Smaller companies have recently launched novel food supplements developed from hemp as the plant revolution gathers momentum.
The companies, mostly smaller enterprises, are using the plant to create CBD oils and other products, including energy bars and pain balm.
They are following in the footsteps of longer established companies here such as Linwoods in Armagh with its shelled hemp seeds and Harnett’s in Waringstown with its hemp culinary oil. There’s even been a hemp ale produced here by Farmageddon craft brewery in Comber.
Hemp is becoming popular as health conscious people increasingly turn to plant foods for nutrition and overall wellbeing.
Northern Ireland’s relationship with hemp, furthermore, stretches back to the early 20th century when Mackie’s Engineering in west Belfast, one of the leaders in the city’s industrial revolution, created machinery for spinning hemp into fibre bags, especially in India.
Hemp was also used extensively at the former Rope Works in east Belfast for generations, once the world’s largest producer of ropes.
Hemp, in fact, is one of the fastest growing plants and has been spun into fibre, paper, textiles, clothing and other applications for centuries.
But what is hemp and why is it such a controversial plant? As part of the cannabis family, it’s often associated, inaccurately, with the marijuana plant.
Hemp seed oil and CBD oils, however, are both completely legal and do not have the addictive drug component.
Phil Patterson set up the Real Cannabis Club, a small venture, to harness and market the benefits of CBD oil (Cannabidiol), a natural compound found in cannabis, based on experience gained in Australia.
What led him to start the business was a recognition that many people are now turning to CBD oil as a natural and organic alternative to pharmaceuticals.
Medicinal cannabis, he continues, “has been allowed to be legally prescribed to Northern Ireland patients by specialist UK doctors in limited circumstances since November 2018”.
“CBD is a naturally occurring chemical known for its potential health and wellness benefits. Among its reported benefits is its anti-inflammatory properties which could come in handy for a nice workout, game or match,” he says.
Mr Patterson continues: “In Australia there’s a big focus on wellness and alternatives to pharmaceuticals, so I started taking CBD oil as a food supplement. It made me feel better in my own skin and I slept better and so I became a real believer.”
He’s set out to address the biggest problem facing advocates in Northern Ireland, which is “the stigma surrounding CBD oil”.
“Varieties of some CBD oils are currently available in major health stores as a food supplement and for use in reducing anxiety, for pain relief and treating some conditions.”
A successful manager with a passion for start-ups, Mr Patterson was formerly commercial director of MOF Technologies, a world renowned nano-materials company which is based in Belfast. “If you have an educational website and club model, it’s better for getting your prospective customers to understand about CBD,” he explains.
He continues: “Our product is plant-based, entirely natural, organic and most importantly we believe in it.
“Our focus is on ensuring that our CBD oil is a consistently high quality produce. We are an ethical business,” he adds.
In addition to CBD oils in small bottles, he has recently launched a “pain balm” cream. The cream is made by infusing the roots, stems and leaves of organically grown cannabis and hemp plants with coconut oil, he continues.
“Everyone in the UK who wants to sell CBD oil will have to be Novel Foods compliant, which we will be,” he says.
“We have invested heavily in our products, processes, lab analyses, extraction methods, etc.
“We publish our supply chain and testing results and provide certificates of analyses with every product so at least customers know the exact constituent ingredients and provenance.”
The Covid-19 crisis, he says, has led to people looking more closely at wellness issues.
“Our web traffic and sales are definitely up since Covid-19 but we want to be entirely authentic and ethical, and we’re not pushing that angle at all,” he adds.
Another Derry company, Hempful, has developed CBD oils and energy bars, the latter being listed by Aldi Ireland.
Hemp seeds are reportedly high in protein and a great source of iron. They can be consumed raw, ground into meal or as a dried powder.
In addition, the seeds can be made into a liquid for baking or cold pressed into a culinary oil as Harnett’s has done successfully.
Hemp, according to Linwoods in Armagh, “has a rich, nutty, soft texture” and is bursting with health properties that many people are not aware of.
It is one of only a few complete protein foods, which means it has the full spectrum of amino acids; the building blocks of protein.
The company, now a world leader in healthy seeds and supplements, continues: “Protein is important for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass and helps maintain normal bones.
“Hemp is a great alternative protein source for vegetarians and vegans or to add to a protein shake in place of protein powder.
“It also provides iron which plays a role in energy release in the body and helps reduce tiredness and fatigue and is a great source of magnesium, as well as being truly delicious!”