Hemp is a crop full of oils with potential health benefits, according to a new study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
A derivative of cannabis (marijuana), hemp has been used for millennia in textiles, medicine and food, by people all over the world.
Despite this, hempseed has been banned in North America since the 1930s, when all varieties of cannabis were made illegal due to its tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content.
THC is the compound that induces the "high" in recreational use of cannabis.
However, hemp with low THC content (0.3%) has been legalized by the European Union, and the global economic market for low-THC hemp - used in medicines, papers and fabrics - is valued at $100-200 million annually.
Researchers analyzed a portion of hempseed oil to see what beneficial qualities it may have. They found that some of its components are effective at promoting good health. These include sterols, aliphatic alcohols and linolenic acids.
Linolenic acids, sterols and aliphatic alcohols
One of the linolenic acids contained in hempseed oil is an omega-3 fatty acid that some studies have recognized as preventing coronary heart disease.
Sterols are steroid alcohols. Experts know that sterols are useful in lowering cholesterol, and daily dietary intake of sterols has been linked to a lower risk of heart attack.
The aliphatic alcohols contained in hempseed oil have also been known to lower cholesterol and reduce platelet aggregation. One of these alcohols, phytol, is associated with antioxidant and anticancer benefits, and can also be found in healthy foods such as spinach, beans, raw vegetables and asparagus.
Another antioxidant in hempseed oil is tocopherol, which is known to be beneficial against degenerative diseases, such as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's.
Among other benefits, hempseed oil has also shown a positive effect on dermatological diseases and lipid metabolism (the process by which fatty acids are broken down in the body).
Hempseed also has high levels of vitamins A, C and E and β-carotene, and it is rich in minerals like phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium. As a food, hempseed oil is nutritious - it contains an excellent balance of polyunsaturated fatty acids - and it reportedly tastes good, too.
Colorado recently legalized marijuana for recreational use and some states have passed laws allowing the medicinal use of marijuana. In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that the THC content of marijuana may be medically beneficial for people who have an autoimmune disease.