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Questions and answers on the health risks of food and feed containing hemp

Updated BfR FAQ dated 15 November 2022

Changes made to the version dated 16 July 2021: Addition of new BfR study results on hemp in food and feed.

Hemp in pasta, hemp in energy drinks - hemp has experienced a real hype as an ingredient in numerous foods in recent years. Yet people have been using the fibres of this cultivated and useful plant for centuries, among other things for the production of ropes, textiles and paper. Parts of the hemp plant (e.g. leaves and flowers or extracts made from them) are also used as medicines and intoxicants.

The seeds of the hemp plant are rich in valuable amino and fatty acids, comparable to linseed. However, the leaves and flowers contain so-called cannabinoids. Some of these can influence the psyche. One also speaks of psychoactive substances. Contact with cannabinoid-containing parts of the plant, for example during harvesting, can lead to contamination (pollution) of the seeds.

The best-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). It is mainly THC that has a psychoactive effect. Model calculations on exposure carried out by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) indicate that the acute reference dose (ARfD) for THC derived by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) could be exceeded in particular by consuming hemp seed oil with high THC contents. Children in particular have an increased risk of ingesting too much THC due to their low body weight. 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 these have not yet been scientifically proven. They are primarily offered as food supplements. According to current knowledge, CBD is not psychoactive. However, it does have a pharmacological effect. CBD products can also be contaminated with THC.

When placing products containing hemp on the market, the regulations on narcotics, medicinal products and foodstuffs must be observed.

Hemp can also pose health risks as animal feed. A BfR study published in the journal "Nature Food" indicates that feed containing hemp can affect the health of cows. Furthermore, cannabinoids could be detected in the milk.

The BfR has compiled frequently asked questions and answers on the topic of "hemp-containing foods" below.



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Updated BfR FAQ
Questions and answers on the health risks of food and feed containing hemp 121.6 KB


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