The seed of Cannabis sativa L. has been an important source of nutrition for thousands of years in Old World cultures. Non-drug varieties of Cannabis, commonly referred to as hemp, have not been studied extensively for their nutritional potential in recent years, nor has hempseed been utilized to any great extent by the industrial processes and food markets that have developed during the 20th century. Technically a nut, hempseed typically contains over 30% oil and about 25% protein, with considerable amounts of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Hempseed oil is over 80% in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and is an exceptionally rich source of the two essential fatty acids (EFAs) linoleic acid (18:2 omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (18:3 omega-3). The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (n6/n3) in hempseed oil is normally between 2:1 and 3:1, which is considered to be optimal for human health. In addition, the biological metabolites of the two EFAs, gamma-linolenic acid (18:3 omega-6; ‘GLA’) and stearidonic acid (18:4 omega-3; ‘SDA’), are also present in hempseed oil. The two main proteins in hempseed are edestin and albumin. Both of these high-quality storage proteins are easily digested and contain nutritionally significant amounts of all essential amino acids. In addition, hempseed has exceptionally high levels of the amino acid arginine. Hempseed has been used to treat various disorders for thousands of years in traditional oriental medicine. Recent clinical trials have identified hempseed oil as a functional food, and animal feeding studies demonstrate the long-standing utility of hempseed as an important food resource.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Anes, E., M.P. Kühnel, E. Bos, J. Moniz-Pereira, A. Habermann & G. Griffiths, 2003. Selected lipids activate phagosome actin assembly and maturation resulting in killing of pathogenic mycobacteria. Nature Cell Biol 5(9): 793–802.
Barre, D.E., 2001. Potential of evening primrose, borage, black currant, and fungal oils in human health. Ann Nutr Metab 45: 47– 57.
Burr, G.O. & M.M. Burr, 1929. New deficiency disease produced by the rigid exclusion of fat from the diet. J Biol Chem 82: 345– 367.
Burr, G.O. & M.M. Burr, 1930. On the nature and role of fatty acids essential to nutrition. J Biol Chem 86: 587–621.
Bordoni, A., P.L. Biagi, M. Masi, G. Ricci, C. Fanelli, A. Patrizi & E. Ceccolini, 1988. Evening primrose oil (Efamol) in the treatment of children with atopic dermatitis. Drugs Exp Clin Res 14(4): 291–297.
Callaway, J.C., U. Schwab, I. Harvima, P. Halonen, O. Mykkänen, P. Hyvönen & T. Järvinen, 2004. Efficacy of dietary hempseed oil on plasma lipids and skin quality in patients with atopic dermatitis. J Derm Treat (submitted).
Callaway, J.C., 2002. Hemp as food at high latitudes. J Ind Hemp 7(1): 105–117.
Callaway, J.C., T. Tennilä & D.W. Pate, 1997a. Occurrence of “omega-3” stearidonic acid (cis-6,9,12,15-octadecatetraenoic acid) in hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seed. J Int Hemp Assoc 3: 61–63.
Callaway, J.C., R.A. Weeks, L.P. Raymon, H.C. Walls & W.L. Hearn, 1997b. A positive Urinalysis from hemp (Cannabis) seed oil. J Anal Toxicol 21(4): 319–320.
Callaway, J.C. & T.T. Laakkonen, 1996. Cultivation of Cannabis oil seed varieties in Finland. J Int Hemp Assoc 3(1): 32–34.
Callow J., L.K. Summers, H. Bradshaw & K.N. Frayn, 2002. Changes in LDL particle composition after the consumption of meals containing different amounts and types of fat. Am J Clin Nutr 76(2): 345–350.
Coghlan, A., 2003. Right kind of fat gives body the edge over TB. New Scientist, August: 12.
Darshan, S.K. & I.L. Rudolph, 2000. Effect of fatty acids of w-6 and w-3 type on human immune status and role of eicosanoids. Nutrition 16: 143–145.
Deferne, J.L. & D.W. Pate, 1996. Hemp seed oil: A source of valuable essential fatty acids. J Int Hemp Assoc 3(1): 1–7.
de Padua, L.S., N. Bunyaprafatsara & R.H.M.J. Lemmens (Eds.), 1999. Plant Resources of South-East Asia: Medicinal and Poisonous Plants, Vol. 1, No. 12, pp. 167–175. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden.
Derek, J.R. & K.A. Meckling-Gill, 1999. Both (n-3) and (n-6) fatty acids stimulate wound healing in the rat intestine epithelial cell line, IEC-6. Am Soc Nutr Sci 129: 1791–1798.
Gerster, H., 1988. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentanoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexanoic acid (22:6n-3)? Int J Vit Nutr Res 68: 159–173.
Grigoriev, O.V., 2002. Application of hempseed (Cannabis sativa L.) oil in the treatment of the ear, nose and throat (ENT) disorders. J Ind Hemp 7(2): 5–15.
Hampson, A.J., M. Grimaldi, M. Lolic, D. Wink, R. Rosenthal, J. Axelrod, 2000. Neuroprotective antioxidants from marijuana. Ann N Y Acad Sci 899: 274–282.
Harbige, L.S. & B.A.C. Fisher, 2001. Dietary fatty acid modulation of mucosally-induced tolerogenic immune response. Proc Nutr Soc 60: 449–456.
Harbige, L.S., L. Layward & M.M. Morris-Downes, 2000. The protective effects of omega-6 fatty acids in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in relation to transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-β 1) up-regulation and increased prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production. Clin Exp Immunol 122: 445–452.
Horrobin, D.F., 2000. Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema. Am J Clin Nutr 71(1): 367– 72S.
Kassirer, J.P., 1997. Federal foolishness. New Engl J Med 30: 366.
Kriese, U., E. Schumann, W.E. Weber, M. Beyer, L. Brühl & B. Matthäus, 2004. Oil content, tocopherol composition and fatty acid patterns of the seeds of 51 Cannabis sativa L. genotypes. Euphytica 137: 339–351.
Laakkonen, T.T. & J.C. Callaway, 1998. Update on FIN-314. J Int Hemp Assoc 5(1): 34–35.
G. Leson, P. Pless, J.W. Roulac, (Eds.), 1999. Hemp Foods & Oils for Health, 2nd edn. Hemptech, Ltd, Sebastopol.
Leson, G., P. Pless, F. Grotenhermen, H. Kalant & M.A. ElSohly, 2001. Evaluating the impact of hemp food consumption on workplace drug tests. J Anal Toxicol 25(8): 691–698.
McPartland, M.J. & G. Geoffrey, 2004. Random queries concerning the evolution of Cannabis and coevolution with the cannabinoid receptor. In: G. Guy, R. Robson, K. Strong, B. Whittle, (Eds.), The Medicinal Use of Cannabis, pp. 71–102. Royal Society of Pharmacists, London.
Manku, M.S., D.F. Horribin, N. Morse, V. Kyte, K. Jenkins, S. Wright & J.L. Burton, 1982. Reduced levels of prostaglandin precursors in the blood of atopic patients; defective delta-6-desaturase function as a biochemical basis for atopy. Prostaglandins Leukot Med 9(6): 615–628.
Manku, M.S., D.F. Horrobin, N.L. Morse, S. Wright & J.L. Burton, 1984. Essential fatty acids in the plasma phospholipids of patients with atopic eczema. Br J Dermatol 110(6): 643–648.
Mechoulam, R., 1986. Cannabinoids as therapeutic agents, pp. 1–20. CRC Press, Boca Raton.
Mechoulam, R. & L. Hanu, 2001. The cannabinoids: An overview. Therapeutic implications in vomiting and nausea after cancer chemotherapy, in appetite promotion, in multiple sclerosis and in neuroprotection. Pain Res Manage 6(2): 67–73.
Mechoulam, R., D. Panikashvili & E. Shohami, 2002. Cannabinoids and brain injury: Therapeutic implications. Trends Mol Med 8(2): 58–61.
Mustafa, A.F., J.J. McKinnon & D.A. Christensen, 1999. The nutritive value of hemp meal for ruminants. Can J Anim Sci 79(1): 91–95.
Ngeh-Ngwainbi, J., J. Lin & A. Chandler, 1997. Determination of total, saturated, unsaturated, and monounsaturated fats in cereal products by acid hydrolysis and capillary gas chromatography: Collaborative study. J AOAC Int 80(2): 359–372.
Odani, S. & S. Odani, 1998. Isolation and primary structure of a methionine and cystine-rich seed protein of Cannabis sativa L. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem, 62: 650–654.
Okuyama, H., T. Kobayashi & S. Watanabe, 1997. Dietary fatty acids- the N-6/N-3 balance and chronic elderly diseases. Excess linoleic acid and relative N-3 deficiency syndrome seen in Japan. Prog Lipid Res 3: 409–457.
Oliwiecki, S., J.L. Burton, K. Elles & D.F. Horrobin, 1991. Levels of essential and other fatty acids in plasma red cell phospholipids from normal controls and patients with atopic eczema. Acta Derm Venereol 71(3): 224–228.
Pringle, H., 1997. Ice age community may be earliest known net hunters. Science 277: 1203–1204.
Russell, D., 2003. Phagosomes, fatty acids and tuberculosis. Nature Cell Bio 5(9): 776–778.
Sakai, K., H. Okuyama, H. Shimazaki, M. Katagiri, S. Torii, T. Matsushita & S. Baba, 1994. Fatty acid compositions of plasma lipids in atopic dermatitis/asthma patients. Arerugi 43(1): 37– 43.
H. Scherz, G. Kloos, F. Senser, (Eds.), 1986. Food Composition and Nutrition Tables 1986/1987, 3rd edn. Wissenschaftliche Veriagsgesellschaft mbH, Stuttgart.
Silversides, F.G., K.L. Budgell & M.R. Lefrançois, 2002. Effect of feeding hemp seed meal to laying hens. Atlantic Poultry Research Institute; APRI Factsheet 16: 2 pp.
Simopoulos, A.P., 1991. Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development. Am J Clin Nutr 54: 438–463.
Simopoulos, A.P., 1999. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr 70: 560–569.
Simopoulos, A.P., A. Leaf & N. Salem, 2000. Workshop statement on the essentiality of and recommended dietary intakes from omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 63(3): 119–121.
Simopoulos, A.P., 2002a. The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother 56(8): 365–379.
Simopoulos, A.P., 2002b. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune disease. J Am Coll Nutr 21(6): 495–505.
Sirek, J., 1955. Vyznam konopného semence therapii tuberkulosy (Hempseed in the treatment of tuberculosis). Acta Universitatis Palackianae Olomucensis 6: 1–13.
Small, E. & D. Marcus, 2003. Tetrahydrocannabinol levels in hemp (Cannabis sativa) germplasm resources. Econ Bot 57(4): 545–558.
Takwale A., E. Tan, S. Agarwall, G. Barclay, I. Ahmed, K. Hotchkiss, J.R. Thompson, T. Chapman & J. Berth-Jones, 2003. Efficacy and tolerability of borage oil in adults and children with atopic eczema: Randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, parallel group trial. Br Med J 327(7428): 1358–1359.
van Gool C.J., C. Thijs, C.J. Henquet, A.D. van Houwelingen, P.C. Dagnelie, J. Schrander, P.P. Menheere & P.A. van den brandt, 2003. gamma-Linolenic acid supplementation for prophylaxis of atopic dermatitis- a randomized controlled trial in infants at high familial risk. Am J Clin Nutr 77: 943–951.
Whitaker, D.K., J. Chilliers & C. de Beer, 1996. Evening primrose (Epogam) in the treatment of chronic hand dermatitis; disappointing therapeutic results. Dermatology 193(2): 115–120.
WHO & FAO Joint Expert Consultation Report, 1995: Fats and oils in human nutrition. Nutr Rev 53(7): 202–205.
Wu, D., M. Meydani, L.S. Leka, Z. Nightingale, G.J. Handelman, J.B. Blumberg & S.N. Meydani, 1999. Effect of dietary supplementation with black currant seed oil on the immune response of healthy elderly subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 70: 536–543.
Xiaozhai, L. & R.C. Clarke, 1995. The cultivation and use of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in ancient China. J Int Hemp Assoc 2(1): 26–33.
Yu, G. & B. Björkstén, 1998. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in school children in relation to allergy and serum IgE levels. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 9: 133–138.
Weiss, E., W. Wetterstrom, D. Nadel, O. Bar-Yosef, 2004. The broad spectrum revisted: Evidence from plant remains. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101(26): 9551–9555.
Zias, J., H. Stark, J. Sellgman, R. Levy, E. Werker, A. Breuer & R. Mechoulam, 1993. Early medical use of cannabis. Nature 363(6426): 215.
About this article
Cite this article
Callaway, J.C. Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica 140, 65–72 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10681-004-4811-6