Cannabis Science

What is hemp?

cannabis plant

According to Brittanica, hemp, also known as Cannabis sativa is a plant that belongs to the Cannabaceae family. The plant is described as being aromatic, stout, and can grow up to 16 feet. It takes about 3 to 4 months to mature.  It was originally grown in Central Asia but eventually made its way over to North America. This plant is primarily used for its fiber or its seeds. You may have seen many hemp-infused products but in case you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, keep reading. 

Feature photo image: Unsplash

Is hemp different from marijuana?

As The National Institute of Drug Abuse puts it, marijuana is the dried flower of the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp and marijuana aren’t actually two different plants. The difference between them is really the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. Hemp, according to Healthline, is marijuana or cannabis with less than 0.3% THC in dry weight. That’s the general rule although some seeds were found to have more than usual in a study. What this means is that you’ll have to be careful where you get yours from. Check out the manufacturer before purchase. 

Is hemp legal?

Yes, it is legal throughout the United States. According to Healthline, the 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow hemp or marijuana with less than 0.3% THC. The bill also covers hemp-derived CBD products. 

What is hemp used for?

There are a ton of uses including:

  • Food
  • Paper
  • Skincare

Hemp as food

Its seeds are edible have been described as having a nutty flavor. The seeds have also been used to make a variety of food products. They have been used to make milk, oil, substitutes for cheese, and protein powder. 

According to Medical News Today, hemp seeds have several types of nutrients. Let’s look at some of the nutritional benefits of consuming hemp. 

  • You get all your essential amino acids.
  • Does not contain phytates so it shouldn’t interfere with the absorption of important nutrients.
  • Great source of healthy fat. It contains alpha-linolenic acids (ALA) which are omega 3 fatty acids. Hemp (and hemp oil) also contains omega fatty 6 acids such as gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA). 
  • Consuming its seeds may also help to remove the build-up of fat in the arteries. That’s because the seeds contain phytosterols that can do that job.
  • Good source of magnesium that helps with alleviating PMS. Deficiencies in magnesium have been linked to insulin resistance and osteoporosis. 
  • May reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease according to this study.

How to consume hemp

As said before this plant can be consumed in a variety of ways such as hemp milk. The milk is made by adding water and a sweetener to hulled hemp seeds. You use its seeds the same way you use other seeds. That means you can use the oil to make a salad dressing, sprinkle the seeds over your salad, drop some seeds into smoothies or even add them into granola bars. 

According to Medical News Today, “Hemp seeds should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Most hemp products need to be refrigerated after being opened.” The article also warned about heating the shelled hemp seeds higher than 350 degrees Fahrenheit as excessive heating will destroy fatty acids. 

Medical News Today also cautions people about overconsumption of these seeds. The seeds are safe when used moderately. However, according to Medical News Today, a sudden intake of a lot of fat could lead to milk diarrhea. In addition to that, the seeds may interact negatively with anticoagulant medications. The article urges people wanting to consume a lot of hemp and were prescribed anticoagulant medications to contact their doctor. 

Hemp as paper

There is evidence that hemp has been used as paper in China 200-150BC. According to Canex, using hemp to make paper is much better for the environment. For example, a regular tree takes 20-40 years to mature while hemp takes about 3-4 months. In addition to that, since it has a lot of cellulose, which is the material needed to make paper, less material is needed to make the same amount of paper. Interestingly, hemp paper lasts longer than paper made from wood. It is subjected to less yellowing and cracking. Finally, the waste created after making its paper has other uses and can be used up to seven times. 

Hemp being used in skin care

According to Medical News Today, the fatty acids in hemp seed oil can help to treat acne. The article says, “The fatty acids in hemp seed oil may help balance the skin and prevent inflammation that can result in acne.”

According to a study, hempseed oil helps in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. The study concluded, “Dietary hempseed oil caused significant changes in plasma fatty acid profiles and improved clinical symptoms of atopic dermatitis”. The reason the researchers gave as to why the seed oil was so effective was the presence of polyunsaturated fatty acids. 

Other ways the seed oil can be used for skincare, according to Healthline are:

  • Anti-aging
  • Moderates oil production
  • Moisturizes skin
  • Reduces irritation and inflammation.

How to use hemp seed oil on the skin

While it may seem obvious to just rub it on to the skin remember to do a test patch first. You never know how your skin may react to something. Healthline suggests cleaning and drying a small area of your upper arm. Apply the oil and cover with a bandage for 24 hours ensuring it doesn’t get wet. If there is irritation then you’ll know you’re sensitive to the oil. 

You don’t have to use the oil by itself. You may mix it with an oil like coconut oil and essential oil of your choosing. It’s still a good idea to test this mixture using the method outlined above.

According to Healthline, you can reap the benefits of this plant’s seed oil on your skin by taking it orally. If taken orally you would bypass skin irritation although you may exchanging it for temporary digestive issues. Healthline says you may use one to two teaspoons on a  daily basis. However, if you’re not fond of the taste, you can incorporate it into food or use it to cook food.  


Hemp is a multifunctional plant that can be beneficial to the environment and the body. It can be consumed or applied directly to the skin. It contains little THC so you shouldn’t feel any of the psychotropic effects associated with marijuana. The good news is that it’s legal in all states. One thing you may have to worry about is where the hemp is manufactured as some produce hemp products with THC near the legal limit. In addition to that, if you’re on certain medication like blood thinners, you’ll need to speak to your doctor before yes. Otherwise, enjoy in moderation and reap the benefits.


About Trevann

Trevann is Stoner Rotation’s Jamaica-based lead writer for the Science section of our cannabis blog. She graduated with honors receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology from the University of West Indies, Mona. For the last three years, she has covered some of the biggest questions around cannabis and health underpinned with research from supporting studies, medical journals and scholarly articles. Got something on your mind? You can reach her at [email protected].