Why are Hemp Seeds Considered a "Superfood"?

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Recently, we’ve written about hemp’s industrial applications, especially in comparison to cotton and synthetic materials. Today we’ll shift our attention to hemp’s nutritional attributes and value.

Many people call hemp a “superfood,” and for good reason. All hemp foods begin with hemp seeds, which are unique because they contain many of the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy diet. With a nearly perfect balance of omega 3 to omega 6, plus iron, vitamin E, and all of the essential amino acids, hemp seeds are said to be the most nutritionally complete food source in the world.

The seeds may be eaten whole or shelled, raw or toasted, plain or flavored. Seeds can also be pressed for oil, which results in seed cake that can be ground into flour and protein powder. An increasing variety of hemp food products are appearing on store shelves. From seed to oil and cake, it is becoming easy to incorporate hemp into any meal.

Hemp has the same advantages as other plant-based food sources. Its proteins are easier to digest than animal proteins and, because it requires far less carbon concentration, it’s easier on the environment. Hemp foods are an excellent source of protein for everyone, not just vegetarians and vegans!

Throughout history, hemp has proven to be a vital resource, especially for new immigrants who colonized North America. It was so essential, in fact, that colonists were required to grow hemp by law. Although hemp was mostly used for fiber production, hemp seeds were an important food source.

With all that hemp has to offer, one wonders why current laws prohibit its cultivation by American farmers. In 2001, the DEA attempted to ban the sale of all hemp products, including foods, fibers, and nutriceuticals. Many businesses removed hemp products from their stores. Fortunately, in 2004, a permanent ruling was made, blocking the DEA regulations and thwarting the unfounded prohibition policy.

Naturally, we fully support and promote the use of all hemp food products. Unfortunately, almost all raw materials to produce them are still being imported, leaving American farmers out of the equation. The 2014 Farm Bill has permitted universities and Departments of Agriculture in states with industrial hemp legislation to work with farmers in an effort to research the production and market development for industrial hemp. However, this legislation has not yet allowed for large-scale production of domestically sourced industrial hemp products of any kind.

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it: ALL American farmers should have the right to grow and profit from industrial hemp. Don’t you agree?

Brush up on your hemp 101 and learn more about what it’s used for and why it’s currently illegal:

Hemp 101: What is Hemp, What's It Used for, and Why is It Illegal?

Learn more about Kentucky Hempsters and industrial hemp at, or check them out on the following social media platforms:

“Inflammaging,” the Endocannabinoid System, and How CBD May Help

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This article is sponsored by CannaVest, one of the leading suppliers of agricultural hemp-derived CBD from seed to finished products.

As we age, our cells’ ability to communicate with each other becomes impaired. Thus, the ability of the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system to respond to problems and stay healthy can become compromised. In susceptible individuals, this can lead to chronic and debilitating diseases of the brain and nervous system. Today we’ll examine how cannabinoids such as CBD may promote wellness against inflammatory aging, or “inflammaging.”


What is Inflammaging?

Inflammaging is the accumulation of low-grade inflammation throughout certain parts of the body. For example, it has been demonstrated that compared to their younger counterparts, older individuals have increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (non-antibody proteins secreted by cells) that promote systemic inflammation within the body.

In response, the body activates a system to increase cortisol (an anti-inflammatory hormone). The problem, though, is that a continuous activation of these systems can lead to blood sugar imbalance and diabetes, immune system suppression, weight gain and obesity, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, and even fertility problems. Moreover, although you’d expect that an immune system continuously operating on a higher level would be more effective, it’s actually detrimental. Instead, the low-grade continuous activation actually hinders the immune system’s ability to respond effectively to injuries or infection.


The Endocannabinoid System and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Enter the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its overriding purpose is to regulate physiological functions and restore homeostasis (or a steady state) in cells and organs. Some of the most powerful evidence we have linking ECS to overall health comes from studies where scientists have blocked the two major endocannabinoid-degrading enzymes (fatty acid amide hydrolase [FAAH] and monoacylglycerol lipase [MAGL]). In a series of elegant studies, genetic or pharmacologic inhibition of FAAH and/or MAGL led to decreases in neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, lower amyloid-beta levels (implicated in Parkinson’s), and improvements in long-term synaptic plasticity (the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time in response to increases or decreases in their activity), spatial learning, and memory. Clear and predictable symptomatic relief from spasticity has also been also been noted in patients with multiple sclerosis.

CBD (cannabidiol), the cannabinoid devoid of psychotoxic effects, has attracted the interest of many neuroscientists because it may beneficially mitigate neurodegenerative pathways—a direct link to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. One of the mechanisms could involve selective activation of the nuclear receptor known as PPAR-gamma. In fact, recent studies in nerve cells have demonstrated that CBD increased the clearance rate of some amyloid precursor proteins (APP), which is known to form aggregates of amyloid beta in the brain as the basis of Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, old proteins that would normally be disposed of and recycled can build up and cause cellular dysfunction. Also, some of these studies in both cells and animal models have shown that these neurons increased their survival rates by restoring the delicate balance and homeostasis of which proteins get “tagged” as being damaged for further remodeling and repair. (Think of it as worn out tires or brake pads in your car that need replacing after certain amount of wear, or the wild bushes in your garden that need pruning from time to time.)

Another intriguing study used rats who were treated with CBD and overloaded with iron to cause the degenerative equivalent of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The rats were able to recover their memory deficits and showed a reduction in the cellular and mitochondrial damage that was typical of iron overloading.

In short, it appears that strategically keeping the endocannabinoid system in balance, potentially with the judicious use of phytocannabinoids, may support optimal neuronal health and wellness over time.

Learn more about your endocannabinoid system and find out whether it’s in balance

Is Your Endocannabinoid System in Balance?


DiMarzo et al. Endocannabinoid signaling and the deteriorating brain. Nature Reviews (Neuroscience). 16: 30-42, 2014.

Scuderi C, Steardo L, Esposito G. Cannabidiol promotes amyloid precursor protein ubiquitination and reduction of beta amyloid expression in SHSY5YAPP+ cells through PPARγ involvement. Phytother Res. 2014 Jul;28(7):1007-13.

Esposito G, Scuderi C, Valenza M, Togna GI, Latina V, De Filippis D, Cipriano M, Carratù MR, Iuvone T, Steardo L. Cannabidiol reduces Aβ-induced neuroinflammation and promotes hippocampal neurogenesis through PPARγ involvement. PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28668.

da Silva VK, de Freitas BS, da Silva Dornelles A, Nery LR, Falavigna L, Ferreira RD, Bogo MR, Hallak JE, Zuardi AW, Crippa JA, Schröder N. Cannabidiol normalizes caspase 3, synaptophysin, and mitochondrial fission protein DNM1L expression levels in rats with brain iron overload: implications for neuroprotection. Mol Neurobiol. 2014 Feb;49(1):222-33.

Is Cannabis Addictive?

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If there’s a question that can’t be answered with a straightforward yes or no, it’s this: is cannabis addictive?

Before joining Leafly, I wrote for a website that connected people with addiction treatment, and shortly before that I began using medical marijuana. It was a constant challenge finding harmony between my close relationship with cannabis and the struggles of our readers, many of whom were diagnosed with a thing called “cannabis use disorder.” How could I bring myself to write about the risks of cannabis when I used it on a daily basis for my own health, and what negative consequences would my words bring to the legalization movement I was passionate about?

At that ethical crossroad, it eventually occurred to me that my stance didn’t come down to taking one path or the other, but instead understanding the massive gray area between the two. That ambiguity begins with a single word that many spend their entire lives trying to define and refine.


What is Addiction?

addiction defined

If someone asked you to define “addiction,” what would you say? If you’re of the belief that addiction is a chemical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms that you’ve never experienced personally, you might be of the mind that cannabis is in fact non-addictive. Some subscribe to the belief that addiction manifests psychologically and that cannabis can be addictive in the same way that gambling, sex, or food might be considered addictive, as they all produce pleasurable responses in the brain. I’m no doctor, so I recruited the help of Roger Roffman, Professor Emeritus of Social Work at University of Washington, to help tease out a more standardized definition.

“The language of addiction, dependence, and disorders is one thing when you talk to scientists and it’s another when you talk to the public,” Roffman said. “Addiction results from a combination of biological and psychological factors that contribute to conditioned behavioral patterns that are very difficult to stop or resist.”

And of course, there’s an environmental component to addiction as well. Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Screams: The First and Last Days of the Drug War, presented his definition of addiction – one that emphasizes environment over biology:

“Human beings have an innate need to bond and connect. When we are happy and healthy, we will bond with the people around us. But when we can’t because we’re traumatized, isolated, or beaten down by life, we will bond with something that gives us some sense of relief. The path out of unhealthy bonds is to form healthy bonds, to be connected to people you want to be present with. Addiction is just one symptom of the crisis of disconnection.”

From this perspective, the question isn’t whether or not cannabis is addictive, but rather under which circumstances might one become addicted to cannabis?


What is Cannabis Use Disorder?

Rolling a cannabis joint

You don’t often hear people say “cannabis addiction” in the scientific and medical communities. Instead, you’re more likely hear the term “cannabis use disorder,” and that’s the condition you will find listed in the official manual of psychiatric diagnostics – the DSM-V. This manual’s definitions and criteria are universally recognized in the U.S. for treatment recommendations, and it characterizes cannabis use disorder using 11 indicators. These markers describe various behaviors relating to cannabis use, including cravings, time spent using, dose, and life impacts. The number of factors experienced by an individual determines the severity of the disorder.

The accuracy of these criteria markers is critically important in determining necessity of treatment, especially in states where rehabilitation programs are mandated for drug-related crimes. A person who meets as few as two criteria – let’s say #4 (has a strong desire to use cannabis) and #10 (needs markedly more cannabis to achieve desired effect) – would be diagnosed with minorly severe cannabis use disorder. Wait a minute – I just described myself, as well as many of my friends and colleagues who function perfectly well, so do we all have a “disorder”?

“If there’s a difficulty with [the DSM-V’s diagnostic criteria], it’s overreacting when just one or two of these indicators are present,” Roffman explained. This overreaction dilutes instances of legitimate need for help with situations in which cannabis is neutrally or positively impacting someone with no desire to quit.

“While we need to acknowledge that cannabis can be used moderately and responsibly, can enrich lives, and, of course, can be healing for a lot of people, the fact of the matter is we have a substantial minority of cannabis users who experience far more than one or two of these diagnostic criteria,” Roffman said. “We need to be compassionate to people for whom a moderate or severe disorder exists, and we need good science to understand it and find ways of helping.”

But getting good science on cannabis and other illicit drugs is nearly impossible in a country whose prohibition restricts research on their benefits. If cannabis were legal, or at least rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, how much more might we learn about addiction and its causes?


What’s the Relationship Between Legalization and Addiction?

Cannabis plant against a hazy yellow background

The United States’ solution to drug abuse and addiction is criminalization. Punish the drug users and make them suffer by incarcerating them. Send them to mandated in-patient treatment. Less drugs will be out on the streets endangering our society and the drug users will learn their lessons. Right?

Most Americans know by now that this approach to drugs and addiction doesn’t work. In fact, it’s made things remarkably worse. Prohibition imposes a social environment in which recovery becomes even harder. You’re removed from any friends and family. Job prospects dwindle. Life becomes more challenging than before, and even then drugs were a necessary escape, something to bond with.

Despite the obvious failure of this policy, it continues to feed public opinion. Legal restrictions over research provide an easy out for policymakers to claim that we don’t know enough about the risks to legalize it, and that attitude readily bleeds into the public sector.

“All of the messages about health risks under prohibition are skewed in terms of overstating and sometimes blatantly misrepresenting science,” Roffman said. “Under legalization, we have an awful lot more room to speak about the continuum of health benefits, possible health risks, and how to make good decisions.”

Roffman’s history with cannabis is an unconventional medley of government-funded risk studies and advocacy efforts. Heading NORML’s Washington chapter in the mid 70s and co-sponsoring the state’s recreational marijuana law in 2012, his work demonstrates that acknowledging risks associated with cannabis does not necessarily undermine a strong rationale in support of legalization.

Just as public opinion can swing problematically far to the oppositional side, ardently proclaiming its harmlessness can cause issues as well. This is a conflict I’ve grappled with personally, and being immersed in a community of avid activists and patients can certainly cause passion to burn so brightly, it blinds. We need that strong community to speak about the ways cannabis has changed our lives, but we need to do so without losing sight of the fact that people with different circumstances can be impacted differently. With our collective efforts and voices, cannabis legalization is now visible on the horizon, and now it’s our duty to not only help those who need cannabis medicinally and those who want the freedom to use it recreationally, but those who need help quitting or moderating their use so they too can become counter-examples of negative stereotypes.

As our conversation came to a close, Roffman ended with the following:

“We’re a long way – a long way – from effectively educating the public about the health risks. We have a long history of Reefer Madness, we have a whole slew of people who are really angry about marijuana myths and lies, and we have a bunch of people who say that if you’re going to argue for legalization, you cannot acknowledge there are risks. For this movement to eventually mature so it’s serving the undoing of injustice but also promoting public health, we’re going to have to find ways of bringing accurate, non-judgmental information about health risks to the public.”

That process begins with acknowledging that your relationship to cannabis is unique to you and can never be used to define others’ experiences. It requires lending support to those who need it, providing them with an environment in which there’s more to bond with than just cannabis. And, of course, it requires that we never lower our supportive voice for cannabis, so that policymakers and the public never forget how much this War on Drugs has failed patients and citizens who only ever wanted to feel a point of connection with the world.

How Does Your Endocannabinoid System Impact Your Brain’s Response to Social Interaction?

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This article is sponsored by CannaVest, one of the leading suppliers of agricultural hemp-derived CBD from seed to finished products.

Does your endocannabinoid system impact social behavior? A recent study from the University California-Irvine examines how the ECS may interact with the hormone oxytocin to positively impact the rewards associated with social interaction.


What is Oxytocin?

For today’s Science 101 lesson, let’s have a brief refresher on what exactly oxytocin is. Mammals make a key neuro-hormone called oxytocin that’s produced in the hypothalamus and stored in the pituitary gland of the brain/central nervous system.

Oxytocin plays a role in intimacy, sexual reproduction, childbirth, and the socially rewarding effects of hugging, trust related behaviors, pleasant touch, emotions of love, and social interaction. In fact, a study published in 2012 out of Singapore demonstrated that individuals with more extreme levels of oxytocin in the blood were likely to be more trusting than those with lower levels.


The Endocannabinoid System and Its Physiological Impact

One of the most common experiences described by cannabis users include enhanced social interactions, interpersonal communication, and social bonding. This clear overlap in cannabis consumption and pro-social behavior has led scientists to begin exploring the potential link between endocannabinoid signaling and oxytocin.

To briefly review, the endocannabinoid system is a group of specialized fatty acid-based signaling chemicals (think “keys”), their receptors (think “locks”), and the metabolic enzymes that produce and break them down. These endocannabinoid chemical signals act on similar brain cell receptors as the active compounds found in cannabis – cannabidiol (CBD), and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Don’t confuse endocannabinoids with phytocannabinoids – the latter, of which well over 90 have been found to exist, are chemical plant derivatives (found mostly within cannabis species) such as CBD and THC that interact with the endocannabinoid system of hormones, receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoids are known to influence a variety of physiological systems, including appetite, pain/sensation and inflammation, body temperature regulation, intra-ocular pressure, muscle control, energy balance, metabolism, sleep health, stress responses, motivation/reward, memory, and mood, the latter of which brings us to the UC-Irvine study. What link exists, if any, between the ECS and social behaviors?


The Relationship Between the ECS and Sociability

According to UC-Irvine’s recent pre-clinical research study, there is a strong link between the “love” and “trust” hormone oxytocin and the naturally occurring endocannabinoid “bliss” and “delight” molecule known as anandamide. This is the first study of its kind to show a direct link in the brain of mice between these systems.

The animal study set out to measure levels of anandamide in the brain of mice that had either been allowed normal social interaction with other mice or kept in isolation. Researchers found that in mice with social interaction, the levels of anandamide increased in an area of the brain that’s critical for motivation, pleasure, and reward. When the mice were given drugs that enhanced anandamide signaling, their pleasure associated with socialization increased. However, when the cannabinoid receptors were blocked, the mice were prevented from experiencing the rewards of social interactions. This part of the experiment confirmed the importance of anandamide and the endocannabinoid system to social behaviors.

The second part of the study reinforced oxytocin’s role in social bonding and the pleasure derived from social interactions in the same mice when they stimulated oxytocin-releasing brain cells. Researchers found that oxytocin also enhanced the mobilization and production of anandamide within the same area of the brain responsible for motivation and reward.

Not surprisingly, when oxytocin receptors were blocked, it also stopped the normal pleasure and reward sensation obtained by social interactions. Amazingly, when anandamide was prevented from being degraded in this area of the brain, it completely offset the loss of social reward and pleasure observed when blocking the oxytocin receptor.

So what does this all mean? The study and data indicate that social reward and the effects of the “love, trust, and social hormone” oxytocin is driven by anandamide and the endocannabinoid system as an underlying keystone to optimizing social behavior. It’s an exciting revelation, as the underlying dependence of social reward on the endocannabinoid system provides a potential therapeutic strategy in the future to help individuals with social dysfunction, anxiety disorders, pervasive developmental, and autism spectrum disorders.


Zhong S, Monakhov M, Mok HP, et al. U-Shaped Relation between Plasma Oxytocin Levels and Behavior in the Trust Game. Slattery DA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(12):e51095.

Don Wei, DaYeon Lee, Conor D. Cox, Carley A. Karsten, Olga Peñagarikano, Daniel H. Geschwind, Christine M. Gall, and Daniele Piomelli Endocannabinoid signaling mediates oxytocin-driven social reward PNAS 2015;112 (45):14084-14089.

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