Hemp, Hemp Hooray!

Make dietary hemp a part of your health-care regimen.

| September/October 2006

Many say that hemp (Cannabis sativa) is the functional food for the future. The plants' seeds contain potent nutrition with an array of trace minerals, an abundance of protein and fiber, and all the essential amino and fatty acids needed for a healthy diet. What's more, hemp is a renewable, reusable and recyclable resource, producing four times as much pulp per acre as trees and significantly more fiber per square foot than either cotton or flax. This fast-growing annual also merits an "environmental-friendliness seal of approval" — it typically is grown without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides thanks to its natural pest resistance.

So why wait for the future when you can harvest the benefits of dietary hemp right now? Interest in hemp is rising due to its amazing versatility. Not only is hemp a healthy food, but it is widely used in nutraceuticals and body-care products, as well as in textiles and industrial goods.

Hemp may be hot, but what it's not is a source of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the hallucinatory psychoactive ingredient in marijuana (which contains anywhere from 5 to 20 percent THC). Hemp belongs to a diverse plant species including more than 500 varieties, of which marijuana is a distant cousin. Growers have bred strains for dietary hemp, also referred to as industrial hemp, to produce only insignificant trace amounts of THC — less than 0.3 percent. The trace amounts are as harmless as the trace amounts of opiates in poppy seeds.

Hemp History

Cultivation and use of hemp date back more than 5,000 years. Historians have documented the plant's use throughout the world as a food grain and a source of fiber. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers grew hemp; Betsy Ross stitched the first American flag with it; the signers of the Declaration of Independence inked their John Hancocks on hemp paper; and Colonial Americans used hemp as lamp oil and as canvas for covered wagons.

Today, industrial hemp is cultivated worldwide, with countries like Canada and China leading the way. U.S. retailers and manufacturers import large quantities of hemp fiber, hemp seeds and hemp seed oil from Canada and other nations.

In 1937, the United States government banned hemp farming. But in the 1940s, the crop was legally grown for the war effort (hemp was needed to make rope, webbing and canvas, among other things, to be used on navy ships — it was called the "Hemp for Victory" campaign). In 1970, Congress designated hemp (along with its cousin marijuana) as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal to grow hemp without a license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA has approved only one license, which expired in 2003. A number of states have passed laws to allow hemp farming, including Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, but farmers in those states still can't grow the crop without a federal OK.

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