Cannabis is popularly known for its mind-altering properties. But this controversial plant boasts abundant secret delights that are now (re)emerging following its prohibition.
The Australia China Nutrition and Health Association recently showcased medicinal cannabis and hemp products in a forum with professional guest speakers at the Pullman Hotel in Melbourne.
Attendee Nikki King was impressed that cannabis had so many different uses, including clothing, textiles, construction and a “myriad of health benefits.”
Presenter John Easterling, founder and president of Amazon Herb Company USA (and husband to Olivia Newton-John), says cannabis has been used for food, medicine and shelter for at least 10,000 years.
Easterling forecasts that after 17 years of battling to legalise hemp in food products, we are facing a “tsunami of change in the world of cannabis and hemp.”
Oil derived from the nutritious hemp seed is rich in healthy fats including omega-3. The trichomes (oils) at the end of the cannabis flowers contain the plant’s active properties: at least 113 cannabinoids – compounds that have receptors in the body and brain.
Two primary cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the ‘high’ and other side effects that are induced by smoking or ingesting marijuana cooked in foods.
Marijuana is grown to produce high quantities of THC. But industrial hemp varieties of cannabis contain CBD and very little, if any, of the psychoactive THC.
Importantly, CBD does not produce a high – in fact it dampens it. In 2017 the World Health Organisation announced that CBD is safe for humans, with no adverse health effects.
There are reports of CBD’s anticonvulsive, anti-epileptic and antimicrobial properties.
While THC has been associated with anxiety and risk of schizophrenia in susceptible individuals, CBD could help reduce anxiety and symptoms associated with neuropsychiatric disorders like epilepsy and schizophrenia.
It has even been studied for potential applications in cancer, type 1 diabetes, acne and Alzheimer’s disease.
Speaker Professor Ian Brighthope referred to a case in which a NSW father, out of desperation, treated his two daughters’ Crohn’s disease with juice from the hemp plant. Despite their vastly improved symptoms, he is currently facing imprisonment.
One of Brighthope’s friends tried cannabis for Parkinson’s. He reported that after four days she regained her sense of smell. Travelling overseas, she forgot her medication and used medicinal cannabis. Over nine days she noticed reduced tremors.
In January 2017, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a review of the evidence for cannabis’s health benefits. The report concluded that “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective:
They reported moderate evidence for its ability to improve short-term sleep in people with sleep disturbance related to chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. More evidence is needed to support other medical applications.
An estimated five million Australians suffer chronic pain. And older adults are most afflicted.
Estimates of chronic pain prevalence in community-dwelling older adults are 25-50%, and up to 70% for nursing home residents. It is typically managed using opiates and other painkillers, all of which can have serious side effects and adverse interactions with other medications.
Dementia and aged care consultant Leah Bisiani says 73% of people in aged care facilities are not having their pain managed effectively, and will continue to deteriorate on opioids. Baby boomers are demanding alternative approaches like medical cannabis with less unwanted side effects.
Bisiani contends that we “need to look at medicinal cannabis as a humane philosophy of care.” She argued that access to effective pain relief is “a basic human right” that “cannot be ignored.”
Cannabis, or marijuana, is the world’s most highly used illicit drug. But hemp – although it derives from the same species – will not cause giggle fits, big toenail fascination or insatiable pizza cravings.
Hempseed contains only negligible amounts of marijuana’s primary psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – and its high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD) counteracts THC’s brain-altering effects.
A diverse, fast-growing plant, hemp is used industrially to make numerous products including paper, canvas, linen, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint and insulation.
And hempseed – legalised in Australia November last year – has been eaten for thousands of years raw, cooked and roasted. Technically a nut, it is packed with nutrients that include healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats, vitamin E, minerals, fibre, and protein.
Rivalling whey powder’s 13% protein content, hemp contains 25% protein – more than chia seed and quinoa. Hempseed contains 20 amino acids. That includes the 9 essential peptides that humans need from dietary sources, making it a complete source of plant protein.
The protein is also easily digested, making it highly bioavailable. Its protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is “equal to or greater than certain grains, nuts, and some pulses,” according to researchers from the University of Manitoba.
Research suggests hempseed protein has several health benefits including reduced fatigue and improved immune function. Hempseed protein may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol, indicative of heart health benefits. Its antioxidant properties reduce free radicals responsible for accelerated aging.
In aging, good quality protein itself is important for retaining healthy muscle mass and bone density to reduce risk of sarcopenia and osteoporosis. It can lower risk of falls and improve recovery and wound healing. Protein may even help ward off diabetes and dementia.
Since its legalisation, industry has been creatively devising new products to deliver hemp seeds’ nutritional benefits to consumers – including hemp beer, hemp chocolate and hemp oil. It is also available as a protein powder and flour for baking.
Hempseeds have a nutty flavour. Recipes have sprung up to include them in a smorgasbord of foods ranging from granola, hummus, burgers, pesto, protein balls and chutney to bread, soup and smoothies.
And hemp is not just good for us; it is ecologically sustainable. As well as being fast growing, it does not need much water, so is an ideal crop for Australian conditions. Harry Youngman, Victorian farmer, told the ABC that its “water use efficiency is incredible.”
With its “aggressive rooting structure,” it helps to break up the soil, making it an ideal rotational crop between seasons. Even better, it is weed-resistant and needs little, if any chemicals.