What is Hemp Seed Oil?
Hemp seed oil, often referred to as “hemp oil,” is a clear, green oil harvested by cold-pressing the small hemp seeds. It is not to be confused with cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which is an extract of the cannabis plant and utilizes hemp flowers and leaves for its production. Although the hemp and the cannabis plant belong to the same plant family, Cannabis sativa L, they are two different plants and have different compositions. The biggest difference between them is the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) present in each plant. While the hemp plant’s THC concentration does not exceed 0.3%, the cannabis plant has high THC levels (up to 28%). THC is the psychoactive portion of the cannabis plant responsible for giving humans the sensation of feeling “high.” Thus, this makes products derived from the hemp plant very unlikely to create a “high” and the reason why it's mainly used for medicinal purposes. Hemp oil is often unrefined, can have a nutty flavor and has numerous health benefits.
The hemp plant and humans go way back: The first agricultural crop of hemp began more than 10,000 years ago in the region that is modern-day Taiwan. It’s possible that the cultivation of hemp served as the foundation of a sustainable civilization. By 6,000 B.C., evidence shows the hemp plant was cultivated in modern-day China. It’s been known that ancient Chinese used the hemp stalks for building materials, but they also made clothing and shoes from the hemp cord, and they would press hemp seeds and stalks to make hemp oil and salves. This civilization was a pioneer in discovering that hemp seeds are high in protein, vitamins, essential fatty and amino acids and was an ideal source of food and nutrition.
The world’s first recorded history of using hemp as a medicine is found in the “Pen Ts’ao Ching” (written in the First Century A.D.) which compiled herb investigations carried out by Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung. According to legend, Emperor Shen-Nung is considered to be the father of Chinese medicine and pharmacology (approximately 2695 B.C.) since he was known to be a master agriculturist and noted for tasting, experimenting and documenting as much as 365 herbs in his lifetime. The emperor would use the female hemp plant to make teas and was attributed to making hemp medicine by extracting hemp oil from the plant’s seeds. One of his most valuable discoveries on hemp seed oil was that when made into a tea it was helpful as a natural pain treatment, as well as creating what could possibly be the first topical hemp oil that he applied to the skin for rashes and irritation. In addition, he used hemp oil to treat symptoms of rheumatic pain, intestinal constipation, disorders of the female reproductive system and malaria.
During the period between 2000 and 800 B.C.E., Egyptian writings in the Ramesseum Papyri, an ancient Egyptian medical text, show use of hemp oil as an ingredient for eyewash. Fast-forward to 1500 C.E., hemp was grown in England, and it’s been proven that King Henry VIII fined his constituents if they did not grow hemp because of its high value. Hemp was a primary source of clothing material for Europeans prior to the development of cotton, so it’s no coincidence that settlers in North America brought hemp seeds with them and began cultivating the crop in Jamestown around 1616. They would use the hemp fibers for clothing, building materials, sails and weapons. This is the reason why in 1619 the Virginia Assembly established that all citizens were required to grow hemp. The plant was even accepted as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland and by 1776 hemp was cultivated in Kentucky. Most of the newly formed United States were cultivating industrial hemp on large scales by 1800. As medicinal uses of the plant were becoming more apparent, in 1851 the third edition of the United States Pharmacopeia listed hemp extract among its medicines. In the same year the United States Dispensatory (a less restrictive medical guide that included drugs not recognized in the pharmacopeia) included hemp extract and medicinal cannabis.
Nutritional & Health Benefits
Clearly the discovery of the medicinal qualities of the hemp plant are not recent. Even though the seeds do not contain the same levels of compounds as the plant itself, they still have a rich profile of nutrients, unsaturated fatty acids, protein and useful bioactive compounds; this according to a study from 2014 that analyzed the lipid profile of the hemp seed oil.
Award-winning pediatrician Dan Brennan notes that “the many health benefits of hemp seed oil come from its high content of three polyunsaturated fatty acids: linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Additionally, its ratio of omega-6 (linoleic acid) to omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) fatty acids is 3:1. Experts agree that this 3:1 fatty acid ratio is ideal for health benefits in humans.” Full-spectrum hemp oil that also contains plant matter may add other effective compounds. Hemp seed oil can also be used as a carrier oil for an essential oil mixture. As a matter of fact, one tablespoon (15 milliliters) of hemp seed oil contains 125 calories, 14 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fatty acids, 2 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids and 11 grams polyunsaturated fatty acids. Now, let’s break down these benefits a little bit more in detail. The omega-3 fatty acids can help lower blood pressure in people that suffer from hypertension. Additionally, it serves as a beneficial supplement during pregnancy as it supports healthy brain and eye development for the fetus and it may help prevent perinatal depression. Meanwhile the linoleic acid (omega-6) has been proven to reduce “bad” cholesterol which reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. In turn the gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) has been shown to reduce inflammation; this can be very effective in relieving symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome while simultaneously encouraging new cell generation. On the whole hemp seed oil whether applied topically or ingested can help bring health benefits inside and out!
Topical Benefits for Hair & Skin
According to a research article published in 2015 the use of hemp seed oil topically can protect hair from damage by preventing excessive water absorption which can cause hygral fatigue. This damage is caused when the hair follicles swell from the excessive moisture; highly porous hair is the most susceptible to hygral fatigue. It can also help to prevent the penetration of certain substances that could be harmful for your hair. Hemp seed oil can prevent hair breakage by enhancing lubrication on the shaft while reducing the combing force of wet hair. As we mentioned above hemp seed oil has been proven to be rich in omega-3, omega-6 and antioxidants, all known to provide moisture, strengthen hair, prevent hair loss, improve hair diameter and density as demonstrated by another 2015 study. The abundance of vitamins and fatty acids present in hemp seed oil are essential in nourishing the skin and keeping it healthy by protecting it from oxidation, preventing breakouts and other causes of aging. Hemp seed oil is also an emollient so its most well-verified benefits are leaving the skin feeling soft and supple. Its anti-inflammatory properties not only work when the oil is ingested as it also works when used topically. It can even reduce the symptoms and appearance of clinical atopic dermatitis.
When using hemp seed oil to make our natural soap bars, it is combined with other oils in a process called saponification. Adding hemp seed oil helps to give our bars that luxurious feel so many of you love!
Tip: Massage some hemp seed oil into your scalp to strengthen brittle hair strands and add shine and moisture to the hair while promoting thicker hair growth (be sure to try a small amount first to test for skin irritation). Or make some homemade hemp oil pesto sauce by following this recipe.