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Dispelling the myth that hemp is marijuana

Thursday 15 Nov 2012 2:04 p.m.

Hemp seeds (left) could soon become a health food in New Zealand

Hemp seeds (left) could soon become a health food in New Zealand

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By Imogen Crispe

Hemp growers and sellers want to dispel the public perception that hemp is marijuana, as hemp contains similar nutrients to fish oil and has numerous health benefits.

It was illegal to grow hemp in New Zealand until 12 years ago, when a ruling allowed people to get licences to grow the crop. Hemp oil is the only hemp food product allowed to be sold in New Zealand, but a law change is being considered to allow the sale of hemp seeds as a food.

New Zealand hemp oil seller Kim Renshaw says hemp oil is an up-and-coming health supplement in New Zealand and could help with fishing sustainability issues, as it is a good source of omega 3 and omega 6, for which people often take fish oil.

“Hemp seed oil is better than fish oil because it has five anti-inflammatory properties,” she says, and can help with skin conditions, arthritis, blood pressure and high-cholesterol.

According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) hemp seeds are a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fatty acids and are legally allowed to be sold as food in Europe, Canada and the United States.

However there is still a stigma in New Zealand around hemp being related to an illegal drug, which Ms Renshaw says is slowing down the process of hemp becoming a widely-used health food.

“It’s down to a bit of a fear and a bit of old thought people hold about the correlation between hemp and marijuana.”

Midland Seeds in the South Island has been growing hemp since 2001, and director Andrew Davidson says that fear has also slowed down legislation to make it possible to sell other hemp food products such as hemp seeds.

To be grown in New Zealand, hemp crops must contain less than 0.3 percent THC, whereas the drug contains 3 percent to 22 percent. Currently hemp growers have to apply for a licence and have their background checked before they can grow it. Once in production it then has to be tested regularly to make sure the THC levels are low enough.

Mr Davidson says the only way to dispel the correlation between hemp and marijuana is education.

“We’re in a good position to inform people to make good health choices about hemp seed oil,” he says.

Ms Renshaw says her interest in hemp does not mean she is connected with the marijuana industry, as it is a completely separate issue.

“I’m not pro-marijuana, that’s not my fight at all.”

Both Ms Renshaw and Mr Davidson understand and agree that there does need to be restrictions on the growing of hemp because of the risk of high-THC marijuana being grown instead, but they want the sale of hemp seeds to be legalised.

FSANZ made an application to the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation to allow the sale of hulled hemp seeds, which will be considered next month. Mr Davidson says if it is approved, it will be great for the hemp food industry in New Zealand, because currently it is not very economical to grow hemp solely for the oil.

Hemp oil – an alternative to fish

Ms Renshaw first came across hemp oil when she questioned the origins of some fish oil tablets she was taking. She discovered that almost all fish oil comes from overseas and is often highly processed, and hemp oil was a good alternative.

“I had a taste and I loved it, and a love affair was born.”

Ms Renshaw says hemp oil is delicious, tastes quite nutty, and can be used as a salad dressing, in pesto, in bread or added to smoothies. But she doesn’t recommend cooking with it, as the heat decreases the nutritional value.

“Oil for nutritional value shouldn’t be heated… I don’t recommend cooking with it.”

To benefit from the nutrients, Ms Renshaw recommends eating at least a tablespoon of oil per day, and says it is great for vegetarians or others who need a source of omega 3 but don’t want to eat fish oil.

Ms Renshaw will be giving out free tastes of her Kimmithgone hemp oil at the Taste of Auckland festival, which started today and runs all weekend.

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