Hemp, hemp hurrah!

Pot makes you paranoid. And it does so even if you don't smoke it. Either that, or the U.S. Drug Enforce-ment Adminis-tration is stoned out of its collective mind these days, because it is seeing enemies where none exist -- in the mushrooming market for hemp products.

The DEA has announced it will attempt to ban any hemp product like food and clothing that contains even a ghost of a hint of a trace of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes it worth smoking. David Bronner, chairman of the Hemp Industries Association's Food and Oils Committee, responds that it's a "purely political" move, adding that the agency has no authority over non-viable hemp seeds, which are exempt from DEA regulations, "just like poppy seeds are."

Bronner describes it as "disappointing" that the DEA decided to wait so long before picking on an industry that now brings in $5 million a year, with sales of hemp products having doubled every year for the past five.

Back when hemp first appeared in stores in the form of bracelets and hammocks, I used to think, "Feh. It's just hippies who want pot legalized and are trying to wiggle around saying so." But after watching hemp appear in products as diverse as chips, flour, ale and soda, I did a little research of my own -- of the sampling variety.

Bins, laden

To my buds (tastebuds, that is), it seems that hemp seed is not only a good thing to have on the market, but also in your grocery cart. There's nothing worse than someone telling you they've found some marvelously healthy, fat-free, wheat-free, gluten-free cookies only to discover that they're also taste-free -- or have a flavor like the shavings you'd put in the bottom of a hamster cage. Hemp products, at least the ones I tried, suffered no such indignity -- or at least most of them didn't.

Hemp granola, which they sell in bins at Whole Foods Market, is lighter and all-around tastier than the regular kind, which can sometimes be like eating sweetened rocks. Hemp waffles (also found at Whole Foods and made by a company called Life Stream) were so fluffy and cake-like that they didn't need to be drowned by Mrs. Butterworth to taste good.

On a recent trip to New York, I also picked up a can of hemp soda in a grocery store. The forboding black can had a picture of a big pot leaf on it and the slogan, "Hemp. The Spiritual Lift." The soft drink has several ingredients but the notable ones were caffeine, grapefruit-juice concentrate and "hemp essence." Unfortunately, its taste was wince-provoking, like carbonated sour mix -- not much more appetizing than drinking water from the bottom of a used bong. But, what could one expect from rope soda?

So the drink isn't great, but the other products truly are -- as are some of the hemp clothes I've found. The fabric is softer and lighter than cotton, perfect for a place like this, where we've had, what, three days of winter this year?

Feed your head

As for the food products, there may be good reasons why there are so many old hippies around, decades after hash brownies first turned up at Led Zeppelin concerts. And it turns out (not on) that hemp seed actually may be good for you. It's full of essential fatty acids (EFAs), the healthy kinds of fat that your body can't do without. You've probably heard that fish is good "brain food," likely because the brain is 60 percent fat, and eating fish delivers all kinds of these EFAs, so eating hemp seed can hardly hurt. Come to find out, according to a US Newswire article, hemp seed is also high in vitamin E (an anti-oxidant) and protein. Nothing not to like there.

The article adds that ours is the "only major industrialized nation to prohibit the growing and processing of industrial hemp, which is harvested mainly in Canada and Europe." With our economy slumping like a hunchback, it would seem like a good time to cultivate a promising, diverse, beneficial industry instead of threatening it over traces of THC. In fact, the DEA is still looking to see what's even detectable.

Then again, pot ought to be legal in the first place. Given the bad economy and the high costs of health care we have to worry about, can something that helps people escape their harsh realities (and soothe their medical ills) be such a bad thing? Pot, by the way, was responsible for no known deaths in the year 2000, as opposed to bad reactions from prescription drugs, which were responsible for 32,000.

Not that smoking pot's for me, you understand. I'm not much of a toker. If I want to sit on my couch and giggle, I can do that all on my own, without any help. I prefer a drug that makes me take physical risks and sloppily blather into the night about nothing to people who don't care. I like drinking.

Besides, pot makes you paranoid. And the DEA's action seems to prove it.