What is Hemp Allergy & How can it be Cured?
Hemp has been rising to fame as the new superfood. Hemp’s reputation as a highly nutritious and beneficial food item is fairly recent. Majority of its motivation is because of the rise in the vegan lifestyle. But with increasing adoption we are also witnessing increasing cases of hemp allergy.
Hemp is the most environment-friendly, chemical-free, and ethically cultivated plant ever. It is naturally healthy and can, in appropriate proportions, serve the daily nutritional needs of the human body.
With so much being sais about hemp’s use as a superfood, one aspect that must be explored is allergies. Even though hemp is entirely organic, it can, in some cases, set off allergic reactions in the body. 97% of the time, it is a safe food that can be consumed by almost anyone. But there are some research studies that indicate the allergic properties of the plant.
But before we set off to understand those studies, let’s brush off the basics of hemp .
What is hemp?
Commonly known as industrial hemp, hemp is a variety of the cannabis sativa plant. It is a sister plant of marijuana but without the psychoactive properties. This is because of the amount of cannabinoids present in the plant. The two major cannabinoids present in cannabis plants are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). The THC cannabinoid is the one with psychoactive properties which causes excitant behaviour in the human body. The marijuana plant contains high amounts of THC and is therefore used by people to get high.
The CBD cannabinoid, on the other hand, is the cannabinoid that exhibits properties opposite to that of THC. The hemp plant is rich in CBD and contains less than 1% THC. It, therefore, causes no elation in the human body.
The hemp plant has been cultivated by humans since ancient times primarily for medicinal purposes. Hemp is grown specifically for industrial uses of the products that can derive from it. Initially, its major use was medicine. But advancements over time have led to a plethora of commercial items being produced from hemp. Today, the world has hemp-based paper, clothing, textiles, ropes, building material, food, biofuel, and plastic to name a few.
Hemp—the nutritional powerhouse
The use of hemp as a food item is particularly interesting. Hemp seeds are a rich source of nutrition . They are one of the rare foods that can be consumed raw, as sprouts, powder, or grounded meals. Hemp seeds have high levels of arginine and a high sulphur-rich fraction which give it the high nutritional value.
The seeds also contain proteins in the form of salt-soluble globulins (75%) and water-soluble albumin (25%). Ideally, a 100g serving of hemp seeds can serve 64% of the daily protein value of the human body.
That’s not all. Hemp seeds also contain B vitamins, dietary fibre, and dietary minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. The dietary fibre and minerals cater to about 20%, 104%, 61%, 197%, and 236% of the daily nutrition value respectively. This 100-gram portion of hemp seeds feeds approximately 586 calories in the body. Almost 73% of the energy in hempseed is in the form of essential fatty acids.
The leaves of the hemp plant are also edible. They can be consumed raw as leafy vegetables in salads or in the form of juice.
Hemp Food Allergy
Given the present lifestyle that the world is heading into, food intolerance and allergies are on the rise. A food allergy is an autoimmune response of the human body to a protein or pollen present in something that the body consumes. The body misidentifies a harmless substance as a possible threat and goes berserk trying to stop it.
The degree of this reaction varies from immune system to the immune system. Some of the most common food allergies around the world are to peanuts, wheat, cow’s milk, soy, and fish. However, in theory, of course, you could be allergic to any food. But you are more likely to be allergic to food items that are high in protein. Of course, one can be allergic to an apple but since the protein level of an apple is considerably low, any reaction can get hard to detect.
But, foods like hemp, which are rich sources of protein, set off considerably noticeable reactions in the body. This fact is what has triggered the research into observing hemp as an allergen. As mentioned above, a 100g serving of hemp injects as much as 34 grams of protein in the body. This is higher than what the same serving of peanuts injects into the body and therefore calls for an investigation.
Is hemp an allergen?
The hemp food industry has been increasingly growing for the last 15 years. Today we have hemp oil, seeds, and ready-to-eat and lightly processed hemp products including milk, bread, ice cream, etc. Up until a particular time period, there were no documented allergies to hemp food. However, there were instances of intolerance toward hemp-based food items.
But, the scientific community studying hemp allergies deduces that they appear to be on the rise. “Although still relatively uncommon, an allergic disease associated with cannabis sativa [hemp] exposure and use has been reported with increased frequency.”, quoted the 2015 edition of Cannabis Sativa: the unconventional weed allergen paper published by Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Annals.
What are common hemp allergies?
A true hemp allergy stems from a reaction to a specific substance contained within the hemp plant. Multiple reports in the medical literature describe episodes of allergic reactions, hypersensitivity, and anaphylaxis to various forms of cannabis including hemp.
Studies show that inhalation of hemp pollen causes symptoms of asthma and conjunctivitis. Exposure to hemp pollen or smoke has resulted in sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy throat (pharyngeal pruritus), coughing, conjunctival injection, and difficulty in breathing (dyspnea).
There are also reported instances of skin irritations thought to be associated with the consumption of hemp. Skin contact through the handling of the plant links to generalised pruritus (itching) and swelling. The ingestion of hemp seed has reported causing a serious anaphylactic reaction with ocular symptoms such as swelling, hives, and difficulty in breathing.
Which parts of the plant are most allergic?
Theoretically, any part of the plant can trigger an allergic reaction in the body but as already mentioned, the most likely offenders to be are parts that have the most protein and/or pollen. The prime suspect on the basis of this is hemp seeds.
Hemp oil is highly unlikely to be an allergen. This is because it is refined to be 100% fat. However, its use as an ingredient in skincare products such as lotions, creams, etc., might cause an allergic reaction.
The same is true for hemp milk. To produce hemp milk, the hemp seeds are grounded into a fine powder and diluted with water. The mixture is then strained off any chunky residue leaving plant-based milk. So, if you are allergic to hemp seeds, you are most likely to be allergic to hemp milk as well.
Common side effects of a hemp allergy
While the symptoms of a hemp allergy depend on a human’s biology, there are some common symptoms of hemp allergy that everyone is most likely to experience.
- Irritation: itchiness, swelling, and puffiness of the eyes, and the skin in general.
- Hives: in the form of skin rash, plaques, or pale red bumps
- Allergic rhinitis: sneezing, running nose, and nasal congestion
- Asthma: dyspnea (difficulty in breathing), tightness in chest, and abnormal lung function.
- Conjunctivitis: pink and/or bloodshot eyes.
How common is hemp allergy?
Hemp is an all-natural, all-organic food and is mostly safe to consume. However, hemp food allergies are more common than you might think. Hemp as a food item is in the nascent stages of consumption. In about a decade or so, if the rate of its consumption remains the same, it may very well become a major food allergen in the same league as nuts.
But what must also be said is that a lot of that outcome depends on the environmental practices that surround the cultivation of the hemp plant in the coming years. Moreover, being a rich source of protein is not necessarily a bad thing for hemp. We can reduce the serving size and control the consumption to maintain the good protein amount for the body.
How to diagnose a hemp allergy?
A hemp allergy test is often dependent on skin testing. A skin prick test determines if a person is allergic to one or more specific allergens. If the body finds sensitivity, the immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Then, the physician conducts an allergen-specific IgE blood test to check if the person is actually allergic to a particular substance. Since the IgE antibodies are unique to each allergen, it becomes easy to check for specific allergens.
The knowledge of hemp allergy symptoms aids in this process.
Interestingly, a positive skin prick test does not necessarily indicate that a person will experience an allergic reaction. For this reason, doctors have to continually compare the skin prick tests over time along with the person’s symptoms. This is to determine whether it is the hemp consumption causing the symptoms or something else.
Are there treatments available for hemp allergies?
It is possible to control or reduce the hemp allergy symptoms such as irritation, hives, and conjunctivitis with proper medication. But in cases where extreme reactions to hemp cause asthma and asphyxiation, things can get tricky.
The scientific literature suggests that factors such as local aerobiology and occupational exposure need to be considered. Treatment for allergic rhinoconjunctivitis is antihistamines, steroids, and nasal decongestants. Beta-agonists treat asthma. And for people who experience anaphylaxis as a result of hemp allergy can use EpiPens.
The medical literature, however, sheds little light on treating hemp allergy symptoms with immunotherapy. There are reports, but rare, that demonstrated the desensitization of patients and improvement in cohort of hemp.
What does all of this mean?
Although still relatively uncommon, there is a fair number of cases of hemp allergies. The severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis can be a result of the sensitization associated with pollinosis, hemp consumption, occupational exposure, and potential cross-reactivity among plants.
Hemp allergies can essentially be treated like any other allergies. It is the lack of standardization in testing limits and widespread applicability of diagnostic testing that makes the job harder. However, with more research that clearly defines allergens and aids in setting these limitations, joined with a more defined territory of hemp allergy symptoms, more clarified treatment options for patients will be available.
And yet, at the bottom of it all, the possible allergies do not beat the amazing health benefits of hemp. It is a superfood which because of its magical component—CBD—is a healthy alternative not only for food but for medicine as well.
Hemp allergy refers to the allergy of the part of the plant which contains most proteins and/or pollens. Symptoms of hemp allergy are irritation, hives…