Hemp seeds come from a controversial cannabis plant. Instead of getting you high, they deliver a blast of essential nutrients and some crucial benefits for your heart, brain, and skin. Whether you want to prevent disease or boost your nutrition, hemp seeds have got you covered. Read on to learn how to get the most out of them and prevent unpleasant side effects.

What Are Hemp Seeds?

Hemp seeds are the seeds of a cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). Unlike marijuana, hemp is a cannabis strain low in psychoactive THC, and people mostly grow it for industrial and nutritional purposes [1].

“Miracle plant” sounds like a cliche, but here’s why hemp deserves this label [2, 3, 4, 5]:

  • Hemp seeds are packed with essential nutrients
  • CBD from hemp delivers a wide range of health benefits
  • Hemp fiber is perfect for making ropes, clothes, and paper
  • It can replace plastics and even build solid constructions
  • Hemp is a potential source of biofuel

Did you know? Mentions of hemp date back to the beginning for history, and it’s probably among the first crops we started cultivating. Various factors caused unfair scrutinization and prohibition of this plant, but we’re witnessing its comeback.

Each potential use of hemp deserves a separate article (a book, actually); this one will be about hemp seeds nutrition, health benefits, and precautions.

Hemp seeds deliver an array of essential nutrients and have a mild nutty flavor that blends well in smoothies and spreads. People have mixed feelings about hemp seeds due to hemp scrutinization, but the number of avid consumers is on the rise.

Get ready to meet one of the most nutritious foods on our planet!

Snapshot of Hemp Seeds

PROS

  • Loaded with protein, healthy fats, and minerals
  • Optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio
  • High protein quality with all essential amino acids
  • Protect the heart and the brain
  • May help with diabetes and constipation
  • Soften the skin and relieve eczema

CONS

  • Not well studied in humans
  • Shelled seeds/hemp hearts are low in fiber
  • May be contaminated with psychoactive THC

Hemp Seeds Nutrition

Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, and minerals. One serving packs an array of essential nutrients in their optimal ratio, along with modest 166 kcal (Table 1).

NutrientUnitPer 100 gPer serving (30 g)
Energykcal553166
Proteing31.569.47
Lipids (fat)g48.7514.62
Carbohydratesg8.672.6
Fiberg41.2
Sugarsg1.50.45
Minerals
Iron, Femg7.952.38
Magnesium, Mgmg700210
Phosphorus, Pmg1650495
Potassium, Kmg1200360
Zinc, Znmg9.92.97
Manganese, Mnmg7.62.28
Copper, Cumg1.60.48
Vitamins
Thiamin, B1mg1.2750.383
Folate, B9µg11033
Vitamin AIU113
Lipids
Fatty acids, polyunsaturatedg38.111.43
18:2 n-6 (linoleic acid)g27.368.2
18:3 n-3 (alpha-linolenic acid)g8.6842.605
18:3 n-6 (gamma-linolenic acid)g1.340.4
Trans fatsg00

Fats

Hemp seeds contain impressive 11.5 g of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and zero trans fats per serving. PUFAs are super-important for your health as they [6, 7, 8, 9, 10]:

  • Combat inflammation
  • Protect the heart and blood vessels
  • Enable brain development
  • Improve skin health and complexion

Hemp seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. One serving delivers 160% (men) and 230% (women) of the daily value [11].

The second essential fatty acid is linoleic acid (omega-6), and hemp seeds will supply you with 68% (w) or 48% (m) of the daily value per serving.

The omega-6/omega-3 ratio of hemp fatty acids is 2-3/1, which most experts consider optimal for keeping inflammation in check. Western diets have a ratio of 15-17/1 and crave good omega-3 sources such as hemp seeds [1, 12, 13].

But healthy fats are just one part of their superb nutritional profile…

Protein

With 32% protein, hemp seeds are among the best protein sources you can get.

You will often hear claims about the poor quality of plant protein, but that’s not the case with hemp seeds. Protein quality score considers the content of essential amino acids and protein digestibility. With a value of 83.5-92, hemp seeds beat even some types of meat [14].

Hemp seeds are high in arginine, an amino acid that boosts cardiovascular health and relieves inflammation [15, 16, 17].

Find more details about unique compounds of hemp protein in “Health Benefits” below.

Vitamins and Minerals

Having a hard time achieving the optimal intake of different minerals and vitamins?

One serving (30g, 3 tbsp) of hemp seeds will provide you with [18, 19, 15, 20]:

*m=men; w=women; DV=daily value for adults

Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are another amazing source of healthy fats and other nutrients. Hemp seeds are more nutritious in general, but chia seeds have the following advantages (Table 2):

  • Fewer calories
  • Much more fiber
  • More vitamin A
  • Much more calcium
  • More omega-3 fatty acids

Hemp seeds are higher in all other nutrients, especially protein, unsaturated fats, and minerals.

Table 2 — Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds Nutritional Profiles [15, 21]

Nutrients per 100 gUnitHemp SeedsChia Seeds
Energykcal553486
Proteing31.5616.54
Lipids (fat)g48.7530.74
Carbohydratesg8.6742.12
Fiberg434.4
Minerals
Iron, Femg7.957.72
Calcium, Camg70631
Magnesium, Mgmg700335
Phosphorus, Pmg1650860
Potassium, Kmg1200407
Zinc, Znmg9.94.58
Vitamins
Thiamin, B1mg1.280.62
Niacin, B3mg9.28.83
Vitamin AIU1154
Lipids
Fatty acids, polyunsaturatedg38.123.67
18:3 n-3 (alpha-linolenic acid)g8.68417.83

 

But you don’t have to choose between hemp and chia seeds, right? Combine these two for optimal nutrition and a range of health benefits.

Hemp Seeds Health Benefits

How It Works

As mentioned above, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in their optimal ratio reduce inflammation, soothe the skin, and cut the risk of various chronic diseases [6, 7, 8, 9, 22].

Hemp seeds contain unique polyphenols – cannabisinins with potent antioxidant activity. Hemp protein and flavonoids such as quercetin also combat free radicals [23, 24, 25].

Arginine and other active compounds in hemp protein shield the heart and blood vessels [17, 26].

1) Prevent Heart Disease

According to different reviews and clinical trials, optimal intake of alpha-linolenic acid and other omega-3s found in hemp seeds can [27, 28, 29, 30]:

  • Reduce cholesterol and blood lipids
  • Enhance heart function and protect blood vessels
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Prevent blood clotting

Arginine from hemp protein stimulates the production of nitric oxide (relaxing blood vessels) and cuts the levels of inflammatory CRP in humans. Both effects can prevent heart disease [17, 31, 32].

Cholesterol and Blood Lipids

Omega-3 fatty acids help to keep blood lipids in check, but the specific effects of hemp seeds and their oil are not well studied in humans.

In 14 healthy volunteers, hemp seed oil (30 ml daily for 4 weeks) had only minor effects on blood lipids and cholesterol [33].

Low doses of hemp seed oil (3 g daily) enriched red blood cells of 36 children with omega-3 fatty acids but didn’t affect their blood lipid profile [34].

In animal trials, hemp seeds cut cholesterol levels and provided antioxidant support [35, 36].

In test tubes, hemp protein acted similar to statins (lipid-lowering drugs) by blocking an enzyme vital for the production of LDL cholesterol [37, 38].

Hemp seed extract prevents LDL oxidation, a major cause of plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis) [39].

Blood Pressure

Hemp protein extract reduced blood pressure in rats and stopped oxidative stress [26, 40, 41].

Lab tests have confirmed that certain peptides from hemp protein act similar to blood pressure-lowering drugs called ACE-inhibitors [42, 43].

Heart Function

Hemp seed supplementation enhanced heart function in rats and helped them recover from a heart attack. However, these effects were weak in another study on rabbits [44, 45].

In a cell-based study, omega-3 fatty acids strengthened the heart cells and normalized heart rate [46].

Blood Clotting

Blood clots may trigger fatal strokes or heart attacks. In animal trials, hemp seeds prevented excessive blood clotting induced by high-cholesterol diet [47, 48].

Summary

Daily consumption of hemp seeds will supply you with nutrients that prevent heart disease. Evidence for their therapeutic effects in humans remains limited.

2) Protect the Brain and Nerves

Dietary fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, are essential for mental health and brain development. Thanks to their high omega-3 content and other anti-inflammatory components, hemp seeds may protect the brain and nerves.

Multiple Sclerosis

In 100 patients with multiple sclerosis, a combination of hemp seed and evening primrose oils repaired nerve damage and improved the disease symptoms [49].

A study on mice confirmed that hemp seed oil can combat autoimmune nerve impairment in diseases such as MS [50].

Brain Inflammation

Bacterial toxins – lipopolysaccharides (LPS) – can cause severe brain inflammation and damage the nerves. In mice infected with LPS, hemp seed extract [51]:

Grossamide, a polyphenol from hemp seeds, blocked LPS-induced nerve inflammation in test tubes [52].

Alzheimer’s Disease

In Alzheimer’s disease, mutated proteins called amyloid plaques kill the neurons and drop the levels of acetylcholine, causing cognitive impairment. In a study on flies, hemp seed extract inhibited the toxic effects of these plaques [53, 35].

Polyphenols from hemp seeds provided antioxidant support and increased the levels of acetylcholine in a cell study [54].

3) Relieve Constipation

In a clinical trial with 120 patients, hemp seed pills (15 g daily for 8 weeks) improved the symptoms of constipation by 43% vs. 8% placebo [55].

Hemp seeds stimulated the colon and relieved constipation in rats [56].

Note: The majority of fiber, which supports bowel movements, is in the outer shell of hemp seeds. Whole seeds would thus have a stronger impact on constipation, but their consumption comes with certain risks (see “Hemp Seeds FAQ” for more details).

4) Help With Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a complex condition that involves obesity, insulin resistance, and increased blood lipids [57].

According to a large observational trial (1.2K patients), high intake of arginine from plant sources can lower the risk of metabolic syndrome by 42%. With 4.6 g of arginine per 100 g, hemp seeds are among the best plant sources of this amino acid [58, 59].

In cell studies, hemp protein cut the levels of glucose using the same mechanism as diabetes drugs called gliptins. It may enhance their potency while reducing side effects [60, 43].

5) Postmenopausal Syndrome

When women enter menopause, they lose the beneficial effects of estrogen and often face unpleasant mood swings. Hemp seeds reduced anxiety in postmenopausal rats [61, 62].

Hemp Seed Oil Benefits for the Skin

Hemp seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that nurture the skin and prevent disorders such as [63, 6, 7]:

  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Acne
  • Skin cancer

Although people tend to focus on omega-3s, one omega-6 fatty acid from hemp seeds has powerful skin benefits: gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).

6) Eczema and Dry Skin

In 20 patients with eczema, hemp seed oil (30 ml daily) supplied the skin with PUFAs and reduced symptoms such as skin irritation. It showed better results than olive oil [64].

According to clinical trials, foods and oils rich in gamma-linolenic acid can soften the skin and relieve eczema [65, 66, 67].

7) Acne

Propionibacterium acnes is, you guessed it, a leading cause of acne. Hemp seed extract inhibits the growth and blocks inflammation caused by this germ [68].

Limitations and Caveats

Despite the fantastic nutritional profile of hemp seeds and their potential health benefits, we lack solid clinical data to shed more light on this peculiar food.

Most trials have examined hemp seed oil, isolated nutrients, and active components but not the seeds themselves. Researchers emphasize the need to better understand the metabolism of hemp seeds and their nutrients [1].

Now let’s see if there’s something about hemp seeds that should concern you.

Hemp Seeds Side Effects

Clinical trials with hemp seeds and their oil haven’t reported major side effects in children and adults  [33, 55, 49, 34].

Hemp seeds are natural plant food, and there’s no reason to avoid them unless you’re allergic to hemp (Cannabis sativa).

But…

There’s public concern about psychoactive THC in hemp seeds, and it may be more than just “anti-cannabis propaganda.”

Although the seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids (even in marijuana strains), contamination with THC from the plant is possible [69].

As a matter of fact, doctors reported a case of one child with mildly altered behavior due to 3-week hemp seed oil consumption [70].

To learn more about this issue and how to overcome it, read “Hemp Seeds FAQ” below.

How to Eat Hemp Seeds

In terms of quantity, you can start with 1 tablespoon daily and increase to a standard serving for seeds: 28-30g or 3 tbsp. Hemp seed oil showed beneficial effects in doses of 20-30 ml daily.

If you’re aiming to boost your nutrition, stick with the seeds because they contain healthy fats + loads of other essential nutrients.

Hemp seeds have a rich nutty flavor, and they blend well in salads, smoothies, spreads, oatmeal, etc. They’re also a good option for people with nut allergies. Delicious hemp seeds recipes are easy to come across—go find your favorites.

Besides the oil, other products made from hemp seeds include:

  • Hemp butter: blended hemp seeds +/- added oil
  • Hemp flour: a byproduct of oil extraction (no oil)
  • Hemp protein: hemp flour with a higher protein content
  • Hemp milk: blended hemp seeds with water +/- other ingredients

Hemp Seeds FAQ

What Is in Hemp Hearts?

Hemp hearts are seeds without the shell, also known as hulled/shelled hemp seeds or hemp kernels. They are more common, tastier, and easier to digest than the whole seeds.

On the other hand, whole seeds contain much more fiber and may help relieve constipation. The shell is quite hard so you may want to go for ground seeds or pills. Also, you can sprout the whole seeds only.

Do Hemp Seeds Contain THC? Can They Get you High?

First of all, hemp is an ‘industrial’ strain of Cannabis sativa with negligible THC content. The seeds themselves contain only trace amounts of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, even in marijuana strains.

However, THC from the plant may end up on the outer surface of the seeds during the harvest or storage. In most countries, the official limit for THC content in hemp seeds is 10 mcg/1g (10 ppm), but some products may have up to 12 times more THC [71].

But how’s that if hemp doesn’t contain THC? Well, due to weak regulations, some producers actually cultivate THC-rich strains instead of industrial hemp [72].

Still, it’s highly unlikely that eating the seeds will get you high.

To be 100% sure your product has no THC:

  • Buy from trusted brands that test their products for THC content
  • Choose hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds) instead of the whole seeds
  • If you consume whole seeds, make sure to wash them thoroughly first

Hemp Seeds and Drug Tests

If hemp seeds are contaminated with THC, can they cause you to fail a routine drug test? Well, they might just do so!

Some people did have detectable urine THC levels after consuming hemp seed oil, butter, and other products [73, 74].

On the other hand, some studies didn’t detect THC after regular hemp seed consumption [75, 76].

If you follow the above steps, you won’t have issues with THC contamination and drug test results. To stay on the safe side, however, you may want to skip hemp seeds a few days before the scheduled testing.

Buy Hemp Seeds

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Take-Away:

Hemp seeds are made from industrial cannabis (Cannabis sativa), also known as hemp. They are loaded with essential amino acids, proteins, healthy fats, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, and more. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in hemp seeds have an ideal omega-6/omega-3 ratio.

Overall, this superfood can combat inflammation, protect your heart and blood vessels, support brain development, and soften and soothe your skin. But despite their promising health effects, clinical research on hemp seeds remains limited.

You can use hemp seeds in salads, smoothies, spreads, oatmeal, and other delicious recipes. Butter, oil, milk, flour, and protein powder from hemp seeds are also available.

To avoid contamination with psychoactive THC, make sure to buy from verified suppliers who test their products. If you consume whole seeds (with the shell), wash them thoroughly first.

About the Author

Aleksa Ristic, MSc (Pharmacy)

MS (Pharmacy)

Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets.

 

Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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