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Is there a connection between Hops and Cannabinoids?

Hops and Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are natural compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Over 400 chemical compounds are present in the plant and around 60 are termed cannabinoids. The most well-known among these cannabinoids are CBD and THC. Both hemp and marijuana come from the C. Sativa plant but they have different chemistry and characteristics.

Hops are green cone-shaped flowers, or inflorescence (female plant), of the Humulus lupulus plant. Hidden inside each cone are tiny yellow pads or glands called lupulin which is the source of bitter flavour and aroma in beer. Compounds found in hops have relaxing effects though this is not generally the reason why it’s included in beer recipes.

The link between hops and cannabinoids is deeper than their known relaxing and organoleptic properties. It turns out that these plants are related. 

Are Hops and Marijuana related?

Hops (Humulus lupulus) and Cannabis (Marijuana) both belong to the same plant family (Cannabaceae). Both have also been used for centuries as herbal medicine and are known for their relaxing effects. The two plants have a somewhat similar appearance and both contain terpenes, which contribute to their aroma, flavour characteristics, health properties, and terpenoids.

The cannabis plant can be divided into three subspecies: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. Cannabis sativa plants are tall and slender with delicate leaves. They are native to hot, and sunny regions such as Mexico and South Africa. Cannabis indica plants are shorter and bushier with broader leaves. They originated in cooler mountainous areas such as the Himalayas. Cannabis ruderalis is native to Russia. Other than it has a low THC content, little is known about this cannabis species. 

Hops are also divided into three subspecies: Humulus lupulus, Humulus japonicus, and Humulus yunnanensis. These species are native to Asia, Europe, and some parts of North America. Humulus lupulus is the known variety used in giving that bitter taste to beer due to its distinctive aroma and flavour. It has sedative effects due to its major bitter compound called, alpha acids, AKA humulone. 

Although hops do not contain cannabinoids, and cannabis does not contain alpha acids, they both have terpenes that add to their relaxing effects. Both plants also contain high levels of myrcene, a terpene with sedating and muscle relaxant effects. 

What is the traditional usage of Marijuana?

Marijuana is one of the known medicinal plants, and its THC content has proven medical benefits in particular formulations. However, the use of marijuana for medical purposes is not legal in all places. It is illegal to possess, grow, and distribute in the UK as it has psychoactive properties. It is also considered a class B drug.  

Hemp or industrial hemp has been used traditionally in many cultures for medicinal purposes, production of fibres, ropes, textile, paper, an environment-friendly alternative to plastic and as a valuable source of food. It was also an important element in shamanic rituals. Hemp is legal in the UK as it only contains less than 0.3% THC.

What is the traditional usage for Hops?

Hops contain chemicals known as alpha acids which give beer the bitter taste as well as its aroma. Beer can also be kept longer due to its antibacterial properties. Traditionally, hops were used to make paper and cloth as well as medicine, preservative and dye. They are believed to have originated from Egypt. Before beer, ‘ale’ was the original drink of the Anglo-Saxons and English. But the 15th century became a turning point as the cultivation of hops was introduced from Flanders to England.  

Can you extract CBD from Hops?

CBD is a chemical compound derived from hemp popular for providing health benefits without causing adverse side effects. Although CBD is legal in the UK, the FDA has approved only one CBD product that treats seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy. 

Dr Bomi Joseph from the Peak Health Foundation, a San Francisco-based nutrition company, was the one who introduced a CBD product made from hops. This was a decade after discovering CBD in hop samples from Asia. His team then created a new strain, known as Humulus kriya which produces up to 18% CBD. 

Manufacturing companies believe that this CBD is a profitable market to be a part of. Isidiol International Inc., which claims to be “the largest global industrial source of CBD hemp oil worldwide” launched its market’s first non-cannabis CBD derived from hops. They created the proprietary technology to extract cannabinoids from hops, a process that they say can be applied to other non-cannabis sources as well.

Following this discovery that CBD can be derived from hops, it will be very interesting to see how much the CBD industry will grow in the years to come. 

What is the relationship between Hops, Hemp, and the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system is known to regulate bodily functions including sleep, mood, appetite, and memory. The chemical compounds found in the Cannabis sativa (hemp) such as THC and CBD are known to work on the endocannabinoid system by interacting with its receptors (CB1 and CB2). As scientists are discovering more minor cannabinoids, we are learning more about the ECS and how we can help it.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants and may also serve as plant protection.  Hops contain a terpene called beta-caryophyllene, which is one of the most abundant essential oil from plants. This terpene beta-caryophyllene binds to the CB2 receptor in the ECS and aids with anti-inflammation and analgesic effects. 

Are there any medical uses for Hemp and Hops?

The use of hemp such as CBD has become especially popular due to its low THC levels, resulting in it having medical benefits without the psychoactive effects. Hemp has vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can provide health benefits including:  

  • Rich in Vitamin E. Hemp is rich in vitamin E which helps your immune system. 
  • Acts as an Antioxidant. It also acts as an antioxidant and helps reduce free radicals that cause cell damage in your body.
  • Reduced Risk of Heart Disease. Hemp seeds are particularly rich in healthy fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 which are known to help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Reduced Symptoms of PMS. For women, hemp oil can help reduce symptoms of PMS as it is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which can reduce the unpleasant symptoms with PMS.
  • Improved Digestion. Hemp is an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre helps add bulk to your stool and may be linked to a lower risk of bowel cancer. Soluble fibre acts as a prebiotic and feeds the good bacteria in your intestines.
  • Reduces Eczema. Hemp also helps balance the lipids in the blood, reducing dryness and itchiness.

Hops have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today, manufacturers claim that adding hops to a diet can improve your overall health and can have anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activity. Hops are also being studied to help with certain diseases. Here are some benefits of hops that are supported by research:

  • Insomnia. Early physicians have observed that field workers who cultivated hops got tired very easily during harvest. 

A study published by the Chemical Research in Toxicology found that the humulene and the lupulin gland found in hops have mild sedative properties that may have applications in medicine. 

Another study in 2012 was published wherein female nurses working rotating or night shifts were given beer with no alcohol content during dinner for two weeks. The results suggested that the beer helped them fall asleep 8 minutes faster and reduced their anxiety levels. 

  • Hot Flashes. A plant-based compound found in hops, phytoestrogen, mimics the female hormone estrogen. It increases the estrogenic activity in the body and overcome symptoms of estrogen deficiency.

A study in 2010 was conducted wherein a group of women were given hops and were observed for 8 weeks. The results showed a reduction of hot flashes, night sweats, and low libido.  

  • Cardiovascular Disease. A compound found in hops, xanthohumol, is believed to help relax blood vessels and improve blood circulation. 

A study in 2012 conducted on mice found that xanthohumol extract increases “good” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol which helps reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.

  • Depression. Hops are being studied as a potential treatment for its antidepressant activity and other mood disorders.

A study was published in the journal called Hormones wherein 36 young adults with mild depression were given 400 mg of hops or a placebo for 4 weeks. The results showed that those who took hops reduced their anxiety, stress, and depression compared to the placebo group.

The Takeaway

Just like humans, plants have relatives. Apples, blackberries, and roses all belong to the same family. Hops and hemp belong to the Cannabaceae family. They look somewhat alike, especially in their leaves, flowers, as well as their smell and taster. 

Hops are known to provide the bitter taste to beer, but long before hops became a bittering agent, it has many other medicinal benefits such as easing anxiety and depression and helping with insomnia, just like hemp.