When talking about hemp, most people first think of marijuana (or cannabis) and its use as a recreational drug. There is, however, far more to the plant than meets the eye. Overshadowed by its potent relative in past decades, industrial hemp has witnessed a comeback in recent years.
So…what is hemp? Hemp is an annual plant which can reach a height of 5 m and is one of the fastest growing plants. The species is dioecious; which means the plant is either male or female, although bisexuals are also known to occur. The plant has a main root with many side roots; its stem consists of different types of fibres. Its most known visual features are the “hand” shaped leaves and the flower of female plants. 
The industrial and “drug” hemp are very close relatives. Both are a subspecies of the same species (Cannabis sativa L.). A third, and least known member of the species, grows as a wild plant in some parts of the northern hemisphere. Apart from some visual features (like height), chemistry is the most apparent difference between the two. Industrial hemp has a different quantity and ratio of certain chemicals (CBD and THC) and therefore can’t have a “drug” effect on people. 
Hemp originates from Asia and was spread across the world over the centuries as a cultivated plant. As one of the earliest domesticated plants known, its use dates back to 12000 BCE. The plants main attribute is its versatility – people used every part of it. Its stem is full of fibres that were turned into paper, clothing, bags and ropes. Leaves, flowers and roots were used in medicine. Seeds are edible and could also be pressed into oil.
In turn of the 20th century tropical fibre plants (cotton, sisal, abaca, jute) and synthetic fibres gradually replaced hemp and other traditional fibre plants. These were far cheaper than their traditional counterparts and had properties (e.g. softness, easier/mass production) sought by the industry and market. An additional blow to industrial hemp cultivation was given by its previously mentioned “drug” relative. The potential harm on health of the latter was a reason why some countries (e.g. USA) banned cultivation of all hemp species.
The end of the 20th century marked a tipping point and increase in industrial hemp cultivation. Awareness on healthier lifestyles sparked new interest in hemp products; especially in the field of nutrition and cosmetics. EU countries gradually lifted their bans and allowed cultivation under certain conditions. Today, the biggest hemp producer in the world is France, followed by China.  
Why give hemp a try? As it happens, hemp seeds contain high amounts of essential fatty acids, essential amino acids and proteins. In addition, they are rich on vitamin E and trace minerals. As a result, eating hemp products can have many positive effects on health. Proteins strengthen the immune system and protect against toxins. Hemp fats are healthier and help reducing cholesterol in the body. Moreover, they also reduce the chances of cardiac and heart diseases. The health benefits don’t end here though. Hemp seed oil can, in addition to eating, also serve as a skin lotion which regenerates the skin and keeps it moist. 
If you’re in a dilemma about using hemp seeds or products from them, don’t worry – they are absolutely safe to use and so far no negative side effects of doing so have been proven. It is also unlikely to get a positive drug test result after using hemp products. This however may happen if you consume large amounts of shelled hemp seeds. 
Keep all this in mind the next time you feel like trying out something new or doing something for your health; you might want to go for Hemp.
By Aljaz Malek