The composition of hemp seed oil and its potential as an important source of nutrition.

Leizer Cary, et al.
Journal of Nutraceuticals, functional & medical foods, 2000


The fatty acid and natural product content of hemp seed oil was analyzed by GC-MS and LC-MS. The presence of linoleic acid (LA) and a-linolenic acid (LNA) were confirmed in their previously reported ratio of 3:1 LA:LNA. The presence of β-caryophyllene (740 mg/L), myrcene (160 mg/L), β-sitosterol (100-148 g/L) and trace amounts of methyl salicylate was observed in the oil which had not been previously reported. Trace amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) were also detected. Bioassays were performed with the oil to determine its effectiveness as an antimicrobial agent. Some bioactivity was observed during the primary screening.


Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seed oil is valued primarily for its nutritional properties as well as for the health benefits associated with it. Although its fatty acid composition is most often noted, with oil content ranging from 25-35%, whole hemp seed is additionally comprised of approximately 20-25% protein, 20-30% carbohydrates, and 10-15% fiber, along with an array of trace minerals (Deferne and Pate, 1996). With a complete source of all essential amino and fatty acids, hemp seed oil is a complete nutritional source. In addition, constituents exist within the oil that have been shown to exhibit pharmacological activity (Deferne and Pate, 1996; Erasmus, 1999).

-linolenic acid (LNA) as its major omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), respectively. These fatty acids comprise the most desirable contents of the oil, especially due to the ratios in which they exist. The 3:1 ratio of LA to LNA is alleged to be optimal for nutrition (Deferne and Pate, 1996; Callaway, Tennila & Pate, 1996; Erasmus, 1999). The additional presence of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in hemp seed oil ultimately makes its nutritional value superior to most comparable seed oils. The myriad of benefits reported to be attributable to omega-3 PUFA include anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-thrombotic properties. In addition, dietary omega-3 PUFA help to increase general metabolic rates and promote the burning of fat (Erasmus, 1999; Simopoulos, 1994).

Cannabidiol (CBD) has been found to be present in hemp seed oil as well. Although not explicitly produced within the seed, traces of cannabinoid contamination have been reported to result from the pressing of the oil (Grotenhermen et al. 1998). Reports of cannabinoid contamination have been focused primarily on delta-9-tetrahydrocanLeizer et al. 37 nabinol (THC) with THC levels in oil reported at up to 50 ppm (Grotenhermen, Karus & Lohmeyer, 1998). The production and storage of both CBD and THC occur in the glandular structures of the plant and the concentrations of CBD are typically much higher than THC in most fiber and oil varieties of hemp. Therefore, it can be assumed that the concentration of CBD as a contaminant in the oil would be greater than the concentration of THC which has been reported in the literature.

The presence of CBD is significant because it has documented anticonvulsive, anti-epileptic, and antimicrobial properties (Karler and Turkanis, 1973; Ferenczy, Gracza & Jakobey, 1958). Although the levels of CBD within the oil are typically small, many health benefits may still be gained from its presence.

Although previously identified only in the essential oils of the Cannabis plant (Hendriks et al., 1978), terpenoid compounds have been identified as being present within the seed oil. Health benefits may be gained from their presence even at concentrations similar to that of CBD. As is the case with CBD, the presence of these terpenes is most likely the result of contamination from glandular hairs during oil processing. Nevertheless, the major terpenes identified have been cited as having anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, and cytoprotective pharmacological properties (Tambe et al., 1996).

-sitosterol and methyl salicylate complement the nutritious value of hemp seed oil and increases its effectiveness as a functional food. Even though the existing data on hemp seed oil clearly demonstrates its nutritional value, these additional compounds do add a marketable value, and need to be examined further for additional beneficial qualities and characterizations.


  • AA - arachidonic acid,
  • CBD - cannabidiol,
  • CBDA - cannabidiolic acid,
  • DGLA - dihomogamma linoleic acid,
  • DHA - docosahexaenoic acid,
  • EPA - eicosapentaenoic acid,
  • GLA - linolenic acid,
  • LA - linoleic acid,
  • LNA - linolenic acid,
  • 9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

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