In moderation, marijuana seems to have some exceedingly beneficial effects on mental and physical health, like lowering blood pressure, reducing nerve damage, eliminating pain and more. The hemp plant is also useful for its fibers, which are strong and lightweight in addition to being water-, mold- and pest-resistant. Cannabis is an overwhelmingly useful plant that has been overlooked for decades.

Yet, one use of cannabis that many people overlook is its nutrition. Both marijuana and hemp are consumable, and they can impact one’s diet and digestion in a number of ways. Here’s a bit more about the nutrition of cannabis, so weed enthusiasts can nosh safely and effectively.

All About Hemp Hearts

Just as no one would advise eating the corn cob, biting through the orange peel or chowing down on the leaves of potato plants, there are plenty of parts of the cannabis plant that aren’t easily edible, let alone especially packed with nutrients. Though the buds, flowers and leaves used to make marijuana can be cooked into edible treats (more on that later), the most nutrient-dense component of the cannabis plant is undeniably its hearts — or its seeds, which grow from fertilized flowers on any cannabis plant.

Even amongst avid cannabis users, there is some misunderstanding about the difference between marijuana and hemp. Both marijuana and hemp are derived from the cannabis plant, but hemp tends to lack a significant THC content, and thus it will not provide psychoactive effects when smoked or consumed. While hemp has been a vital crop in America since the Colonial Era, marijuana has only been popular in the States since roughly the turn of the 20th century. Even so, hemp has only recently been legalized as a crop at the federal level, and the influx of hemp products — like hemp hearts in grocery stores — has many scratching their heads.

Hemp hearts are remarkably nutritious, which is probably why cannabis was among the first plants cultivated by humans more than 10,000 years ago. Technically, hemp hearts are nuts, meaning they are edible seeds contained in hard, inedible shells. Processing rids the hearts of their exterior, just as it would for cashews, almonds and walnuts. Inside, the heart is one of the most protein-dense plants on Earth, with more than 25 percent of its calories coming from high-quality, clean protein. In comparison, chia seeds and flax seeds — other high-protein plant products — offer only 16 to 18 percent protein content.

Additionally, hemp hearts offer a large amount of essential fats, including omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based fats like these give the body and mind more energy among other critical functions, and they don’t seem to have negative effects on the heart and circulatory system, like animal fats tend to do.

Finally, hemp seeds are jam-packed with all sorts of micronutrients that benefit hair and skin, nerves and brain tissue, the digestive system and more. Studies on hemp hearts have found them to contain vitamin E and minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and zinc as well as gamma-linolenic acid, which is vital in managing conditions like psoriasis and eczema. When integrated into a diet based on whole foods, hemp hearts might eliminate the need for a daily multivitamin or other nutrition supplements.

Marijuana Edibles

As mentioned above, it is possible to eat other parts of the cannabis plant — especially when one is after a psychoactive experience. However, besides hemp hearts, it is inadvisable to consume raw marijuana. Not only are the fibers bitter and quite difficult to chew and digest, but they will not provide any psychoactive effects. This is because marijuana must undergo decarboxylation before the acids in cannabis transform into cannabinoids usable by the body’s endocannabinoid system; in other words, users must heat up marijuana, first.

Consumable marijuana is typically baked or cooked in some way that both activates the THC (and other cannabinoids) and hides the bitter flavor of the plant. Different edibles will boast different nutrition facts; for instance, a pot brownie will likely have more sugar and fat than ganja granola. Users concerned with calories, sugar or sodium content or other macronutrients should review nutrition information available at their local dispensaries or on product packaging.

Like hemp hearts, the marijuana contained in edibles is a good source of various micronutrients, like magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. Plus, marijuana boasts flavonoids, which chemicals unique to plants that offer a variety of health benefits, including anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties. Finally, because the body’s natural endocannabinoid system is closely linked with the digestive system, it seems likely that consuming marijuana could aid digestive woes — though research on this effect of CBD, THC or other cannabinoids is at its earliest stages.

Both body and mind can benefit from cannabis — whether a person eats only non-psychoactive hemp hearts or indulges in all sorts of marijuana use. Nutritionally, cannabis could be much better than a number of widely consumed alternatives, so users should consider integrating hemp and marijuana into their diets, today.