No, hemp is not marijuana.
That’s the most common misconception about the food product – legalised in Australia last November – and commonly used fibre.
So what is it?
While hemp and its more famous cousin, marijuana, are both varieties of cannabis sativa, one of the three main subtypes of the cannabis plant, they’re different in a number of ways.
Hemp contains negligible amounts of THC — the intoxicating substance in marijuana — and can’t get you high.
Marijuana can contain up to 30% THC, while hemp contains less than 0.3% (per dry weight) THC. Hemp has more CBD, a non-intoxicating compound with medical applications, than marijuana.
Hemp has been selectively bred for a range of consumer and industrial uses and has been grown in the US for centuries, but only recently been legalised in Australia for production and consumption.
The fibres from the stalk can be used to make rope, clothes, and other textiles — and can even be used as an organic construction material.
The seeds are also edible and are considered a nutritious food containing quality protein (30%), polyunsaturated fats and dietary fibre.
Hemp is also a hearty, drought resistant crop, making it ideal for Australian climate conditions. It can thrive in a variety of soil and climate types, with a 90–120 day harvest cycle. This extraordinarily fast-growing rate enables the possibility of 2-3 harvests each year.
Business Insider Australia spoke to Paul Benhaim, founder of Hemp Foods Australia and hemp expert about common misconceptions surrounding hemp foods.
Hemp Foods Australia (HFA) is the country’s largest hemp company, and forms part of the Elixinol Group, which is investing more broadly into other uses of Industrial Hemp in Australia. Founded by Benhaim, who is also responsible for founding the UK Hemp Industry in 1993 and who campaigned in Australia for 19 years to get hemp legalised, HFA reported $3.2 million in revenue in FY2017.
The market for Australian hemp is expected to significantly increase in coming years follow a global uplift in the industry which is projected to become a billion-dollar market by 2020.
Here’s are his top 6 most common misconceptions.
1. Hemp is marijuana
Hemp sits under the umbrella of Cannabis sativa L, which is commonly known as cannabis, however, it has one major difference. The Marijuana form of cannabis sativa contains the compound delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for its psychoactive function, whilst the hemp version does not contain any amount that could have an effect.. Essentially, you could try and smoke a soccer field of industrial hemp and all you would do is get a headache.
2. Hemp is just another superfood
The word “superfood” is thrown around a lot. But in the case of hemp, it really rings true. Hemp is the only food source to contain an ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. These omega oils cannot be made by the body and therefore are deemed essential and must be consumed via diet. These are the “good fats” that promote cardiovascular health and combat bad cholesterol. Celebrated as a complete protein, it has more protein than flax or chia and is quite easily digested.
Hemp contains a rich source of dietary fibre, contributing to a healthy digestive tract and its vast array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants make hemp a true wellness whole food.
3. Hemp is just a protein for vegans
Hemp is a complete protein containing all the essential and non-essential amino acids, making it a fantastic source of protein for everyone. Hemp has all essential and non-essential amino acids and its protein is made up of 65 % edestin (a highly digestible form of protein) and albumin – the highest in the plant kingdom. It’s the ideal addition to many dishes and suitable for ALL diets. Coat your fish in hemp seeds, mix hemp protein in meat dishes and pour oil over your lamb if you please!
4. Hemp is another crop we don’t have water supply for
In comparison to corn, cotton, soy, wheat and rice, hemp uses a lot less water. In comparison to cotton, growing hemp would save roughly 9 million litres of water. It also absorbs five times more CO2 from the air than trees. It’s easy to see why hemp is amongst the fastest growing agricultural crops in the world.
5. Hemp is just an ingredient to sprinkle on top of food
Hemp is incredibly versatile and sustainable. Not only is it a food product, but hemp can also be used for fabric, bio-fuels, building materials, medicine and plastics! Mercedes Benz is using hemp to replace metals and plastics in their cars, because the plant-based alternative weighs less and is biodegradable, which increases the fuel efficiency of the car.
As a food source, hemp seeds are so versatile. The seeds themselves have a heap of uses and they can also be cold pressed to create an oil and ground down into a protein powder and flour. This means hemp’s versatility as a food is second to none. Hemp seeds don’t need to be soaked so can be eaten raw, which makes them perfect for adding to any meal as an additional health benefit. Hemp foods can be used in so many ways – bread, milk, butter, curries, on top of salads, dressings, burgers, smoothies, dips… the list is endless.
6. Hemp will be grown to conceal marijuana plants
Each species of cannabis requires different growing conditions and if sown together will result in cross-pollination. At the end of the day, anyone attempting to conceal the harvesting of marijuana will find the end product significantly reduced in its psychoactive action. Marijuana growers don’t like hemp whilst health and policy makers do!
Additional reporting by Jeremy Berke.