Will hemp replace fish as the king of omega-3?

Hemp is a potent source of fatty acids, says Paul Benhaim
Hemp is a potent source of fatty acids, says Paul Benhaim

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid

As decades of unjustified prohibition and persecution continue to lose their grip, hemp is rapidly regaining the popularity it held for millennia as a primary and sustainable source of life's necessities — including omega-3 and 6 fatty acids.

From a nutritional standpoint, the leaves, flowers and seeds of hemp plants provide essential organic nutrition that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Interest in the oil from its flowers and seeds is at an all-time high, showing no sign of slowing down.

Hemp seeds are incredibly nutrient-dense. Besides containing arguably the highest-quality protein in concentrations that exceed that of most other food sources, hemp seeds rule the world when it comes to polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 and 6, among others.

These are the special oils the body uses for detoxification, building brain cells, hormones, neurotransmitters and many other systems and functions in the body, not to mention resisting and reversing obesity.

As a source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, hemp seeds contain 11% more than sacha inchi seeds, 62% more than flax seeds, 96% more than chia seeds, 104% more than fish oil and 460% more than whole fish.

Relative content of polyunsaturated fatty acids by source

Hemp seeds also contain vitamins D3, E and A, cholesterol-fighting phytosterols, and are one of only a few sources of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid thought to be responsible for much of the anti-inflammatory properties that make hemp seed oil popular with people suffering arthritis and eczema.

EPA and DHA: non-essential?

Among the different compounds found in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A number of claims are made about these fats. One of these is that you cannot get them from plants. 

But guess where the fish get them from: plants! Marine algae produce the omega oils that fish eat and incorporate into their fat supplies. Fish do not make omega oils themselves. If they don’t eat algae they must eat other fish that have eaten algae.

The second claim is that EPA and DHA are essential to the diet. Is this true? As omega 3 fatty acid metabolites, EPA and DHA are not “essential” fatty acids. Indeed, the term “essential” only applies to alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) and linoleic acid (omega 6), which are essential fats found abundantly in hemp seeds, that your body cannot manufacture itself.

Guess what that means: your body can and does manufacture EPA and DHA itself. How much can the body manufacture? According to research, the answer is “as much as it needs”, just as long as you consume enough fresh alpha linolenic acid and linoleic acid in the ratio which is naturally found only in hemp seeds and walnuts.

Various studies have measured combined EPA and DHA conversion rates in humans at up to 30%. Factors that can increase and optimise conversion include an adequate dietary intake of magnesium. 

And what is the world’s richest natural source of magnesium? Put it this way: hemp contains twice as much magnesium as dark chocolate.

For most people, a tablespoon of hemp seed oil can satisfy their daily EPA and DHA requirements.

However, having gone through a process of heating and bleaching with industrial solvents, while also possibly containing mercury, PCBs and dioxins, is fish oil really a health food?

Public health concern? 


In the last 200 years, mercury levels have increased 300% in surface water and 250% in deep sea water, according to the Woods Hole oceanographic institute. 

The World Health Organisation report, “Exposure to mercury: A major public health concern”, states that the main source of human exposure to mercury is eating fish. The WHO goes on to say that exposure to mercury is also a known cause of epilepsy, among other health catastrophes.

Since 1980, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled human trials with CBD, one of the cannabinoids found in hemp leaves and flowers, has shown that CBD successfully stops and prevents epileptic seizures and is safe even when consumed in amounts 5000% higher than what is necessary to achieve seizure control.

Joint research by teams of scientists from the US and Europe revealed that 97% of all human exposure to cancer-causing dioxins comes from eating meat, dairy and fish.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the main source of human exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is eating fish, and this can result in neurological and developmental retardation as well as increased cancer risk.

Oceans running out

A 2013 study of 13 of the top selling Children’s Fish Oil supplements in the US revealed that every one of them contained PCBs regardless of what kind of fish the oil came from and the method used to extract the oil including molecular distillation.

It is well known that heat can render omega oils toxic. According to Nordic Naturals, one of the world’s largest fish oil producers: “all fish oil, regardless of the kind of manufacturing process used… always requires the use of heat”

The argument over whether or not we should be eating fish may end up being decided for us. According to the United Nations​, over 70% of the world’s fish are now “fully exploited or depleted” to such an extent that stocks of all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.

Hemp on the other hand merely needs to be replanted each year to supply the world’s essential nutrition needs sustainably. 

  • Paul Benhaim is chief executive of Hemp Foods Australia​ and Elixinol​. He developed the first hemp seed snack bar for the European market, has written a number of books on hemp and from next year will hold the only licence exemption from the Australian government to harvest the leaves and flowers of the hemp plant and turn them into Australian-made CBD extracts.


Niu, L., Li, J., Chen, M., Xu, Z. Determination of oil contents in Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis) seeds at different developmental stages by two methods: Soxhlet extraction and time-domain nuclear magnetic resonance.​ (2014) Industrial Crops and Products 56 187-190

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Davis, B., Kris-Etherton, P. Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: current knowledge and practical implications.​ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003) 78 (3 Suppl) 640S-646S.

Cunha, J., Carlini, E., Aparecido, E., Pereira, E., Ramos, O., Pimentel, C., Gagliardi, R., Sanvito, W., Lander, N., Mechoulam, R. Chronic Administration of Cannabidiol to Healthy Volunteers and Epileptic Patients.​ (1980) Pharmacology 21 175-185.

Schecter, A., Startin, J., Wright, C., Kelly, M., Papke, O., Lis, A., Ball, M., Olson, J. Congener-specific levels fo dioxins and dibenzofurans in U.S. food and estimated daily dioxin toxic equivalent intake.​ Environmental Health Perspectives (1994) 102:11 962-966.

Ashley, J., Ward, J., Anderson, C., Schafer, M., Zaoudeh, L., Horwitz, R., Velinsky, D. Children's daily exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls from dietary supplements containing fish oils.​ (2013) Food Additives and Contaminants Part A 30(3):506-14.

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Omega-3 in Hemp

Posted by Garry Wainscott,

An acute lack of proper science within, in what amounts to a biased "advertisement" by a (very) interested party. aLA omega-3 is EXTREMELY poorly metabolised in the human body. Let the user beware.

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Link up request

Posted by Henry Gaga,

Hi Paul,
Interesting and educative! Can we connect/link up for more information? I am in a country where is hemp is illegal. I am academically interested.

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paul blenham

Posted by ron,

paul do you remember1997 hemp union ,derek . dick ,hemp union,steve and ron?

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