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is hemp seed legal

Sadly, hemp became too closely associated with marijuana, and confusion between the two plants has led to illegality. It is now only legal to grow under certain conditions.

Is Hemp Legal in the UK? [EXPLAINED]

The cannabidiol industry is a legal minefield as it is, without even having to consider the status of the plant it comes from. Everybody knows that cannabis is illegal in Great Britain, but most people don’t understand the distinction between hemp and marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana both belong to the Cannabis genus of plants, but they do differ slightly. Unfortunately, the genus as a whole is classified as a controlled substance in this country, and this is where the complications come in. Marijuana is awarded a more tightly controlled status than its hemp counterpart – but why?

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about hemp and whether it is legal in the UK. That way, you can feel a little bit better about purchasing CBD products that state they are made from hemp?

What Actually is Hemp?

Hemp is a member of the Cannabis sativa family, meaning it belongs to the same genus of plants as marijuana! There is a lot of confusion about the differences between the two, which is why both types of plant were made controlled substances back in the 1970s. While marijuana is known for its ability to get people high, hemp does not actually possess this trait.

By definition, hemp contains less than 0.3% THC per dry weight. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active compound in cannabis plants that produces psychoactive effects. It isn’t the only active compound in there, as there are estimated to be over 100 cannabinoids! THC is one of the most abundant, alongside CBD. Cannabidiol (CBD) is becoming much more accepted, as it is now recognised that it produces no intoxicating effects whatsoever. Unlike THC, it is still abundant in hemp plants. This is great news, as hemp is not only non-intoxicating, but it is thought to have some wonderful benefits.

There are some other key differences between hemp and marijuana. Hemp, first off, looks different. It has thinner leaves concentrated at the top of the plant, and overall the plant is skinnier and taller than its counterpart. Hemp can actually grow up to 20 feet tall! Furthermore, hemp can be grown very close together thanks to its narrowness, whereas marijuana plants need to be cultivated further apart. Marijuana growers have to carefully control the environment, or the marijuana will die extremely quickly. Hemp, on the other hand, is hardy and can survive pretty much anywhere.

It is a hyper-accumulator, meaning that it sucks up almost anything it can get from the soil. As a result, hemp cultivators need to be careful about where they grow it – if they grow it in contaminated soil, the hemp will absorb all the toxins and won’t be safe to consume! This is good news for farmers of other crops, though, because they can grow hemp plants nearby to ensure that the soil remains clean. In fact, it was proposed to plant hemp plants at Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster in order to clean up the soil!

While hemp is amazing for consumption (which we will discuss more in the next section), it also has many other uses. The fibrous stalks are ideal for creating textiles and even building materials. It can even be used to make paper! Hemp is an extremely versatile plant, which is why it’s quite sad that it is classified as a controlled substance.

The Health Benefits of Hemp

While the leaves and stalks of hemp are more likely to be used in textiles, the seeds are incredibly nutritious. Many people cons >hempseeds to be a superfood because they are so packed full of goodness. Although the seeds contain very low amounts of cannabinoids, they are still good for you thanks to the rest of their contents.

Here are some of the health benefits:

  • Protein: In every 30g of hemp seeds (around 1 tablespoon), there are 9.46g of protein. They are considered a “complete” protein source, meaning that they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins are growing in popularity as a healthier and more environmentally-friendly alternative to animal proteins, but few plant proteins contain all 9 amino acids. Hempseeds are, in this way, a superior form of plant protein that makes them an incredible addition to your diet.
  • Unsaturated fats: It is generally considered that unsaturated fats are healthier than their saturated counterparts. We need omega fatty acids in our diet in order to survive and remain healthy, and hemp contains both omega-3 and omega-6.
  • Fibre: Hempseeds can be quite fibrous if you buy the right ones. ‘Hemp hearts’ refer to deshelled hempseeds, but these won’t contain much fibre as most lies in the outer shell. If you are looking to add more fibre into your diet, purchase hempseeds that still have their hulls.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Hempseeds contain a huge array of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and B vitamins.

All of these components do different things for your health, including boosting your heart health, improving your skin, and protecting the brain. You can eat hempseeds, buy hempseed oil, or even purchase hemp milk to get these benefits.

Is Hemp Legal to Grow in the UK?

All the way back in 1533, King Henry VIII made it compulsory by law to grow hemp. For every 60 acres of farmland, cultivators had to grown ¼ acre of flax or hemp, or else they would be in breach of the law. This was because of the incredible nutritional value of hemp, as well as its numerous other uses.

Sadly, hemp became too closely associated with marijuana, and confusion between the two plants has led to illegality. It is now only legal to grow under certain conditions.

To grow hemp in the United Kingdom, you have to obtain a license from the Home Office. A new license costs £580, and a renewal costs £326, so it’s no wonder that few people actually have one! Furthermore, people applying for this license must undergo a Disclosure and Baring Service (DBS) to check that they are eligible for a license.

There are also several restrictions that apply. A compliance visit may be necessary, and the Home Office may impose restrictions on where you can plant the crop. For example, hemp is generally not allowed near schools or areas of public access.

Growers who are in possession of a hemp growing license must inform the local police about where the hemp is being grown. Any changes to the growing season or planting location of the crop must be passed on to the Home Office immediately.

Currently, there is no more than 810 hectares of hemp grown in the UK. Organisations like the British Hemp Association are working to change that, recognising just how useful the crop can be. It’s impossible to know whether hemp will be made legal in the UK ever again, but it’s not an impossibility.

So, Where Does CBD Oil Come From?

If you have heard about CBD oil and that it comes from hemp, you might now be wondering where it comes from cons >farms in Europe . It is often the case that growers still require a license to cultivate hemp, but manufacturers often weigh up the cost of paying for their own farms here in the UK or importing hemp from abroad.

Regardless of where in the world it comes from, the CBD oil you see being sold in the UK will certainly be derived from hemp and not marijuana. Although the two plants are often muddled up, hemp is generally given more of a pass than marijuana is. Since it contains so little THC, manufacturers have to produce their CBD products from this plant – the legal limit for THC in Great Britain is 0.2%. This can only really be achieved by producing the products from hemp.

Final Thoughts on Hemp in the UK

To answer the titular question: Hemp is sort of legal in the UK. Growers can only cultivate the crop with a license, but as long as the requirements are met then it is legal to do so.

Hemp has endured a long history in Britain and the world over, and it appears to be making somewhat of a comeback. With any luck, in the future more and more hemp will be produced in the UK, possibly making it cheaper to produce homegrown CBD products. The popularity of such products is sharply rising, and so it’s not too optimistic to think that hemp might finally become more accepted by the government and undergo a change of status.

Is hemp seed legal
And, despite the slightly off-putting label “industrial hemp” used to distinguish it from medical marijuana, evidence shows these seeds are very good for you.

Hemp can now be sold as a food in Australia (and it’s super good for you)


Node leader of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls and Professor of Plant Science, University of Adelaide

Disclosure statement

Rachel Burton receives funding from the Australian Research Council and has recently undertaken work on hempseed funded by the South Australian Department of State Development in collaboration with the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).


University of Adelaide provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

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Most of you know hemp, or marijuana, as a drug to be smoked. Laws restrict its use and sale in Australia and other countries.

From November 12 2017, changes to the Food Standards Code to permit the sale of low-psychoactive hemp seed as a food are effective in Australia. Jurisdictions will now need to amend respective legislation to support the legal sale of low-THC hemp seed foods.

And, despite the slightly off-putting label “industrial hemp” used to distinguish it from medical marijuana, evidence shows these seeds are very good for you.

Fast facts about edible hemp

In order to be considered a food ingredient hemp seed has to contain less than 0.5% of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s called low-THC hemp.

Industrial hemp naturally has low levels of THC, which is made by the plant (probably as a sunscreen or to deter insects from eating it). But levels will have to be monitored regularly. This may necessitate setting up a dedicated screening capability in some Australian states, as the crop becomes established.

Hemp seeds are actually like a little nut, with a crisp shell and a soft heart. Mostly you will find them for sale in health food shops. Typically it will be the hearts you can buy, already released from the shells; they have a mild nutty flavour.

Hemp seeds contain around 25% protein, up there with soybean and even better than quinoa. Most of the essential amino acids are present, plus valuable minerals and amounts of vitamin E.

A rich source of ‘good’ oils

Hemp seed hearts are also rich in oils, with a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 polyunsaturated fats of around 3:1.

Now we can add hemp seeds and oil to the relatively limited list of good plant sources of these fats. Nutritionists increasingly highlight the importance of balancing the amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats in our diets.

Hemp oil can be cold-pressed out of the seeds. It is likely that the oil itself will also become more readily available as a product in Australia now the law has changed. However, this oil often contains chlorophyll, the group of pigments in plants that gives them their green colour. The oil is quite unstable and oxidises quite quickly. To slow this rancidity process down, the oil should be stored in a brown bottle away from direct sunlight.

Still some questions

It is less clear what types of polysaccharides or dietary fibre hemp seeds contain, and what our microbiome will make of hemp seeds when they get to the lower reaches of our digestive system. Will the microbes there be able to ferment this seed material?

What is the human microbiome?

Fermentation of foods in the lower intestine can produce protective anti-inflammatory byproducts. Hemp may be able to contribute to this.

Or maybe the seeds will just provide dietary bulk that helps move food through our digestive systems and prevents constipation (also useful from a health perspective).

The Conversation , CC BY-ND

We don’t really know the answers to these questions yet, but one thing we do know is that if we remove the shell or hull, we are taking away much of the fibre and some of the minerals.

Australia is late to the party

Hemp has been around for centuries and the seed has been freely available to eat in countries such as the US, Canada and the UK for many years. But its food value has only recently started to be appreciated.

It’s now finding its way into breads, breakfast cereals and other baked goods with increasing regularity.

Chocolate, blueberry and hemp zucchini bread. reid-bee/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

It will be interesting to monitor its uptake in Australia and New Zealand, particularly in comparison to other seeds like chia and quinoa.

The food use of industrial hemp is by no means the whole story though, and this crop is incredibly versatile. Plants can be grown for organic animal feed, for fibre to go into paper, fabric or soundproofing for cars and the the residues can be used as a biofuel feedstock to power our vehicles. Hemp could even be “torrefied” (roasted like coffee beans) to make a brown coal equivalent, or converted to provide essential high value chemicals.