Yes, Eating Hemp Seeds Is Legal

That's Nuts

A weekly dose of nutty history, pop culture, and recipes from Lee Zalben, aka The Peanut Butter Guy.


Raw chocolate hemp seed pie at Gorilla Food in Vancouver. [Flickr: SweetOnVeg]

In the world of nuts and seeds, hemp seeds stand out as a nutritional powerhouse. Hemp seeds contain all 10 essential amino acids as well as the essential fatty acids our bodies need to survive but can't produce on their own. Hemp seed oil contains more essential fatty acids than any other nut or seed oil, with a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids of 1:3, which many health and wellness professionals find to be as close to ideal as possible.

Despite all of these benefits, there is a tremendous amount of confusion about hemp, mostly related to its intoxicating sibling, marijuana. So let's begin by clearing some of that up:

Hemp and marijuana are the same thing, right?

Unfortunately, hundreds of years of writing, music, culture, and politics have created a great deal of confusion about these plants. Canabis sativa is the genus and species of the two plants that we have come to know as hemp and marijuana. The subspecies sativa (full name Canabis sativa sativa) is hemp—a tall, fibrous plant which prior to the advent of the steam engine, was prized by sailors as an excellent material for making rope for ships and large sailing vessels. The subspecies indica (full name Canabis sativa indica) is a smaller, bushier plant whose leaves contain large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive compound which has made it a potent and popular recreational drug.

If I eat hemp products, will I test positive for a drug test?

In a word, no. In fact, you can buy and consume a number of products made from every part of the hemp plant. There's hemp soap, hemp milk and ice cream, hemp oil for cooking, hemp seeds for snacking and baking, and even hemp clothing you can wear. These products contain no THC and are perfectly safe and legal. So feel free to "hemp out" without fear of failing a drug test.

So if hemp is so useful, I can grow it in my garden, right?

Sadly, no. The U.S. government makes no distinction between the different subspecies of cannabis plants. All of the hemp in the U.S. is imported. China is the world's largest producer, but it's also grown in South Korea, Europe (mostly in France), and in some South American countries. All of the hemp that comes into the U.S. is tested to make sure it contains no THC before it is allowed to enter the country.

Do you buy products made with hemp, or cook or bake with hemp seeds or hemp seed oil?