Therapeutic Hemp Oil
by Andrew Weil, M.D.
composition of oil from the Hemp plant could be beneficial to your health.
To most people, Cannabis sativa is synonymous with marijuana, but the
plant's Latin name means the "useful Hemp" and although part of
the same genus, is not marijuana. Species designated sativa
(useful) are usually among the most important of all crops. In fact, the
utility of Hemp is manifold: the plant has provided human beings with fiber,
edible seeds, an edible oil, and medicine, not just a notorious
In our part of the world, these other uses of Hemp are no longer familiar.
We rarely use Hemp fiber and know little about Hemp medicine. Hemp seed is
sometimes an ingredient in bird food; otherwise, edible products from
Cannabis sativa are virtually unknown.
This may all
change. In many parts of the country, promoters of Hemp cultivation are
working to educate people about the immense potential of this plant and to
reintroduce it into commerce. They champion Hemp as a renewable source of
pulp for the manufacture of paper, as a superior fiber for making cloth, and
as a new food that can be processed into everything from a milk substitute
to a kind of tofu.
contain 25% high quality protein and 40% fat in the form of an excellent
quality oil. Hemp oil is just now coming on the market.
contains 57% Linoleic (LA) and 19% Linolenic (LNA) acids, in the
three-to-one ratio that matches our nutritional needs. These are the
essential fatty acids (EFAs) - so called because the body cannot make them and
must get them from external sources. The best sources are oils from freshly
ground grains and whole seeds, but EFAs are fragile and quickly lost in
processing. EFAs are the building blocks of longer chain fats, such as eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that occur naturally
in the fat of cold-water fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon, bluefish,
herring, and, to a lesser extent, tuna.
Adding these foods to the diet seems to lower risks of heart attacks because
Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the clotting tendency of the blood and improve
cholesterol profiles. They also have a natural anti-inflammatory effect that
makes them useful for people with arthritis and autoimmune disorders.
stores stock many brands of EPA/DHA supplements in the form of fish oil
capsules. I usually do not recommend them because I think it's better to get
your essential fatty acids in foods, and I worry about toxic contaminants in
fish oil supplements. But what can you do if you choose, for one reason or
another, not to eat fish? You can get some Omega-3s in expeller pressed
canola oil, the only common vegetable oil that contains them.
A much richer
source is Flax oil. Flax oil is pressed from the seeds of Linum
utilitatissimum, the source of linen fiber and an oil better known in this
country as linseed oil, the base for oil paints.
usually classified as a "drying oil" rather than a food oil because its
chemical characteristics cause it to combine readily with oxygen and become
thick and hard. This tendency to harden on exposure to air quickly turns
linseed oil rancid and unfit to eat, but makes it useful as a vehicle for
pigment on canvas. (The word "canvas" by the way is a relative of
"Cannabis," because true canvas is made from Hemp fiber).
purposes Flax oil must be pressed at low temperatures, protected from light,
heat, and air, stored at cool temperatures, and used quickly once the
containers are opened. Most Flax oil is not delicious. There is great
variation in taste among the brands currently sold in natural food stores,
but the best of them still leaves much to be desired.
is generally recommended as a dietary supplement to patients with autoimmune
disorders, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, but about half of
them cannot tolerate it. Some say it makes them gag, even when concealed in
salad dressing or mashed into a baked potato. These people have to resort to
taking Flax oil capsules, which are large and expensive.
(author of the classic book,
Fats and Oils
(Alive, 1986), [and
Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill,
The Complete Guide to fats, oils, cholesterol and human health, Second
Printing of Fats and
Oils, (Alive, 1996).
This book is a fabulous
on nutrition.) says that the problem is freshness. Unless you get Flax oil
right from the processor and freeze it until you start using it, it will
already have deteriorated by the time you buy it. Hemp oil contains more EFAs than
Flax and actually tastes good. It is nutty and free from the
objectionable undertones of Flax oil. I use it on salads, baked potatoes and
other foods and would not consider putting it in capsules.
Like Flax oil,
Hemp oil should be stored in the refrigerator, used quickly and never
heated. Unlike Flax oil, Hemp oil also provides 1.7% Gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA).
There is controversy about the value of adding this fatty acid to the diet,
but many people take supplements of it in the form of capsules of evening
primrose oil, black currant oil, and borage oil. My experience is that it
simulates growth of hair and nails, improves the health of the skin and can
reduce inflammation. I like the idea of having one good oil that supplies
both Omega-3s and GLA, without the need to take more capsules.
One of the
questions that people are sure to ask about Hemp oil is whether it has any
psychoactivity. The answer is no. The intoxicating properties of Cannabis
sativa reside in a sticky resin produced most abundantly in the flowering
tops of female plants before the seeds mature. The main psychoactive
compound in this resin is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Strains of Hemp
grown for oil production have a low resin content to begin with and by the
time the seeds are ready for harvest, resin production has dropped even
further. Finally, the seeds must be cleaned and washed before they are
pressed. As a result, no THC is found in the final product.
there is a political dimension to the appearance of this product. For many
years, Cannabis sativa has been stigmatized as a satanic plant and its
cultivation has been prohibited. As an ethnobotanist interested in the
relationships between plants and human beings, I have always felt that
making plants illegal was stupid, especially when the objects of these
actions are supremely useful plants like Hemp. The plant is not responsible
for human misuse of it.
If you have a
chance to try Hemp oil, a long forgotten, newly rediscovered food, I think
you will see why I am enthusiastic about it.
Andrew Weil teaches at the University of Arizona College of
Medicine, has a private medical practice, and is the author of Natural
Health, Natural Medicine.