When low-psychoactive hemp seeds were legalised for sale as a food product in Australia in late 2017, a cloud of controversial smoke surrounded it.
As our health authorities told us that low-THC hemp seeds were now legally safe to consume, the rest of us wondered whether eating hemp helped you get high or healthy.
Now, less than 18 months later, hemp seeds are well regarded for their health claims and are consequently spurring on innovations in the health food space. You can buy hulled hemp seeds, hemp oil, hemp flours and even protein powders. If you’re after complete foods made from hemp products, you can try hemp milk, hemp bread, burgers, pasta and even hemp kombucha.
But how good are all of these hemp foods for your health, really?
According to a Queensland Health advisory on low THC hemp foods issued in 2018, hemp seeds are just like any other nuts or seeds in that they contain a host of nutrients. In particular, hemp seeds are rich in protein, omega oils and dietary fibre, and high in magnesium, phosphorus, iron and manganese.
It’s these properties that are making hemp a popular health food.
1. Hemp may be good for your heart
Canadian-led research from 2010 points out that hemp seeds have been touted for their health benefits by various cultures throughout the world for centuries: they were first mentioned as a medication in ancient Egyptian texts.
Despite the age of edible hemp seeds, there’s not an overwhelming amount of evidence about the physiological benefits of hemp as a food: purely because its use is only new in Western countries like Australia.
However, what we do know is that hemp seeds are very high omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These compounds are believed to be great for our cardiovascular health.
The literature review notes several studies showing that the regular consumption of hemp seeds can help your heart. It reveals that the high amount of omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid in dietary hempseed may also lower your cholesterol and blood pressure (if you have high blood pressure).
Even still, the review states, there’s also a lot we don’t know about the effect of hemp seed foods. It concludes that hemp seeds have the “potential” to beneficially influence heart disease. But a lot more research on humans is needed to prove cause and effect.
2. Is there a link between hemp kombucha and diabetes?
John Leith, owner of HempOz – a company that sells hemp products – believes that hemp kombucha has probiotic properties that can treat type 2 diabetes.
Leith tells SBS he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over two years ago. He now claims that drinking hemp kombucha, doing some exercise and eating lighter foods for five weeks helped to eradicate his diabetes.
“I would have to put my hand on heart and say the hemp kombucha changed my life and got me back on my feet, that’s for sure,” he says.
His natural remedy contains black tea, cane sugar, boiled water, yeast, live cultures and a small amount of hemp that is added after fermentation.
“I would have to put my hand on heart and say the hemp kombucha changed my life and got me back on my feet, that’s for sure.”
Leith appears in episode seven of SBS’s new series, Medicine or Myth? to pitch his kombucha tonic. The show follows everyday Australians who pitch health remedies to a panel of medical experts in the hope that their alternative treatment will be selected for a real-world trial.
Medicine or Myth? panel member and family and women’s health expert, Dr Ginni Mansberg, welcomes the notion of hemp kombucha. Although evidence is yet to support Leith’s claims, she says if it works, it could be a game-changer in the health sector.
“We love your hemp kombucha, and we love the fact that you had diabetes and you don’t anymore,” says Dr Mansberg. “If this is as good in other people as it has been for you your little drink could save a lot of lives in this country.”
3. Hemp seeds and dermatitis
A 2005 study from academics in Finland, published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment, suggests that hemp seed oil can effectively treat atopic dermatitis.
The small 20-week trial compared the effects of olive oil and hemp seed oil on dermatitis symptoms like skin dryness and itching. It concluded that dietary hempseed oil caused significant changes in plasma fatty acid profiles and improved clinical symptoms of atopic dermatitis.
The study suggested that the “balanced and abundant supply” of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in hemp seed oil was what made it so helpful for people with dermatitis.
But again, further research is needed to support this claim.