To begin with, let me just clarify that I'm not talking about the legalisation of marijuana here, but rather the legalisation of hemp seeds as food.
The hemp plant is a variety of Cannabis plant (Cannabis satvia), but unlike marijuana, contains none of or very low levels of the chemical THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for the psychoactive properties of marijuana. In the same way that trace amounts of morphine can be found in poppy seeds, traces of THC found in some varieties of hemp are unlikely to have any negative effects on human health (1).
Although it may seem a little controversial to be recommending something that is currently not legal for human consumption in this country, I believe that the nutritional benefits and well documented safety of hemp seeds provide adequate justification for doing so.
Despite the fact that hemp products are legal and sold as food in most of the world (including the US, Canada and Europe), Australia seems to be caught up in legal red tape with no resolution in sight, much to the annoyance of consumers and health professionals who recognise the nutritional benefits of hemp seeds, and also to the farmers here in Australia already growing it as a crop.
Why is the consumption of hemp not legal in Australia?
Despite our food regulatory body (FSANZ) approving the use hemp as a food (2) and stating that foods derived from the seeds of low THC hemp do not present any food safety concerns (3), a recent review of their application to legalise hemp as a food by the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation rejected their proposal (3), citing a rather bizarre reason: the Ministers thought that by allowing the consumption of hemp, it would 'send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of Cannabis' (3). In plain terms, they thought that if they changed the law to allow us to consume hemp, we might all get confused and think it was now okay to smoke pot. For crying out loud!
The Ministers also put forward concerns regarding our roadside saliva drug tests which test for THC from marijuana use, but a supporting document submitted by FSANZ to bolster their application (4) concluded that 'published and unpublished results from studies on human volunteers indicate that it is unlikely that consumption of hemp foods containing THC at the proposed maximum levels could result in any positive tests when oral fluid or urine samples are analysed according to Australian Standards'.
Despite all this legal debate, I believe it's only a matter of time before Australia catches up with the rest of the world and legalises the consumption of hemp.
As it stands, hemp seeds can be purchased in health food stores (mostly imported from the US), although they do have a silly little 'not for human consumption' sticker stuck on the packet. (NB: hemp is definitely not in the same league as the controversy over the sale of unpasteurised (raw) milk, which also carries a 'not for human consumption' sticker, due to the millions of live bacteria it contains, which pose a very real food safety hazard).
Nutritional benefits of hemp seeds
My primary interest in hemp seeds from a plant-based nutrition perspective stems from the fact that they are a great source of the omega-3 fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and stearidonic acid (SDA) and have a favourable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 2.5:1 (in hemp seed oil). A ratio of between 4 to 2:1 is though to be optimal for human health. Hulled hemp seeds are a very good source of high quality protein, at 33g per 100g. In line with my whole food philosophy, I only recommend consuming hulled hemp seeds, rather than hemp oil or isolated hemp protein powder.
How to eat hemp seeds
- You can make hemp milk, in the same way you make almond (or any other nut) milk. Simply blend hemps seeds and water in a 1:4-6 ratio (e.g. 1/2 cup hemp seeds to 2 cups water) in a high-speed blender and strain through a nut milk bag (or piece of muslin) and use as an alternative to dairy milk. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Top salads and soups with hemp seeds for an omega-3 boost
- Incorporate hemp seeds into a smoothie, as per this recipe:
Hemp, Banana & Cinnamon Smoothie
- A few ice cubes
- ¼ cup (35g/1¼oz) hemp seeds
- 1 cup (125mL/4¼fl oz) water
- 1 fresh or frozen banana
- 1 large (15g/½ oz) medjool date to sweeten (optional)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp cinnamon plus a little extra to garnish
- Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend on high speed until well combined
- Serve in a glass, top with a little extra cinnamon and hemp seeds and enjoy
1. Callaway, J.C. (2004) Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica 140: 65-72
2. Supporting document 1: Safety Assessment (Approval) - Application A1039 - Low THC Hemp as Food, FSANZ website, available at: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/applications/Pages/applicationa1039lowt4708.aspx (accessed 18/05/15)
3. Department of Health Communiqués - 30th January 2015: Rejection notice: standard 1.4.4 - low THC hemp as food. Available at: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/foodsecretariat-communiques.htm (accessed 18/05/15)
4. Supporting document 3: Commentary on studies relating to oral fluid and urine testing (at Approval) - Application A1039 - Low THC Hemp as a Food, FSANZ. Available at: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/applications/Pages/applicationa1039lowt4708.aspx (accessed 18/05/15)