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Frequently asked questions about the health risks of foods containing hemp

BfR FAQ, 16 July 2021

Hemp in noodles and energy drinks - as an ingredient in numerous foods, hemp has experienced substantial hype in recent years. People have been utilized the fibres of this crop for centuries, among other things, for the production of ropes, textiles and paper. Parts of the hemp plant (e.g., the leaves and flowers, or extracts made thereof) are used as remedy, but also as narcotic drug.

The seeds of the hemp plant are rich in valuable amino and fatty acids, similar to linseeds. However, the leaves and flowers contain so-called cannabinoids. Some of them can influence the psyche. They are also referred to as psychoactive substances. Contact with parts of plants containing cannabinoids, for example during the harvest, can result in contamination of the seeds.

The best-known cannabinoids include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC, in particular, has a psychoactive effect. Exposure calculations carried out by the BfR indicate that consumption of hemp tea, or hemp seed oil with high THC concentration, may result in exceedance of the acute reference dose (ARfD) for THC established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Children in particular have an increased risk of consuming excessive amounts of THC due to their low bodyweight. Even small amounts of the psychoactive substance can affect the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system. As a result, mood swings and fatigue can occur, among other things.

CBD-containing products are said to have health-promoting effects, but most of them have not yet been scientifically proven. They are primarily offered as dietary supplements. According to the current state of knowledge, CBD is not psychoactive. But it exerts a pharmacological action. CBD products may also become contaminated with THC.

When placing products containing hemp on the market, the relevant laws governing narcotic drugs, medicinal products and foods must be observed.

In the following, the BfR has put together a FAQ on the subject of "foods containing hemp".



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