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Hemp 101: What Is Hemp, What’s It Used for, and Why Is It Illegal?

July 14, 2015

Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops known to man. It has been used for paper, textiles, and cordage for thousands of years. In fact, the Columbia History of the World states that the oldest relic of human industry is a scrap of hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 BC.

So what exactly is hemp, and how is it different from the intoxicating forms of cannabis that we consume medicinally and recreationally? Let’s dive into some Hemp 101 so you can better understand this versatile material.

What Is Hemp?

Hemp plant close up

There are many different varieties of the cannabis plant. Hemp—also called industrial hemp—refers to the non-intoxicating (less than 0.3% THC) varieties of Cannabis sativa L. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, but are genetically distinct and are further distinguished by use, chemical makeup, and cultivation methods.

What Can Hemp Do?

Hemp seeds

Hemp can be grown as a renewable source for raw materials that can be incorporated into thousands of products. Its seeds and flowers are used in health foods, organic body care, and other nutraceuticals.

Properties of hemp seed

The fibers and stalks are used in hemp clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuel, plastic composites, and more.

Properties of hemp stalk

Last year, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated the total retail value of all hemp products sold in the U.S. at $620 million. Sadly, all of the raw hemp materials were imported from other countries. (More on that later.) Hemp is an attractive rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil, providing valuable nutrients.

Hemp requires much less water to grow — and no pesticides — so it is much more environmentally friendly than traditional crops.

What Can’t Hemp Do?

Cannabis joint

(Photo by Bailey Rahn)

Hemp can do a lot, but it can’t get you “high.” Because hemp varieties contain virtually zero tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), your body processes it faster than you can smoke it. Trying to use hemp to put you on cloud nine will only put you in bed with a migraine!

Why Is Hemp Illegal?

Gavel on U.S. flag

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act strictly regulated the cultivation and sale of all cannabis varieties. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis — including hemp — as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to grow it in the United States (which is why we’re forced to import hemp from other countries as long as it contains scant levels of THC — 0.3% is the regulation for hemp cultivation in the European Union and Canada). As a result of this long-term prohibition, most people have forgotten the industrial uses of the plant and continue to misidentify hemp with its cannabis cousin, marijuana.

Can Hemp Make a Comeback?

Hemp field

The 2014 US Farm Bill allows states that have passed their own industrial hemp legislation to grow industrial hemp for purposes of research and development. Several states — including Kentucky, Colorado, and Oregon — are already conducting hemp pilot projects. Many other states are currently pursuing similar legislation and programs. After many years of prohibition, American farmers are finally reacquainting themselves with industrial hemp.

In January of 2015, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134) was introduced in the House and Senate. If passed, it would remove all federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, and remove its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance.

If the unwarranted federal prohibition of hemp is finally repealed, the world’s oldest domesticated crop will once again be available to serve mankind in a broad range of environmentally friendly ways. We love hemp, and hope that you will too. Look for a continuation of our series of hemp articles here on Leafly!


Learn more about Kentucky Hempsters and industrial hemp at kyhempsters.com, or check them out on the following social media platforms:

  • Michael Clarke

    I love reading about these things! Check this out https://youtu.be/fEolY6tHerg

  • Wellen Dowd79

    Nice informative read. I know I will be buying more stock in Hemp Inc. and wait for it to grow!

  • Mr. Wonderful

    Stay high!

  • I’ve done a little research on the hemp and cannabis, and it looks to me like they’re both supposed to be medicine plants. From what I learned about the plants, they’ve been known to actually have multiple health benefits and even save lives of fourth stage cancer patients, sending the cancer into remission and therefore saving the patient lives. Banning this medicine plant has actually caused the deaths of many people who could have otherwise been saved by this plant. No wonder people are getting it other ways, I don’t blame them as long as it’s strictly for medical purposes. I even heard of a case where one child’s seizures were so bad they had to end up moving to Colorado as a last resort to save that little girl’s life by giving her cannabis because no other medicine worked for her.

    • Ken Gove

      The Pharmaceutical companies stand to lose millions if cannabis is made legal. It could cure a lot of ailments. The government needs to back off on it’s stand on cannabis because they are only money hungry, greedy vultures. Maybe we now have a president that will listen to the people on this issue.

      • I strongly agree they really are greedy and money hungry. Isn’t it always funny how the big ones fall sooner or later? The government can’t have everything, there are just some things that belong to the people. Medicine plants in general have been around since the start of creation, and it looks like we’re just finding out which ones they are. Our forefathers know which ones they were and they knew how to use them but it’s been a forgotten skill some generations have forgotten since modern medicine took over. That’s not right. I saw some articles where the government was going to try to once again outlaw hemp and cannabis. I say if you really want some before it’s outlawed, grab up as much as you can and hide it somewhere good where no one but you can ever find it. I would highly recommend putting it in an airtight container with as many other airtight layers around it as possible. That way, it will never be found by anyone who’s not supposed to find it. The best advantage is to have enough handy to take care of yourself for life while everyone not in on ditching big Pharma is dying. If hamper and cannabis are outlawed, only the elite will be the ones still standing in the end

        • Beach Potato

          I just go to a Herbal shop or a Chinese herbal Dr. easy peasy.

      • Dan

        All he stands for is corruption, greed, pure stupidity, and surface level thoughts. A cancer like those before him. He is a rusty knob that has been attempted to be polished. Soon to be broken, among the fallen, hence obliterated for his heinous insolence. #Trump

        • willyt

          Well that’s a whole bunch of liberal blather without a tidbit of substance.

      • Arlan Pierce

        I totally agree. The greed of the pharmaceutical with their lobbyist to stop the government from making it a schedule III drug so much more research can be done. They do not care about the people, just money. We the people must rise up and let our government know, we care more about our friends and family than the money they give, to you congress men/women and senators get, and we VOTE. The only power we have is writing or calling congress men/women and senators, huge rallies and each and every ones VOTE. They would rather stay in office, than even receive big monies from big pharm for their campaigns. VOTES will win over.

        • Gator B.

          I can’t disagree more with attacking “Big Pharma” or Trump with regards to fixing this problem! Screw the political affiliations for now, let’s change the whole Schedule 1 nightmare. We’re steeped in technology and we have insanely archaic drug laws. Worse, our gov then pressures the countries we give money to (which is all of them) to follow suit by adopting our effed up way. Schedule 1 needs to be dismantled. The research can’t be done on anything listed with very few exceptions. There’s other Sched.1 drugs that need to be available for research by legitimate people, there’s lots of exciting research in psychedelics that’s stalled by archaic laws. That part might just require big pharma to help.

          • FYI…if what you said above is true…why then did he sign a bill for the allowance of Marijuana? WHEN WILL YOU GUYS LEARN!!?

          • Iman Khamis

            Marijuana that they approving is medical and full of poison and not organic and so they can make money…

      • -Howard Davis

        Trump is an idiot; Doesn’t give a rats ass about anyone except trump & his trump brand.

        • katydude68

          Hemp and cannabis were put on Schedule 1 and executive order signed by Nixon and has been largely controlled under DEA rules, instead of actual legislation. Obama could have fixed the mess without congress, but chose not to. Both sides cater to the pharmaceutical industry.

          • Iman Khamis

            Obama didn’t give a shit about civilians … Freemasons only stick together

        • Johnny Snowden

          That doesn’t make him an idiot. I don’t blame his tactics. They work! He is for a much better GDP. That is how the world judges us. Our country needs more revenue. Let’s create it by reducing our liability to other countries.

      • We’re going to fix this and legalize hemp and cannabis once and for all. We are firing the US government, and starting a new one with the 7C Constitution. Sign the petition: https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/950/334/918

    • My Opinion

      Well since Trump just sign the bill to allow more pollution in streams by the coal industry we may need some help with all the cancer that is sure to increase. Or we can say forget it and let all those poor saps that voted for Trump suffer like they should.

      • Arlan Pierce

        Once big pharm learns how to synthesize the healing powers in marijuana and hemp, the price will be out of reach for most people. Just like most drugs, they manufacture them from plants and trees. Our people have been told, the creator put every thing we will ever need here on earth, not for money but for our well being.

      • Ken

        we have had crazy pollution in streams before Trump. if there is a way for the government agencies, inspectors etc actually do their jobs and know which agency is actually responsible maybe we can actually take care of the issues and pollution we are all concerned about in a more efficient way.

        • mowmtn

          thx Ken

    • vc50er

      Do you really believe that Marijuana is bad for children? The same people who lied to make Marijuana illegal are the ones telling you it is bad for children.
      I assume any statement made by a liar to be a lie. Look what they did to Nicola Tesla. A schedule 1 classification requires the “drug” to have no medicinal use. And yet they made Marijuana class 1.
      Just follow the money. Hemp competes with many industries. Marijuana competes with Big Pharma. Big Pharma was Little Pharma until Marijuana was made illegal.
      Marijuana stops seizures in less than 3 seconds. Thousands of lives have been saved by Marijuana.
      http://www.unitedpatientsgroup.com/resources/illnesses-treatable/

      • No, as long as the plant is used correctly then no it’s not a bad thing. I’m sure there’s probably more good capability about that plant that people know or don’t know. No matter how it’s administered, as long as used properly it’s a good thing. It probably has more healing capabilities than people know about and since big Pharma or whoever it is out there discovered this, that’s probably why they made it illegal for all we know. Yes, I know there’s no money in cure which would hurt big Pharma but oh well! If they want to keep us away from the cure and keep us all sick, I say go for it anyway and go for the cure.

        • CATRYNA49

          Hearst and Rockefeller did not want Hemp or any form of Cannabis interfering with their lucrative paper, pharmaceutical and oil industries. Hemp is versatile and renewable. It can be used for food, medicine, fuel, paper, clothing, plastic, building materials; just about anything paper and oil is used for. These bastard wealthy people have done a disservice to all people and for the sake of lining their already copiously rich pockets. They and those like them are criminals of the worst order

          • jamesofthecommons

            CatryNA49; Cannabis, like Opium poppies, and the substances derived from these plants, were also made illegal as a means of preventing white females, from being seduced, and or raped by male members of minority races; seriously ! In the early 70s Nixon administration officials oversaw the expansion of drug laws, as a means of legally repressing the two groups of Americans, that administration deemed to be their biggest foes; those groups being, African Americans, and the antiwar left. We know the drug war, just like the earlier less repressive drug laws, was initiated as a means of legal political, and racial repression because of the fact that a Nixon adm. official is on film, admitting as much. You can Google that film if you like. Now despite the truth about the drug war being admitted on film, for anyone in the world who has internet access can see, the drug war continues to be waged by politicians; the same politicians by the way, that tens of millions of Americans continue to vote for. I should add, that in the last presidential election, the candidate who promised to refuel the drug war, was the candidate who won that election. Of course what else could you expect, being that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave ?!

    • CATRYNA49

      I myself have found extreme improvement with my autoimmune issues with one variety of Cannabis and a few other strains for pain.

    • nzski69

      I have a friend who’s son has epilepsy and has grand mal seizures. Because she lives in Wisconsin, she is unable to get the cannabis oil that would prevent those seizures. The cannabis oil has absolutely no possibility of giving you a high so it’s not like there are other benefits that should prevent it from being approved for medicinal purposes.

      • I don’t know if you ever resolved the epilepsy issue, but you may want to look into upping the magnesium consumption.

        Meanwhile, I found a very neat page online you may want to see, it’s right up your lane

        Cannabis oil
        http://www.ebay.com/cln/mamarracho305/cannabis-oil/196709230019

        Special note:

        You may not want to heat this oil since it’s already been processed but you can put it in your food, soft foods like mashed potatoes or mac & cheese or something like that. Cannabis oil and even hemp have helped with arthritis pain

        • Patricia Santana

          Hemp experts will tell you that ingesting it will do nothing but give you a migraine. It’s not for medical ingestion.

          • It sounds to me like there are more on the side of big Pharma. I’ve ingested hemp oil and it’s never harmed me a bit. In fact it’s actually helped my arthritis if added to soft foods and not heated

          • You don’t always want to believe the experts, trust me on this. In fact I’ve had certain issues often on over the years were natural alternatives were the key to natural healing. In fact, when dealing with a fracture many years ago, if you recall it took about six weeks to heal. Mine healed in four or less. Now getting back to the hemp oil, It actually helps with arthritis pain in my case. I’ve also noticed if I up my magnesium levels I have lesser of a chance of having a myoclonic seizure. If you really do your homework, you’ll find out but nutritional deficiencies cause a whole host of problems if not most of them. If we weren’t meant to have the plant, it wouldn’t be here as it serves a purpose

      • Maria Young

        We do have options today, and have the oil delivered to your door.

    • Gerard Johnson

      Please stop spreading these lies.

    • Melodie Lee

      Hemp is not the same as marijuana. One really has nothing to do with the other. Hemp was made illegal back in the days when cotton was king in the south and southern cotton plantation owners did not want the competition. They lobbied for, and got a law against hemp being grown nationwide. It never had to do with drugs at that time, and still doesn’t. As always, money and government go hand in hand. Now, recently, South Carolina has legalized growing hemp again, which is the only state in 50 to do so. We will hope for more enlightened agri-business legislation across the nation, soon.

      • I discovered in my research that hemp is really legal in all 50 states so I guess this must be a very complicated thing. It may be likely some states are allowed to grow it and others aren’t, I don’t know but all I know is somewhere in my research it said it was legal in all 50 states. Anyway, I got my oil on auto delivery, I really need to start using it in my food a little more often to help with certain health issues including but not limited to arthritis pain 😇👍

      • Patricia Santana

        Vermont is now in the process of making it a growing product.

      • I don’t know a whole lot about the plants but a friend of mine who did weed told me hamper is just the stem of the cannabis. He would know, I wouldn’t. Sadly though he died June 10 of 2018 of stage 4 lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker and I just couldn’t be around it despite our best efforts to set up a ventilation system to fan the smoke out. I must be allergic to secondhand smoke though because I keep getting bronchitis every time I’m exposed to it for long enough and it doesn’t really take a real long time even under the best conditions. Second hand weed smoke really didn’t help either, with me smoke a smoke and I just can’t be around it as it becomes a serious issue. I’m still struggling with trying to get the junk out of my respiratory system that keeps building up in the very upper part of it

    • You are correct! That little girl was from the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas. Because of her testimony Texas allows medical marijuana for her type of epilepsy, as long as a doctor prescribes it.

    • Iman Khamis

      Anything FDA don’t approve
      That means it’s good for human consumption..and they only approve what’s actually killing us.

      • I previously some bones. At some point I got to try the oil as a topical for the arthritis pain and it worked within seconds. When that pain is either in your wrist or ankle, it can be crippling. Sometimes it feels like the bone is broken all over again because you can feel right where that break was. After drinking a glass of milk and applying some oil, I feel great again. As long as you’re not abusing the oil, they need to leave it alone because there are some people who really need it it

  • Daniel

    Big PHARMA owns the DEA and the FDA that is why it is illegal . If hemp or marijuana was legal it would bankrupt the drug cartel .

  • Beach Potato

    My Wife had Polio at age 5 and the lingering damage to the L leg and muscle drove her crazy. At age 21 she was using heavy doses of muscle relaxers and pain meds. Needed to bomb herself at night to get some sleep. A Post polio group in West Palm Beach told her about Marijuana and she got some from the Jamaican health aide that was her constant helper. After 5 months she quit all meds. All of them. Slowly came out of the drugged state the meds had caused from 15 years of use. We separated good friends and I know she has gone back to school and getting a degree. All from the help of a plant from Jamaica. I never understood the statement this plant has no viable medical value. Something smells in the politics of this prohibition. Shame.

    • Johnetta Hess

      Thank you for sharing your story. It is amazing the stories I have heard and the things you here the politicians debating over. The truth is out. They need to get over there guilty pride and pharmaceutical needs to be slapped down a few pegs. This is happening we just need to defend the corporations that back the oil, the pharma, any other corporation that doesn’t fight a health and balance model.

    • CATRYNA49

      So true. Hearst and Rockefeller did not want Hemp or any form of Cannabis interfering with their lucrative paper, pharmaceutical and oil industries. Hemp is versatile and renewable. It can be used for food, medicine, fuel, paper, clothing, plastic, building materials; just about anything paper and oil is used for. These bastard wealthy people have done a disservice to all people and for the sake of lining their already copiously rich pockets. They and those like them are criminals of the worst order
      .

    • Kent Maxwell

      Anything that is natural is abundant , there are many Natural cures on this planet. There is no money in Free, there is no money in none research. There is money in man made things. If we knew the cure for all the ailments and knew we could just grow them. Well that would put a lot of Professions out of business along with chemical companies just to name a few. There would be a lot less wealthy, rich people. No one wants to give up the good life. That’s why the world is the way it is UNFAIR. The few make sure it stays that way. Good luck my Fellow Americans… Keep up the good fight ..

      • Iman Khamis

        Sadly but true … It’s almost as if we’re live stock the Government just and only wants to make money off of our health so they poison everything so we get sick ..of course they inforced prescription drugs on civilians cause I’m sure they don’t take that poison…

  • CATRYNA49

    Here in California Cannabis was made legal in June of 2016. Our family was looking forward to growing our own Hemp, but discovered a clause in the new law. Individuals could only grow Hemp, in California, once the Federal Government legalized it. What a useless crap law is that? BS is what it is. Bastards all!!!!!!!

  • Danny

    This is a huge, HUGE step for N.C. First of all farmers can FINALLY make money off land that has grown tobacco for generations. FINALLY doubter I finding out there are many uses for the plant. Perhaps one of the biggest things is the impact on the environment. Most products, if not all, are biodegradable. Also, a huge factor is that in the field of medicine. Will this lead to medical and/or recreational marijuana? Time will tell. As for me, I quit smoking it 20 years ago. I do, however, believe any and all forms of cannabis should and will be made legal. Legal, if for no other reason, so we can stop making people who smoke it into criminals, filling up our jails and prisons. This will free up police, etc.. to finding real criminals. Last, but defiantly not least, IMHO, there is the N.C. aspect. That being I thought we would never, EVER see this time in N.C. Even if it is just industrial hemp for now, it’s a start. Who knows, in the not too distant future, legislatures and law enforcement will become open minded enough to legalize all forms of cannabis, HOPEFULLY. With the youth of these times moving into the right fields, and of course us boomers weighing in, it won’t be too long. AMEN

  • Martin

    The Hemp Company®

  • Connie Mallett Dougherty

    As I research more I am disgusted with how we have all been deceived. I feel confident now with being able to research things on our own, at any moment in time, we can begin to take back our world. In the early 30’s one of the great media conspiracies unfolded. Publisher William Hearst, Dupont, the petroleum interests, the cotton lobby, the bankers and some ignorant politicians lead a crusade to ban hemp to line their pockets. Hemp can revolutionize our society. Please research and pass on!

  • Hemp Extract is very effective in reducing my fibromyalgia and arthritis pain. Hemp is a superior source of CBD compared to marijuana. We have many happy repeat customers from Hemp Extract infused products.

  • LoveCannabis EU

    Hello! I use the CBD which helps me, I feel great! I believe this product. I have a discount coupon from Elixinol and I can share it: 10off489

  • Raymond Marine

    Hemp is used for CLOTHES,Building HOUSES Stronger Than Wood, Plastics,Paper. Randolph Hearst Started bad-mouthing Hemp, so he could make a profit from all the forest trees he owned. He used the trees to make paper. Save a Tree – Plant HEMP.

  • Hemp fiber has many benefits which make it a greate choice for travelers.

    It is strong and durable, with three times the tensile strength of cotton. Even with repeated washing, the fibers don’t break down – the garment just gets softer!

    It breathes. This means that it “wicks” or moves moisture away from your body to be evaporated on the surface so you stay cool, even if you are hot.

    It is an insulator, so it keeps you warm when the weather is cold.

    Its anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties prevent odors even if you are sweaty, and you can wear a garment several times without having to wash it. This is a real bonus if you are traveling.

    It won’t grow mold or mildew if it gets wet. You can pack a damp garment in your suitcase in a plastic bag if necessary, and you won’t need to throw it away when you get home!

    Hemp has built–in UV protection – and you wear it on sunny days. This UV protection also means that colors won’t fade.

    It is wrinkle resistant, so it can be rolled up in your backpack or worn on the plane, and won’t look like a rag when you reach your destination!

    Hemp is versatile. It can be used for a wide range of articles and blended with several other fabrics for different textures, weights, and colors.
    It’s easy to care for. Hemp is one of the few fibers that is stronger when it is wet than when it is dry, so it can be washed by hand or in a machine, at any temperature.

    Source: https://onebagger.com/hemp/
    Thanks,
    Kate

  • Elise Chaney

    Not just the Pharmaceutical companies will lose money. Oil, lumber, ect will lose profit.
    My fingers are crossed it all comes to pass and it brings this country back togther.

  • Ms Wesley Foust-Graham Goodwin

    Why is Jeff Sessions afraid of the plant Hemp, and totally clueless about the benefits of it’s off springs?

  • Melodie Lee

    Folks. This article has nothing whatsoever to do wiht legalization of marijuana. Why do you keep commenting on legalizing pot, medical or otherwise? This article is about hemp. TOTALLY different. As an agricultural product it is very adaptable, forgiving and has a multitude of uses. Please stay on topic and help to promote the valuable product of HEMP. South Carolina has made it legal to grow and the rest of the country would benefit from following suit. Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with Pot!!!!!

    • Michael Davis

      so you can just make up a new plant because it don’t get the user high? Hemp is Cannabis. PERIOD. The Farm Bill and No amount of silly dialog can create a new botanical entry. Hemp IS Cannabis. Cannabis Ruderalis, native to Russia, also called ditch weed….may be imported as Hemp but it IS Cannabis Ruderalis. The semantic name calling game is kept in motion because it serves the desires of those that profit on the confusion. Bottomline, there is Cannabis. Some Cannabis can be used to fight disease. Oligodenroglioma (in my case) and some of it can be used to alter one’s outlook……but it’s all Cannabis. Grow it in South Carolina and call it Hemp, I say God bless you, bring it to my lab and it comes out as cannabis and it’s going to be called Cannabis. Disclaimer, while I do have oligodendroglioma, I do not personally have a lab ;). M.

  • tanya wolf

    Did anyone read then
    article. Hemp and Cannabis different! All of you going on about medical ,was not what this article was about. It said if you try to smoke Hemp all you’ll get is a headache! Sheeesh.. stop politicking and read/learn. Smdh.

  • Hempwise

    You can’t patent a plant, big pharma is afraid of Cannabis.Fear and guilt are the true enemies of humans.

    namaste grow Hemp make marijuana legal for humanity save the planet .

  • Korky Carter

    I think everyone should start growing HEMP. They can’t put everybody in jail. Who would pay taxes to keep us jail.

  • Jamie Longan

    So after 10000 years of being legal to use some a-hole industrialists come by in the 1930s and says no. Just goes to show how backwards human civilization is sometimes.

  • A Frank Neri

    You can get high off hemp the government is lying I have proof in the year 1919 a selectively breed of hemp started floating around. Today this hemp is known as my duckfoot. On average the plant test about 5%. I have photographic evidence and seed evidence and stock evidence proving that the plant is hemp. You can get high off hemp just not the stuff the government wants you to have

  • A Frank Neri

    https://youtu.be/6xumYbYI8G8 this is my proof that hemp can have more THC than government regulations and the government doesn’t know scientific proof of what hemp is. You guys even on Leafly commonly make mistakes you can get high off hemp. Just not the garbage the government wants to grow.

  • Brenda Miles Winters

    I had shoulder replacement surgery 3 months ago. I have been on pain meds since. sleeping or just enjoying life has been impossible. I have walked the floor and cried many nights due to the pain. I endured 6 weeks of out patient therapy and it was brutal but I do have almost normal range now. somedays I came home from therapy and mixed my meds with alcohol just to sleep. then I found out about CBD oil. the most miraculous thing! have drops I take by mouth and balm I rub into shoulder and arm. within 24 hours I was pain free. I am a believer. no side effects. label on meds said I couldn’t drive or operate machinery. dont have to worry about that now. It also comes in gummie form you take just like a vitamin daily. wish I could find seeds. heard they make good brownies.LOL