The Benefits and Side Effects of Hempseeds

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on May 5, 2016Written by Erin Moore
hemp seeds in a bowl

Hempseeds are the seeds of the hemp plant, or Cannabis sativa. Some controversy has surrounded hempseeds, as they are often confused with another variety of the Cannabis species: marijuana. The difference between hemp and marijuana is that marijuana contains high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound that can cause a “high.”

Most hemp products today come from countries like Canada, where varieties containing 0.3 percent or less of THC can be legally farmed. Marijuana, on the other hand, typically has 3 to 20 percent THC.

Hempseeds have gained some attention lately. They’re being touted as the latest nutritious superfood that you should add to your diet.

But do they live up to the hype? Here’s a look at the benefits and side effects.

Hempseed benefits

The perfect balance of fatty acids

Fatty acids are compounds that help the body perform many important functions. They can boost the immune system and reduce your cancer risk. Some fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, are called “essential” because the body can’t make them. This means you need to get them from foods.

Hempseeds are rich in both omega-3 and omega-6. The seeds have an ideal ratio of these two fatty acids, which is rare. This ratio makes them especially beneficial for heart health, too.

Most people have too much omega-6 in their diet and not enough omega-3. So eating balanced foods like hempseeds is a smart choice.

Packed with protein

The body needs amino acids to make protein, and hempseeds are a complete source of all 20 known amino acids. The seeds are a whopping 25 percent protein, which is higher than many other seeds, including chia and flax. And according to research, the two main proteins in hempseeds (called albumin and edestin) are easily digested.

Plant protein helps you feel full and is great for your muscles, bones, metabolism, and overall health.

High in fiber

Hempseeds are also very high in fiber. Eating a fiber-rich diet may lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Foods with a lot of fiber fill you up, too.

But perhaps the most well-known benefit of fiber is promoting healthy digestion. Indeed, one of the main uses of hempseeds in ancient China, where they originate, was to relieve constipation.

Rich in vitamins and minerals

Hempseeds are nutritional powerhouses, containing significant amounts of:

  • iron
  • manganese
  • zinc
  • cadmium
  • other minerals

They’re also high in vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may help prevent or delay heart disease, stop cancer cells, and protect the eyes.

Hempseed side effects

Interaction with blood thinners

If you take any blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), speak to your doctor before you add hempseeds to your diet. The oil in hempseeds may slow blood clotting, so bleeding could occur.

Digestive complaints

Because of the high fiber content, you could have digestive symptoms like diarrhea, constipation or gas if you eat large quantities of hempseeds. Constipation is more common when someone quickly increases their fiber intake and doesn’t drink enough water. Start by eating a small portion, about 2 tablespoons, and drinking plenty of water. Then see how you react.

THC effects

It’s highly unlikely, but possible, to experience THC side effects from eating hempseeds. Symptoms may include hallucination or euphoria. If you get hempseeds from a reputable source, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Next steps

Hempseeds can be a good snack choice or provide a crunchy, nutritious addition to meals. Try adding them to smoothies, on top of oatmeal, or in baking. It’s important to get your hempseeds from a quality source, such as Bob’s Red Mill or Nutiva. Get in the habit of checking every food label. And always speak with your doctor before making any dietary or medication changes.

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