Hemp is a form of the cannabis plant that was specially bred for its use in textiles. It contains very little of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp seeds are now the new diet craze and are touted to have many beneficial health effects. Specifically, the seeds of the hemp plant, and the oil produced from them, are said to be a great source of a number of nutrients such as essential fatty acids, gamma linoleic acid (an important essential fatty acid for cellular health) Vitamin E and a great source of chlorophyll (a substance that supposedly has anti-cancer effects). Scientific studies have shown that it is also good for your skin and is useful in treating atopic dermatitis.
The market for hemp products has surged in recent years. There appear to be a variety of uses for hemp-based products such as shampoo, facial cream, all types of clothing, protein powders, hot dogs, beer and liquor, dog toys, and even, yes, sports cars. Many of these products do not need FDA clearance if they are sold as supplements. So are companies legitimately using the (small amount) of data on hemp and health to guide them in producing their products? Or is hemp the new snake oil?
In 2007 a study was published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) which tested 84 hemp products and found that only 26 met their claims. The FDA also commissioned a study looking at 24 products and found only 2 out of 24 products met their claims. Other than these false claims, there are a few risks with hemp seeds, especially hemp seed oil. If you are at risk for heart attacks, the large number of fatty acids in hemp seeds could lead to cardiac problems if too much is ingested. Large amounts of hemp seed or oil can act as a laxative and cause diarrhea. Other problems include blood clots, an increased risk of prostate cancer, immune suppression, and problems with brain development. However, as the pharmacologist saying goes, "the dose determines the poison". If anything, you should consult your physician if you are thinking about making hemp seed a large part of your diet.
Thus, just like any other "miracle cure" of the day, the hype seems to be based on testimonials rather than scientific evidence. This is not to say that there are no legitimate studies supporting hemp's benefits on health. But just be sure next time you go shopping to take the claims made on that bottle of hemp shampoo with a grain of salt.