp seeds provides about 11 grams of protein, complete with the amino acids lysine, methionine, and cysteine. Two main proteins in hemp seed protein, albumin and edestin, are rich in essential amino acids, with profiles comparable to soy and egg white. Hemp's edestin content is among the highest of all plants. Hemp protein is also easy to digest because of its lack of oligosaccharides and trypsin inhibitors, which can affect protein absorption.
The gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in hemp seeds produces prostaglandin E1, which reduces the effects of the hormone prolactin. Prolactin is thought to play a role in the physical and emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). GLA in hemp seeds may also help reduce the symptoms of menopause.11
Whole hemp seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which may support digestive health and more. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer and is one reason why fiber may help with weight control. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve at all and helps add bulk to your stool. This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination.
Fiber plays an essential role in your digestive, heart, and skin health, and may improve blood sugar control, weight management, and more. Please note that only whole hemp seeds contain high amounts of fiber; the de-shelled hemp seeds or "hearts" contain very little fiber.