Hemp and marijuana are often perceived as identical twins - as one and the same. In reality though, they are more like distant cousins that only convene at awkward family gatherings.

The seeds and oil do indeed come from the hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa, which is the same species from which marijuana is produced. Yet they contain such a microscopic trace of THC – the compound that produces drug-like effects – that however much you eat, you won't be left feeling giddy.

[Read more: Pat Butcher smoking from a bong was TV gold]

And according to website Love Hemp, sales of hemp oil have trebled to their over-60s customers.

Tony Calamita, co-founder of Love Hemp, said: “A lot of the sales that we’ve made are to customers in their late twenties and thirties but the interest from those aged 60 plus continues to grow. 

"What surprises us most is the level of misinformation out there.  Some of our customers have even told us that they keep these supplements a secret from family and friends for fear of judgement. 

"Our hope is that continued research and pressure on the government will change perceptions of hemp and its everyday applications.”

Here are nine health benefits of hemp seeds you may not have known…

1. Reduce the risk of heart disease

Hemp seeds contain arginine and gamma-Linolenic acid, both of which have been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease. Animal studies have also suggested that the seeds may lower blood pressure and the risk of clotting.

[Read more: What is familial hypercholesterolaemia and what do I need to know?]

2. Help digestion

The hemp seed shells contain high amounts of soluble and unsoluble fibre, which benefits digestive health by cleansing the colon. Fibre also increases satiety, keeping you feeling fuller for longer.

3. A great source of protein

More than a quarter of the calories in hemp seeds come from high-quality proteins, topping other superfoods such as chia seeds. By weight, the seeds offer a similar amount of protein as beef, lamb or chicken and are a great source of protein for vegans or vegetarians.

[Read more: 8 foods that cause bloating – and what to eat instead]

4. Improve muscle control and function

Hemp seeds not only contain all 20 amino acids, but they also possess nine of the essential amino acids, which our bodies cannot produce. These improve muscle control, mental function and general body maintenance of cells, tissues and organs.

5.They may ward off Alzheimer’s disease

Omega 3 fatty acids are primarily found in fish, but they are also found in some plants and nuts, including hemp seeds. On top of their benefits to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, they may even ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

6. Help maintain bone health

As well as Omega-3, the seeds are also a great source for the Omega-6 fatty acids. These help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and aid brain function.

[Read more: 9 amazing beauty tricks, tips and recipes using coconut oil]

7. Helps skin disorders

An oil can be extracted from the seeds which is easily absorbed into the skin. This can regenerate and nourish dried skin, prevent sagging due to aging and can provide relief for skin conditions such as eczema.

8. Reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause

Symptoms caused by PMS are often caused by sensitivity to the hormone prolactin. The gamma-Linolenic acid, found in hemp seeds, is known to naturally balance hormones. Other studies have suggested that the seeds can reduce the symptoms of menopause.

9. A good source of vitamins and minerals

Hemp seeds are a great source of vitamin E, which helps to strengthen the immune system, and also minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.