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Hemp seed as food

Information about growing, manufacturing and selling low-THC hemp seed as food.

Latest update: Low-THC hemp seed as food

  • Growing, manufacture and sale of low-THC hemp seeds as food is now permitted.
  • You need to meet the requirements of theMisuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 – for activities involving whole seeds you must have a licence.
  • You must also meet Food Safety requirements and Ministry of Primary Industries requirements
  • Hemp seeds and hemp seed food products are not medicines. Health and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD

Hemp and its seeds

Industrial hemp is varieties of Cannabis sativa that have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content generally below 0.35 percent.

Industrial hemp is captured by the “cannabis plant” entry listed in Schedule 3 Part I of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Industrial hemp also contains CBD (cannabidiol).

THC is a psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants.

CBD is a substance found in cannabis that has potential therapeutic value, with little or no psychoactive properties.

Hemp seeds do not contain THC or CBD. Other parts of the hemp plant (eg, leaves and flowers) contain THC and CBD which could contaminate the seed if not processed correctly.

What you need to know

The Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 have been updated to allow low-THC hemp seeds to be grown, manufactured and sold as food products.

The level of THC and CBD permitted in low-THC hemp seeds and hemp seed food products is too low to have a medicinal or psychoactive effect.

The only part of the hemp plant that can be used for food is the seeds.

The permission to cultivate, manufacture and sell low-THC hemp seeds as food has no impact on the restrictions on medical cannabis products.

Terms used on this page

Whole hemp seeds have their outer coat on. Any activity (eg, growing, retail) that involves whole hemp seeds, requires a licence issued by Medicines Control.

Hulled hemp seeds are seeds with the outer coat or hull removed that are not able to germinate. A licence from Medicines Control is not required if your activities start with hulled non-viable hemp seeds.

Hemp seed food products have been produced from hemp seeds for example, hemp seed protein powder and hemp seed cookies. A licence from Medicines Control is not required if your activities start with hemp seed food products.

Importing or exporting hemp seeds and hemp seed food products

If you are importing whole hemp seeds (seeds with their outer coat on) you need an import or export licence under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations from Medicines Control.

You do not need a licence from Medicines Control if you are importing or exporting hulled, non-viable hemp seeds and hemp seed food products.

Whatever type of hemp seed or hemp seed food product you are importing or exporting, you must also meet New Zealand Food Safety requirements. These include having to be registered as a Food Importer with MPI and biosecurity rules. See link to

  • More information can be found on the MPI website: Hemp seed as food

Growing hemp to use the seeds as food products

You need a general licence issued by Medicines Control under the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006, with cultivation listed as an activity:

To grow hemp for commercial use you have to grow an ‘approved cultivar’. Link to approved cultivar page The Industrial Hemp Regulations set the allowable limits of THC (given as a % of the dry weight of the plant) of generally below 0.35% and not more than 0.50% in hemp plants.

You also need to be registered under the Food Act with the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Growers can only sell whole hemp seeds to someone who has a licence from Medicines Control with ‘procurement’ or ‘processing into specified hemp products’ listed as an activity.

Processing and manufacture of hemp seeds and hemp seed food products

If you are processing whole hemp seeds (eg, washing and hulling) or manufacturing hemp seed food products from whole hemp seeds you must:

  • Have a general licence issued by Medicines Control with processing into specified hemp products listed as an activity
  • Make sure you are using approved cultivar low-THC hemp seeds
  • Record all transactions in the seed register
  • Make sure that the food produced is within the allowable limits of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) as set by the Food Standard. Note that the allowable limits of THC differ depending on the type of product (ie, whether an oil, a beverage or other hemp seed food product).
  • Be registered under the Food Act.
  • Make sure the product labelling meets the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD.

If you are processing hulled hemp seeds or hemp seed food products (eg, hemp oil, hemp powder) you do not need a licence from Medicines Control. You must:

  • Make sure you are using approved cultivar low-THC hemp seeds
  • Make sure that the food produced is within the allowable limits of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) as set by the Food Standard. Note that the allowable limits of THC differ depending on the type of product (ie, whether an oil, a beverage or other hemp seed food product).
  • Be registered under the Food Act 2014.
  • Make sure the product labelling must meet the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD

If you want to transport or store hemp seeds and hemp seed food products

You do not need a licence from Medicines Control to transport hemp seeds (whole and hulled) or hemp seed food products but you must be registered under the Food Act.

If you are storing whole hemp seeds you must have a general licence issued by Medicines Control with ’procurement’ listed as an activity and be registered under the Food Act.

If you are storing hulled hemp seeds and hemp seed food products you do not need a licence issued by Medicines Control but you must be registered under the Food Act.

Selling hemp seed food products

To sell whole hemp seeds you must:

  • have a licence issued by Medicines Control with ’procurement’ listed as an activity
  • only sell to a person with a general licence issued by Medicines Control with ’procurement’ listed as an activity.
  • record all transactions of whole seeds in the seed register
  • ensure labelling, promotional material and information must meet the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD.

To sell hulled hemp seeds and hemp seed food products:

  • a licence from Medicines Control is not needed
  • these products can be sold to anyone
  • labelling, promotional material and information must meet the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD.

Hemp seeds and hemp seed food products are not medicines

While there is interest in the use of THC and CBD for medicinal uses, the level of THC and CBD allowed in hemp seeds and hemp seed food products is too low to have a medicinal effect. THC and CBD are present in these products as a ‘natural contaminant’, fortification of products with CBD is prohibited under the Food Standard. The Food Standard that allows the sale of hemp seeds and hemp seed food products does not permit health or nutrition claims to be made about the CBD content of these food.

  • THC and CBD products for use as a medicine must be accessed via prescription from a doctor.
  • No impact on medical cannabis
  • The changes to enable low-THC hemp seeds to be cultivated, manufactured, imported, exported and sold for use in, or, as food will not apply to cannabis products used therapeutically. Read more about cannabis products for therapeutic use in the sections:
    • Medicinal Cannabis Agency
    • CBD products.

Further information about industrial hemp and the changes to allow hemp seed food products

Read about industrial hemp and the regulations that control its use:

Changes have been made to the Misuse of Drugs (industrial Hemp) Regulations and the Food Regulations to allow low-THC hemp seeds and hemp seed food products to be grown, manufactured and sold.

  • The consultation document and the summary of submissions on the proposed changes are available on the Ministry for Primary Industries website
  • Link to the Industrial Hemp Amendment Regulations
  • Link to the Food Amendment Regulations

Information about growing, manufacturing and selling low-THC hemp seed as food

The Health Benefits of Hemp

Nutritional Advantages of Eating Hemp Seeds and Hempseed Oil

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Lana Butner, ND, LAc, is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist in New York City.

Hemp seeds, oil, and protein powder

Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak​

Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is cultivated for making a wide range of products including foods, health products, fabric, rope, natural remedies, and much more. The various parts of the hemp plant are used to make different products.

The seeds of hemp are edible and are considered highly nutritious with a high concentration of soluble and insoluble fiber, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for heart health and skin health.

Hemp is grown for non-drug use because it contains only trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant that is responsible for getting a person high).

Also Known As

  • Narrow-leaf hemp
  • Bitter root
  • Catchfly
  • Indian-hemp
  • Milkweed
  • Wild cotton

Health Benefits

There are three different species of plants that come from the Cannabis genus (in the Cannabaceae family). These include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

Hemp classifies as varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3% or less THC content. Marijuana, on the other hand, describes Cannabis plant species that have more than 0.3% THC, which can induce euphoric effects.

The hemp seeds are the primary part of the hemp plant that is edible. The leaves can be used to make a tea, but it’s the seeds that contain most of the plant’s nutrients. In fact, hemp seeds have over 30% fat, including essential fatty acids. The health benefits of hemp, therefore, primarily come from its seeds.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are, pretty much, as the name implies—the seeds of the hemp plant. Sometimes, the seeds are also referred to as hemp hearts.

They are high in insoluble and soluble fiber, rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which has been linked in studies to many health benefits, offers a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.   Note that hemp hearts have had the fibrous shell removed and, thus, are lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole hemp seeds.

A 2016 study discovered that GLA has very strong anti-inflammatory properties and has a “great potential to dampen [the] inflammatory processes and improve signs and symptoms of several inflammatory diseases.”  

Hemp seeds contain the perfect 3-to-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which is considered the optimal ratio for heart and brain health. This ratio is difficult to attain in the Western diet, as most foods contain far too many omega-6 fatty acids (like vegetable oil) and not nearly enough omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon and other wild-caught, cold-water fish).

Hemp seeds contain many nutrients, including minerals (such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc) as well as vitamins.  

The high content of 20% soluble and 80% insoluble fiber, in whole hemp seeds, may aid in digestion while helping to lower bad cholesterol and improve heart health.   The insoluble fiber in hemp seeds has also been linked with a lower risk of diabetes.  

Hemp Oil Versus CBD Oil

Hemp oil (also called hempseed oil) comes from the seeds of the hemp plant; it is made by cold-pressing hemp seeds. Hempseed oil differs from CBD oil in that CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant and then combined with a base oil (such as coconut, MCT, or olive oil).

Hempseed oil, which comes from the seeds only—and not from a hemp variety of the Cannabis plant itself—does not contain any psychoactive properties (such as those from THC which cause a person to get high). Hemp oil has its own unique properties and health benefits.

Hemp oil is used in foods for its high level of healthy nutrients such as:

  • Proteins
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs)
  • Minerals (such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, and more)
  • Antioxidants (such as Vitamin E)

Hemp oil can be used as a cooking oil and, just like any other type of healthy oil, can be added to foods such as salads, dips, and spreads.

Animal studies have shown that hempseed oil may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.  

Hemp oil is often used as a hair conditioner, a skin moisturizer. Some studies found that hempseed oil may improve dry, itchy skin and help symptoms of eczema, reducing the need for prescription medication.  

Hemp Protein

Hemp protein is a powder made from the seeds of the hemp plant; it contains over 25% high-quality protein with nearly 20 amino acids and nine essential amino acids.

Hemp protein is an excellent choice in a protein powder for vegetarians or vegans because it also contains essential fatty acids that are vital to health. The protein content in hemp seeds is considerably higher than that of flax or chia seeds, which contain only around 15% to 18% protein.

Other Health Benefits

Hemp has been used to treat a variety of health conditions, but there is not enough clinical research data to back up the claims that hemp is safe or effective to treat many illnesses. These include:  

  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • Bloating
  • Arthritis
  • Syphilis
  • Pneumonia
  • Heart problems
  • Urinary conditions (increasing urine flow)
  • Warts (when applied topically to the skin)

How it Works

It is thought that hemp contains chemicals (like the drug Lanoxin) that lower the blood pressure, slow heart rate, and increase the strength of the heartbeat, and increase urine output.

Hemp is also known to have terpenes, which are molecules produced by plants that are responsible for the plant’s distinctive smell (such as lavender). Studies are beginning to show that terpenes are thought to have many health benefits including neuroprotective (brain-protective), anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties.  

Possible Side Effects

According to RX List, taking whole hemp by mouth can cause many side effects including:  

  • Throat irritation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

There is not enough clinical research data to prove that hemp is safe for use in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or to use topically (on the skin).

Eating hemp seeds is not considered as unsafe as is ingesting the hemp leaves or other parts of the plant. But the seeds can cause mild diarrhea because of the high-fat content.

Interaction with Medications

Do not ingest hemp when taking cardiac glycosides or diuretics.

Cardiac Glycosides

Cardiac glycosides, such as Lanoxin (digoxin) help the heart beat strongly and can slow down the heart rate. Hemp is also known to slow the heart rate; this could result in bradycardia. Do not take hemp when taking Lanoxin without consulting with the prescribing physician or another healthcare provider.

Diuretics

Diuretics such as Diuril (chlorothiazide), Thalitone (chlorthalidone), Lasix (furosemide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide) and others may lower potassium in the body as they work to flush fluids. Hemp has a similar action.

When there is an increase in urine/fluid output, it’s common that potassium is also lost. Taking diuretics and hemp together may result in dangerously low potassium levels which could adversely impact the heart.

Hemp seeds

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or cooked with other foods. Hempseed oil has been used as food or made into medicine for thousands of years in China.

There are many ways to eat hemp protein, oil, and seeds, including:

  • In a smoothie
  • On oatmeal or cereal
  • Sprinkled over salads
  • As a nut butter
  • As a form of milk (hemp milk)
  • On yogurt
  • In meal bars or granola bars
  • As a salad dressing (hemp oil)
  • Sprinkle (hemp seeds) on casserole dishes
  • Add hemp seeds to baked goods
  • In recipes
  • As a cooking oil

Storage

Exposing hemp seeds to air for long periods of time or storing hemp at high temperatures can cause the degradation of its healthy fat content; this could result in trans-fatty acids (which are the very worst type of fats a person could eat).

It is recommended to store hemp seeds and hemp oil at cool temperatures, away from exposure to bright light, in an airtight container. It is best to refrigerate hemp products after opening.  

Many hemp products, including hemp oil, hemp milk, and hemp protein powder can be purchased at a health food store, or online.

Cooking hemp seeds or heating the oil to temperatures above 350 degrees Fahrenheit can denature the fats, destroying the healthy fatty acids. Hemp seeds and oil are best eaten raw; if cooking with hemp oil, use low heat.

Dosage

The dosage of any herbal or natural supplement depends on several factors, including a person’s age, health condition, and more.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking hemp (or any other herb) regarding the recommended dosage. When taking herbal preparations, never exceed the dosage or other recommendations on the package insert.

When eating hemp seeds, some experts suggest starting out slow (such as 1 teaspoon) then gradually working up to more as tolerated, particularly for those with digestive problems.

Selection

Hemp seeds are grown in many different countries, but the hemp that is grown in Canada is said to produce a great tasting, high-quality seed.   Look for products that have been tested in the lab for purity and potency.

Keep in mind that the regulations on hemp grown in the U.S., Europe, and Canada are stricter than those in other countries, such as China. Also, Canada’s products are non-GMO. Be sure to select an organic product for the ultimate in nutritional value, taste, potency, and overall quality.

Common Questions

Are hemp seed hearts that same as hemp seed?

No. Hemp hearts have had the fibrous shell removed and, thus, are lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole hemp seeds. Hemp hearts not as nutritionally beneficial as the whole hemp seed. However, hemp hearts are very high in healthy polyunsaturated fats.

Are hemp seeds legal to ingest in the U.S.?

Yes, hemp seeds are legal in the United States, but the seeds must contain a minimal amount of THC (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant that gets a person high).  

According to the FDA, some hemp products, including hemp seeds, hemp seed protein powder, and hempseed oil are safe for food, and therefore there is no need for special legislation regarding legalization.

Can eating hemp cause a person to fail a drug test?

No, not when eating moderate amounts of hempseed oil, protein powder made of hemp, or hemp seeds. There are only trace amounts of THC in hemp; unless a person is using other variations of the hemp plant, such as marijuana, (or ingesting abnormally large amounts of hemp) failing a drug test from eating hemp seeds is unlikely.

Although hemp hearts do not contain any THC at all, the shells do have trace amounts (below 0.3% THC).

Therefore, although a person is very unlikely to test positive on a drug test from eating hemp seeds, those who are recovering from cannabis addiction—with a goal of avoiding all exposure to THC— may want to avoid eating the whole hemp seeds, and opt for hemp hearts instead.

What does hemp taste like?

Hemp seeds have a very pleasant, mild, nutty flavor, like unsalted sunflower seeds, but the texture is not as hard.

Learn what medical research says about the nutritional benefits of eating hemp seeds, hempseed oil, and hempseed protein powder.