VICUS.COM (4 Oct. 2000) -- During the 1960s, marijuana, which was
popular as an alternative to alcohol during Prohibition, had a
resurgence of use and interest in the United States. There were many
reasons for this, including the younger generation's rebellion against
the Vietnam War.
marijuana was (and remains) an illegal substance. The Marihuana Tax
Act of 1937 made "pot" illegal and levied a tax on its
possession. This was a significant issue for pharmacy students during
the heady drug days of the '60s.
admonished not to be caught smoking marijuana or to even be in the
vicinity of a drug bust, as we would never get our pharmacist licenses
if we had a police record for drug use or possession, we were told by
professors at Rutgers University College of Pharmacy in New Brunswick,
worked. I still have a Pavlovian-type response to move away from the
"wicked weed" when I see it or catch its scent. So, as I
walked through the exhibit hall on the first day of the Nutracon 2000
conference this past July in Las Vegas, I glanced at the booth
presenting the nutritional value of hemp (botanical name Cannabis
refused to stop.
must be a mistake, or a joke. What possible nutritional role could
second day, my curiosity got the best of me. I discovered that I, like
many other Americans, was ignorant of the nutritional value of hemp,
in particular its seeds.
makes a comeback
late 1980s and early 1990s, European farmers successfully re-legalized
hemp. In 1998, Canadian farmers followed and started to grow their own.
approximately 30 countries allow farmers to grow industrial hemp for
paper and textile production, among other uses. However, in the United
States, worry over the risk that hemp farming may pose a threat to our
youth continues to make it an illegal crop (Leson, et
the reintroduction of hemp farming to the United States will aid in the
production and use of marijuana is unsubstantiated. Commercial varieties
of hemp are bred to contain very low levels of the main psychoactive
ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
containing less than 0.3% THC in their flower portions can legally be
farmed in Canada and Europe. By comparison, marijuana flowers contain
between 3% and 29% THC. This makes getting "high" from smoking
industrial hemp futile. (Note: Several studies have shown that THC is
detectable in urine following ingestion of commercial hemp seed oil and
other food products [Alt and Reinhardt, 1998; Costantino, et al.,
1997; Struempler, et al., 1997]).
value of hemp
contained in the hemp seed, which can be used as a flavor enhancer in
foods, is 75% to 80% polyunsaturated fatty acids (the "good"
fats) and only 9% to 11% saturated fatty acids, according to Hemp Oil
Canada, a Canadian food processing company.
1 presents a
comparison of the fatty-acid spectrum of hemp oil vs. other edible oils.
Hemp oil contains high concentrations of polyunsaturated fat in the
form of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, which are precursors for
omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, respectively.
Both are also metabolized to hormone-like substances such as
oil is one of the few oils that contains measurable levels of
gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that is synthesized in
healthy persons from linoleic acid. Supplementation with gamma-linolenic
acid may be useful in treating atopic eczema, premenstrual syndrome,
diabetic neuropathy and arthritis in patients in which this synthesis
process is impaired (Leson, et
al., 1999). (Note: Hemp seeds from which the
oil is extracted are legal in the United States as long as they are
sterilized to prevent germination.)
oil in perspective
oil may have a role as part of a dietary strategy to lower the risk of
heart attacks because omega-3 fatty acids have potent
anti-inflammatory effects, may be antiatherogenic and may help
to lower elevated serum triglyceride levels (O'Keefe and Harris, 2000;
von Schacky, 2000; Ponte, et
inflammatory conditions that may benefit from the essential fatty acid
composition of omega-3 sources (such as hemp oil) include psoriasis,
acne and osteoporosis (Heller, et
al., 1998; Mayser, et
Many uses for
- Hemp is among the
oldest industries, going back more than 10,000 years to
the beginnings of pottery. The oldest relic of human
industry is said to be a bit of hemp fabric dating back
to approximately 8,000 B.C.
- The bark of the
hemp stalk contains bast fibers, which are among the
earth's longest natural soft fibers; they are also rich
in cellulose. Hemp stalk contains no THC, the
psychoactive substance in marijuana. Hemp fiber is
longer, stronger, more absorbent and more insulative
than cotton fiber.
- According to the
U.S. Department of Energy, hemp as a biomass fuel
producer requires the least specialized growing and
processing procedures of all hemp products. The
hydrocarbons in hemp can be processed into a wide range
of biomass energy sources, from fuel pellets to liquid
fuels and gasoline. Development of biofuels could
significantly reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and
- Hemp produces more
pulp per acre than timber on a sustainable basis and can
be used for every quality of paper. Hemp paper
manufacturing can reduce wastewater contamination.
Hemp's low lignin (a complex polymer that is
particularly difficult to biodegrade) content reduces
the need for acids used in pulping, and its creamy color
lends itself to environmentally friendly bleaching
instead of harsh chlorine compounds. Less bleaching
results in less dioxin and fewer chemical
- Despite these
positive aspects, textiles, paper and oil made of hemp
are not likely at the present time to become
commercially successful products in the United States.
Aside from the legal issue, the limited information
available suggests that industrial hemp fiber
profitability is highly uncertain. Experience in Europe
has not yet proven the economic viability. Unless the
economic viability of industrial hemp production is
evaluated by serious field trials and pilot-scale
processing in the United States, hemp fabrics and paper
uses will likely remain a very small niche market, which
is satisfied by imports*.
S Qaource: Hemp
Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of
Hemp in the United States: Status and Market Potential.
2000 Jan 19.
Russo Jr. , Pharm.D, is senior vice president of
medical communications at Vicus.com. He is a pharmacist and medical
writer with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.
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samples after consumption of hemp food products. J Anal
Toxicol. 1998 Jan-Feb; 22(1):80-1.
Costantino A, Schwartz RH, Kaplan P. Hemp oil ingestion causes
positive urine tests for delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid. J
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Heller A, Koch T, Schmeck J, van Ackern K. Lipid mediators in
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Leson G, Pless P, Roulac JW. Hemp Foods and Oils for Health.
Sebastopol (CA): Hemptech; 1999.
Mayser P, Mrowietz U, et al. Omega-3 fatty acid-based
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O'Keefe Jr JH, Harris WS. From Inuit to implementation: omega-3
fatty acids come of age. Mayo Clin Proc. 2000 Jun;
Ponte E, Cafagna D, Balbi M. Cardiovascular disease and omega-3
fatty acids. [Article in Italian]. Minerva Med. 1997
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy; The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:
RE, Nelson G, Urry FM. A positive cannabinoids workplace drug test
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