Throughout history, various parts of the hemp plant have been used for medicinal purposes. Please note that the following deals only with the use of hemp seeds and not of the drug, marijuana. (See more under History.)
It is the seed, or nut, that contains the most valued components for achieving longterm health.
Hemp seed has been used extensively throughout Asia, especially in China, where the hemp plant originated. Whether in the form of oil, decoction, powder, infusion, paste, or whole, it was a vital ingredient in many formulas.
According to numerous Chinese medicinal texts, hemp seeds have the following medicinal properties which are used as a(n):
- Aid prescribed for conditions related to childbirth; that is, to hasten it when delivery is complicated or overdue, for postpartum recovery, blood deficiency, and following feverish conditions, and to alleviate retained placentas in mothers just starting to breast-feed as well as to increase milk flow.
- Anthelmintic, since it helps to destroy and dispel parasites, including worms.
- Anti-atherosclerotic, since it helps break up long-standing problems with the blood flow and restores the blood, pulse rates, veins and arteries.
- Anti-inflammatory, it soothes and reduces inflammation.
- Antiseptic, it prevents bacterial growth, inhibits pathogens, and counters sepsis.
- Assisting in the cure of zhong feng (a neurological impairment due to a stroke) and in the reduceing excess sweating associated with it.
- Carrier in herbal formulas used to treat ulcers and sores, internally and externally.
- Corrective for menstrual irregularities.
- Demulcent, which soothes, protects, and nurtures intestinal membranes, especially of the mucus membranes during acute episodes of Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
- Diuretic, since it increases blood flow through the kidneys and bladder, thus promoting urination.
- Energetic, as it is sweet and neutral, affecting the meridians and organs of the spleen, stomach, and large intestines.
- Hypotensive, since it is helpful in reducing blood pressure.
- Nutritive for healthy hair and skin, as well as the entire body.
- Tonic, which promotes general health and well-being, supports all organs, and builds energy and strength.
- dysentery, but not for diarrhea since it loosens, relaxes, or stimulates evacuation of the bowels.
- constipation, especially in the elderly. In China today, hemp seed oil capsules are the most commonly prescribed remedy for constipation.
- obstinate vomiting.
- edema and waste accumulations in the lymph.
Of any food found today, hemp seeds have the most perfect ratio of the essential omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids required by humans. Since the late 1970s, dozens of studies have shown the power of omega-3 and/or omega-6 fatty acids in preventing and treating many illnesses and conditions. These studies have been published in such respected medical journals as:
- American Journal of Cardiology
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- American Journal of Epidemiology
- American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy
- Annals of Internal Medicine
- Archives of General Psychiatry
- Archives of Internal Medicine
- British Journal of Nutrition
- British Medical Journal
- Journal of Lipid Research
- Journal of the American Medical Association
- Medical Journal of Australia
- New England Journal of Medicine
- Nutrition Reviews
- Nutrition Today
Omega-3 Fatty Acid
In these studies, omega-3 was found useful for treating such varied conditions as:
- Abnornal brain and eye development
- Abnormal development in infants and children
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Arterial inelasticity
- Atopic dermatitis
- Autoimmune diseases
- Bipolar disorder
- Birth complications
- Blood viscosity
- Breast cancer
- Cardiac arryhthmia
- Cardiac stenosis
- Cerebral palsy
- Colon cancer
- Cornonary heart disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Cyclic breast pain
- Cystic fibrosis
- Diabetes mellitus
- Dry skin
- Elevated serum triglycerides
- Excessive thirst
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Fingernail and hair problems
- Gastric ulcers
- Growth retardation (fetal/infants/children)
- Hair discoloration, thinning, and loss
- Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Immune weakness
- Increased transepidermal water loss
- Inflammatory diseases
- Kidney and liver degeneration
- Lack of cooordination
- Learning disabilities
- Low birth weight
- Lupus erythmatosis
- Memory loss
- Menopause complications
- Menstrual bleeding, abnormal
- Menstrual cramps
- Migraine headaches
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Platelet stickiness or aggregation
- Poor circulation and glandular function
- Premature birth
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Prostaglandin and hormone production
- Prostate cancer
- Reduced sperm motility
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Scaly epidermis
- Sebaceous duct hyperkeratosis
- Sebaceous gland hypertrophy
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- Slow growth
- Slow wound healing
- Sudden cardiac death
- Weakened cutaneous capillaries
And the list goes on .
Omega-6 Fatty Acid
Therefore, increasing EFA consumption can likely help treat and prevent these conditions. Two studies found that the omega-3 product EPA was very powerful in helping reduce depression in patients who previously did not respond to antidepressants.
One study found that it was also important to consume vitamin E with omega-3s in order to prevent oxidation (rancidity). Although most of the studies used omega-3 from fish or flaxseed oils, hempseed oil is likely just as well accepted since it is 20% omega-3 and does not contain harmful chemicals found in the fish.
Omega-6 fatty acid deficiencies can result in such disorders as:
- Behaviour disturbances
- Cardiovascular problems
- Excessive thirst
- Hair loss
- Kidney and liver degeneration
- Poor circulation and glandular function
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Reduced sperm motility and impotence in men
- Slow growth
- Slow wound healing
- Skin diseases
Conditions Helped by EFAs
The following conditions have been helped by adding EFAs (essential fatty acids) in the form of hempseed oil or shelled hempseed to the diet:
- Addiction: Nobel Prize nominee Dr. Johanna Budwig suggests that EFAs have been helpful in treating addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and sex-and-violence patterns. EFAs enable a person to manage stress better: nerve and brain functions stabilize, and the electric currents across the brain’s cell membranes increase, inducing a person to feel calmer and more focused.
- Arthritis and other inflammatory disorders: GLA reduces inflammation in joints and morning stiffness, while omega-3 has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in such conditions as tennis elbow, bladder infection, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and other chronic inflammations of the bowel. It is now known that EFAs can be used to treat acute joint inflammation without nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, the typical regime.
- Atropic eczema (neurodermitis) and psoriasis: are characterized by high water loss through the skin. An omega-6 deficiency is associated with this. One explanation is that low enzymatic activity results in a slower conversion of LA to GLA, thus causing a prostaglandin imbalance. Since omega-6 FAs are involved in regulating water loss through the outer layer of the skin (epidermis), clinical trials with GLA supplementation were used. Patients had gradual improvement in atopic eczema symptoms and required considerably fewer anti-itching and antihistamine drugs. An internal daily dose of about 20 ml per day of hempseed oil showed improvement in the skin conditions over a 12-weeks period. The external use of hemp oil has proven to improve overall skin integrity.
- Attention deficit, hyperactivity, and other mental disorders (ADHD): EFAs are critical for the healthy function of the brain cell membranes, as most of the brain’s cell walls are composed of fats. Adequate amounts of EFAs maintain the brain cells’ fluid and flexible condition. Children require both omega-6 and omega-3 for proper brain maturation. A deficiency in omega-3, in particular, can contribute to learning disabilities. Research using supplementation of omega-3 and omega-6 indicates that they are useful in the treatment of ADHD, depression, and schizophrenia. In countries where the people eat much omega-3, there is 90% less clinical depression.
- Cancer: Compared to healthy tissue, cancer cells are deficient in delta-6-desaturase, the enzyme needed to convert either EFA to the higher GLA and SDA, which have shown to destroy cancerous cells selectively. Other studies also suggest that by administering them, they may slow the progress of such common cancers as breast and prostate. By improving cellular utilization of oxygen, omega-3 reduces tumor formation and slows tumor growth by decreasing the metastasis of cancer cells. Cancer cells and tissue have lower GLA and omega-6 levels than healthy tissue. Blood samples taken from cancer patients were lacking in EFAs. Saturated fats, refined vegetable oils, andtrans-fatty acids are believed to be the contributing factors in cancer. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, and especially GLA, have proven to be beneficial in treating various human cancers, and studies have shown that phytosterols may offer protection against colon, breast, and prostate cancers.
- Cardiovascular diseases: Through numerous human and animal studies, it is now common knowledge that substituting polunsaturated fats for saturated fats can reduce the risk of heart attacks and fatal cardiac arrhythmia, as well as reducing blood cholesterol levels and decreasing the cellular proliferation associated with atherosclerosis. A high polyunsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio, especially when it includes linoleic acid (LA), has also been positively associated with reduced arterial thrombosis.
Most cardiovascular diseases are caused by the formation of arterial plaque, the deposit of hardened material on the interior walls of arteries. This process may eventually block blood flow and cause arteriosclerosis and strokes. LDL cholesterol, a sticky substance present in the blood, has been identified as one of the main contributors to it. Dietary treatment with daily doses of omega-6 and GLA, which correspond roughly to 4 teaspoons of hempseed oil, has resulted in the decrease of elevated blood levels of both LDL and total cholesterol. Hemp seeds also contain phytosterols (438 mg/100g), which have proven to reduce total serum cholesterol by an average of 10% and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by an average of 13%. Omega-3 is useful for maintaining flexible blood vessels, membranes, and cells. People who eat nuts at least one to four times per week have a 22% lower risk of heart attack and heart disease compared to those who eat nuts less than once a week. These nuts, however, must be raw and non-processed since processing significantly diminishes the EFAs, changing the valuable oil content into a harmful form.
- Constipation: Traditional Chinese medicine maintains that large quantities of whole hempseed act as a demulcent laxative, soothing and lubricating the whole bowel and thus, useful in preventing constipation. Since whole hempseed is 40% shell, fiber is likely the active ingredient.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is a chronic endocrine disease. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, regulates the uptake of blood sugar by tissue cells.
In adult diabetes, sufficient insulin may be produced, but the cells have become resistant to it and do not take up glucose fast enough after a meal. Elevated blood sugar levels can cause an EFA deficiency. With age-onset diabetes, symptoms of numbness and tingling in the extremeties can be alleviated with a daily intake of 360 mg GLA, the equivalent of 3 tsp of hemp seed oil or 6 tsp of shelled hempseed.
Juvenile diabetes is usually associated with a lack of the hormone insulin in the blood. The insulin resistance causes the classic symptoms.
Studies show that daily doses of 360-460 mg of GLA alleviate the tingling and numbness in the feet, a common symptom in diabetics. Evidence shows that insufficient omega-3 intake may be one of the cofactors for the development of the disease and that a balanced supply may alleviate its other effects as well.
- Diarrhea: Hempseed tea soothes irritated intestines and provides nutrients during bouts of diarrhea. Eaten in moderate amounts as gruel, it can help solidify the stool. EFAs have been shown to reduce infant colitis in premature babies.
- Earache: Hempseed oil has been used in eardrops to loosen earwax, reduce pain, and fight infection.
- Edema: EFAs assist the kidneys in eliminating excess tissue water and, since hempseed is also a diuretic, it relieves the swelling.
- Fatigue: EFAs help maintain alertness. A deficiency can contribute to anemia, which is accompanied by loss of energy. EFAs shorten the time tired muscles need for recovery by assisting the conversion of lactic acid to carbon dioxide and water. Athletes ingesting EFAs report an increase of stamina and strength, higher performance levels, and quicker recovery of muscle fatigue, sprains, and bruises.
- Immune deficiency: In order to resist and recover from infection, the body needs globular-shaped protein to produce antibodies. Hempseed is rich in the globular proteins albumin and edestin, as well as EFAs, all of which assist the immune response. EFAs improve the metabolic rate, thus helping to prevent the buildup of harmful yeasts and bacteria. They also strengthen cellular membranes, making them less susceptible to infection.
- Infant and child health: Hempseed is a galactagogue, meaning that it helps to increase production of a nursing mother’s milk. Infant formulas are now required to be fortified with EFAs, which are essential for the development of the pre-natal and post-natal baby. When omega-3 and omega-6 are deficient in an infant’s or child’s diet, growth is slowed, especially that of the nervous system, brain, and eyes. In addition, skin problems may occur, learning slowed, and colic and diarrhea more common. Pregnant and nursing mothers should include fresh hempseed oil in their diets, since the fetus and nursing baby drain the mother’s body of EFAs. One study found that the babies of mothers who ate more EFAs had a lower incidence of cerebral palsy. Another study found that it took only 6 hours after the consumption of EFAs for them to appear in breast milk, and they remained for 10-24 hours, and in some cases up to 3 days. The mothers’ high omega-3 levels decreased the incidence of infants born prematurely; increased average birth weight by 8 ounces; increased placenta weight, birth length, and head circumference; and improved the intelligence of 18-month-old babies. The diet of the culture with the highest average birth weights in the world is fish-based. Clearly, a mothers consumption of EFAs during and after pregnancy gives the new baby a head start on life.
- Menopause: Dry skin, vaginal dryness, night sweats, hormone production, hot flashes, and moodiness are all improved with EFAs. Studies show that conversion of LA to GLA and the respective prostaglandins are slow in women suffering from PMS and menopause. Improvments came when hemp seed oil was added to the diet, mainly because hemp seed is one of the only plants actually to contain GLA so that the body does not have to rely on converting it as it does with other oils.
- Multiple Sclerosis: MS is a chronic neurological autoimmune disease, occuring more frequently in northern industrialized countries where, incidentally, the diet also contains a comparatively low proportion of unsaturated fatty acids. Studies have suggested a link between abnormal EFA metabolism and progression of MS symptoms, possibly because of a defective enzymatic system. Many MS patients have proven to be unable to convert EFAs to their respective higher PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids), thereby slowing nerve deterioration. Studies show that supplementation of EFAs can improve MS. In geographical areas where EFA consumption is adequate, MS is rare.
- Neurodermitis and skin ailments: There is a clear connection between healthy skin and EFA intake. Patients with neurodermitis show a deficiency of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. It is assumed that the enzymatic synthesis of GLA and SDA, and subsequently of prostaglandins, is inhibited. A deficiency in omega-6 is also associated with eczema and psoriasis in humans and dogs, as omega-6 helps regulate water loss through the skin. Because of its high content of omega-6 and GLA, hempseed oil can assist in the treatment of these disorders. The daily oral intake found to improve the skin condition over a 12-week period, corresponds to about 4 teaspoons of hempseed oil or one and one-half ounces of shelled hempseed. Another study showed improvement through the external application of an ointment containing GLA, so a hempseed oil salve might be useful, but applying the oil itself might be better. Yet another study found that GLA can reduce the redness, swelling, and pain caused by sunburn. Hempseed oil taken internally and applied topically can relieve itching, speed the healing process, and prevent dry, cracked skin as well as stretch marks. As a rejuvenative, it not only keeps the skin smooth and velvety but can actually lower the skin’s aging process. Because of its easy and high absorption into the skin, hempseed oil is a perfect carrier for topical medicines, but it is not a good carrier for sunblock.
- Obesity: Using ‘good’ fats high in EFAs can help reduce hunger. Fat in the small intestine stimulates the release of chemical transmitters that make the brain feel satisfied and thus the stomach less hungry. EFAs help break down excess saturated fat by increasing the metabolic weight.
- Osteoporosis: Bone loss is a serious condition for the elderly and often is associated with kidney and artery calcification. EFA supplementation improves calcium absorption, decreases urinary excretion of the calcium, increases calcium deposition in bones, and enhances bone-collagen synthesis – all of which improve overall bone strength.
- Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases: Polunsaturated fatty acids have been found to be beneficial in such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It has been suggested that a diet with a proper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids may help delay or reduce the neurologic effects of these diseases. The proper fatty acid ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (3:1 or 4:1) required is identical to that found in hempseed oil, and has been shown to improve the quality of life of these patients.
- Premenstrual syndrome: PMS can manifest in painful muscular tension, swelling of the breasts, nervousness, irritability, and depression. Research indicates that women with PMS suffer from a metabolic weakness converting omega-6 into GLA, and subsequently into prostaglandins. An intake of 1.37 grams omega-6 and 156 mg GLA over a period of 12 weeks has been shown to improve PMS symptoms significantly. This intake corresponds to 1 teaspoon of hempseed oil or 2 tablespoons of shelled hempseed every day. Studies show that conversion of LA to GLA and the respective prostaglandins are slow in women suffering from PMS and menopause. Improvments came when hemp seed oil was added to the diet, mainly because hemp seed is one of the only plants actually to contain GLA so that the body does not have to rely on converting it as it does with other oils.
- Tuberculosis: Thirty years of experience in Czechoslovakia found that a diet appropriate for tuberculosis must be high in protein. The study states that “ground hempseeds extracted by milk at a temperature from 60-89°C prove to be – even in their smallest doses – an utmost effective remedy” and that hempseed is the “only food that can successfully treat the consumptive disease tuberculosis.” EFAs help restore wasting bodies by improving the damaged immune systems. They also make it easier for the patient to liquefy and expel mucus that has built up in the lungs.
Even pets can benefit from hempseed oil. It has long been known that birds, either domesticated or in the wild, thrive and actually seek out hempseed. For centuries many bird hunters knew that their best bet was to lie in wait near a stand of wild hemp.
The Birdman of Alcatraz knew this, too, and wrote “Hempseed makes the song birds sing.” Wild and domesticated birds are quick to devour and hoard shelled hempseed when it is offered to them, more so than with any other feed.
Animals, deficient in EFAs, have slower wound healing, dry, scaly skin, and a dull, brittle coat. Hempseed oil added to the diet or directly to the hair of the affected area has a remarkable effect on many conditions. This is yet another reason to add hempseed oil to your pet’s diet or hempseed to your bird’s feed.
Cats, however, should not be fed high omega-6 oils as corn, soy, canola, hempseed, or flaxseed. Since their history is carnivorous, they lack the enzyme necessary for metabolizing plant-based omega-6 and may develop a toxicity from it.