Shelled hemp seeds are becoming a popular dietary supplement because of their high protein content and healthful fatty acids. Hemp seeds come from the same plants, Cannabis sativa or C. indica, that produce marijuana, although the plants are cultivated and processed differently so that hemp seeds contain very low levels of psychoactive cannabinols such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Shelled hemp seeds are generally safe, but some people may experience some undesired side effects.
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Oils and Digestion
Hemp seeds are rather oily and high in fat. One tablespoon contains 3 g to 4 g of fat. The majority of this is polyunsaturated fat — the good kind of fat — and according to Blue Shield of California, shelled hemp seeds contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. However, all this fat can come at a price, and you may experience mild diarrhea when adding high-fat foods, including shelled hemp seeds, to your diet. If your digestive system is sensitive to change, start with small amounts of hemp seed — say, a teaspoon a day — and slowly work your way up to the recommended serving of 2 tbsp.
As of 2011, hemp seeds are not known to cause any interactions with common medications, but you should talk to your doctor or naturopath about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you are taking before adding hemp seeds to your diet. Blue Shield of California recommends caution to anyone taking anticoagulant drugs, since hemp seeds inhibit platelets and may pose a bleeding risk.
Eating shelled hemp seeds will not produce the same effects as smoking a joint of marijuana. According to David P. West Ph.D., a plant researcher who has studied hemp extensively, the compound in marijuana that produces its psychotropic effect, THC, is only produced in the flowers, buds and leaves of the cannabis plants, not the seeds. However, since the seeds come into contact with the rest of the plant, some residue may remain on the seeds after processing and shelled hemp seeds may contain extremely low levels of THC. The exact levels vary by brand, so if you are very sensitive to THC and happen to buy a brand with higher-than-average levels, you may experience euphoria or hallucination. It is also highly unlikely — although not impossible — to get a positive drug test result after consuming large amounts of shelled hemp seeds.
Buying, Storing and Using
Look for shelled hemp seeds in the refrigerated section of natural food stores. Since the oils in hemp seeds can quickly go rancid, they are best kept cool and used quickly. Heating hemp seeds will destroy the nutritional benefits of the fatty acids, so add hemp seeds to foods after cooking.