The Nutritional Value of Cannabis
Everyone knows about cannabis and its psychoactive effects. Once the buds of the plant are heated, special acids are decarboxylated making them active psychotropic agents. What is lesser known is that this plant offers much more than simply psychotropic effects. One of the greatest uses of the cannabis plant is actually through the nutrition it provides. This, “dietary cannabis” will likely become a staple source of nutrition in the years to come as the persecution of this amazing plant is washed away.
The seeds of the Cannabis plant are chalked full of nutritional value. The whole seed contains protein, carbohydrates, insoluble fibre, beta-carotene, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sulphur, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins E, C, B1, B3, B6, essential fatty acids (USDA National Agricultural Library, 2016). The ratio of Omega-3 (linolenic acid) to Omega-6 (linolenic acid) is roughly 3:1, which by many is considered optimal for human health (Callaway, 2004)
Typically, cannabis seeds are sold either roasted or with the hard fibrous husk removed (called “Hemp hearts”). The fibre is an added benefit nutritionally, however, can be quite tough to chew. Hemp hearts add a tasty boost of protein, trace minerals, vitamins, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and omega fatty acids to whatever food you would like to add them to. The nutritional content of hemp hearts are as follows:
As you can see, there is a huge amount of nutrition to be found in cannabis seeds. In a normal 50 g serving of hemp hearts, you are receiving a whopping 16 g of protein! Simultaneously with the same serving, you are only receiving 4 g of carbohydrates, and a healthy serving of polyunsaturated fats and fatty acids to boot. By consuming the raw, roasted seeds, you are also adding the valuable benefit of insoluble fiber. These seeds are thus very nourishing and beneficial to human health. They contain all of the essential amino acids humans need to function, along with a quality source of vegetable protein, and Fatty acids. When made into oil, it contains among the lowest saturated fat, roughly ~8% of total volume (Callaway, 2004).
Hemp hearts are sold in many supermarkets and health food stores, they can be eaten as is or blended into smoothies or shakes, added to salads and pasta, and can be roasted and made into cookies or any baked goods. A paste similar in texture to peanut butter can also be made by grinding and mashing the seeds until an even consistency is found. This paste or “Canna-butter” is actually quite delicious and delivers much denser nutritional value than peanut, or almond butter. Another common method of ingestion is in oil form. The seeds are dried (to prevent sprouting), and pressed. They are then bottled in an oxygen-free environment to prevent contamination and rancidity. The oil is extremely nutritious, but due to its fragile nature, it is not suitable for cooking. Using the inner “meat”, nut milk, and cheeses can also easily be made at home or bought and consumed.
Leaves and flowers
The leaves of the Cannabis plant can be eaten as a salad raw, or cooked, juiced, powdered and blended into smoothies. The leaves contain a rich source of fiber, free radical scavenging polyphenols, flavonoids, 9 essential amino acids (including lysine and arginine), essential oils (Audu B.S et al., 2014), as well as the minerals magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. Polyphenols are well studied, especially in popular herbs such as the tea plant (camellia sinensis)(Bang-Tian Chen et al., 2012)., and Yerba maté (ilex paraguariensis) (M.E. Lima et al., 2014). Polyphenols have a wide range of actions but are especially known for antioxidant value. This class of chemical is common in leaves and vegetables and is important for reducing the damage that free radicals can have on the body, which keeps the body looking and feeling younger as a result. It has been shown that there is a direct correlation between dietary phenolic compound intake and a reduced incidence of chronic diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (Andre, Hausman, & Guerriero, 2016).
Some added benefits that the leaves contain, are due to the same phytochemicals that are generally desired for medicinal purposes. Some of these chemicals will become psychoactive if heated (decarboxylated), but will remain non-psychoactive if left unheated. Some of the main phytochemicals contained are essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, fiber, terpenes, and the cannabinoids: THC-A, CBC-A, CBD-A, CBG-A, and CBN-A (Andre, Hausman, & Guerriero, 2016). The most beneficial molecule is arguably the CBD-A molecule, which is found predominantly in the “Hemp” variety of Cannabis. It is the carboxylated form of CBD. In its raw (CBD-A) state, this molecule has a variety of beneficial actions in the body while maintaining a non-psychoactive effect. We have in our bodies an endogenous cannabinoid system, used to control cellular function. When CBD-A (or CBD) is introduced into our body it works off of our built in endogenous cannabinoid system to aid in a broad spectrum of anti-mutagenic, regulatory, and other actions that many use to combat or prevent cancer from thriving within the body.
The flowers contain the same slurry of chemicals but have a much more concentrated level of the resin, which is where the majority of the THC-A and terpenes are held.
Due to the leafs high polyphenol content, a rich source of trace minerals, fibers, and fatty acids, cannabis leaf and flowers (buds), are a great source of daily nutrition, with added preventative and medicinal benefit.
The stem of the cannabis plant is generally not consumed as it has a very high fiber content, most of which is insoluble and has a texture similar to wood. This is the part of the plant often used in the textile industry, due to its abundance of quality fiber. There may be a place for this part of the plant in nutrition however as a fiber supplement.
The root of the cannabis plant has been used in the distant past as medicine, especially for pain or injury as a topical application. It has not had much of a history in nutrition however and currently the roots are the least studied part of the plant. Science is still searching for details about the nutritional and medicinal values locked away in the small web-like roots.
- Andre, C. M., Hausman, J., & Guerriero, G. (2016). Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules. Frontiers in Plant Science, 7. doi:10.3389/fpls.2016.00019
- Audu B.S, Ofojekw P.C, Ujah A, Ajima M.N.O. (2014). Phytochemical, proximate composition, amino acid profile and characterization of Marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.). The Journal of Phytopharmacology. 3(1). 35-43. Retrieved from the web.
- Bang-Tian Chen, Wei-Xi Li, Rong-Rong He, Yi-Fang Li, Bun Tsoi,Yu-Jia Zhai, and Hiroshi Kurihara. (2012). Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Polyphenols-Rich Extract from Tea (Camellia sinensis) Flowers in Acute and Chronic Mice Models. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Vol 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/537923
- Callaway, J. C. (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica, 140(1-2), 65-72. doi:10.1007/s10681-004-4811-6
- Maria E. Lima, Ana C. Colpo, Willian G. Salgueiro, Guilherme E. Sardinha, Daiana S. Ávila and Vanderlei Folmer. (2014). Ilex paraguariensis Extract Increases Lifespan and Protects Against the Toxic Effects Caused by Paraquat in Caenorhabditis elegans. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 11, 10091-10104; doi:10.3390/ijerph111010091
- USDA National Agricultural Library. (2016, March 11). hemp - Food and Nutrition Information Center. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://search.usa.gov/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&sc=0&query=hemp&m=&affiliate=fnic&commit=Search