Most people have heard about the health benefits of cannabis but some might wonder how one plant can have such powerful medical properties. The answer is – the endocannabinoid system. It is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
People have used cannabis for health and wellness for thousands of years. But it wasn’t until the advent of modern science that we figured out how this plant works.
After isolating CBD and THC, researchers found that these compounds interact with specific receptors in the brain.
This led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the 1990s. Since then, we’ve discovered more and more evidence that this system has an immense influence on our health and holds the potential to help with a wide range of health disorders.
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system that helps maintain homeostasis, a healthy state of balance in the body.
It consists of a network of cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoids that activate them, and the enzymes that help build and break down these cannabinoids.
A simple way to think of this system is to imagine receptors as locks and cannabinoids as keys. When a cannabinoid like THC attaches to a receptor, it acts like a key that fits into a specific lock and produces certain effects.
Interestingly, the endocannabinoid system can also be found in many other animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and even sea urchins. This suggests that it developed hundreds of millions of years ago.
In fact, ECS affects important biological processes like …
- How you react to things during the day
- Sleep patterns, and
Most of us don’t realize that our bodies are making cannabinoids all the time. These molecules function a lot like THC and the other cannabinoids found in the plant. Our cells produce and use cannabinoids in precise ways to respond to stress, illness, and injury, thus keeping you healthy. There’s evidence that some people’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) may not be functioning optimally; this can be addressed by adding the right dosage of supplemental cannabinoids from the plant cannabis.
Beyond cannabis, however, certain foods and activities can also help the ECS function optimally, improve your health, and enhance the effectiveness of medical cannabis.
How to Activate ECS?
You may need to supplement the ECS and here are ways how to do just that. Some of them you’ve heard about and some you’ve done as a matter of course to stay healthy and vibrant.
It’s easy to stimulate and support your endocannabinoid system naturally, which can lead to a number of health benefits including:
- Less stress and anxiety
- Improved mood and increased feelings of pleasure and optimism
- Better focus and concentration
- Less hyperactivity and impulsivity
- Higher BDNF levels (which promotes nerve growth in the brain)
- Increased rate of neurogenesis (brain cell birth)
- Increased myelin formation
- Deeper sleep
- Lower cortisol levels (reducing stress hormones)
- Fewer headaches and migraines
- Reduced activity in the amygdala, the fear centre of the brain
- Reduced inflammation
So without further ado, here are tips how to stimulate and support your endocannabinoid system naturally.
This isn’t going to shock anyone: Some kind of movement every day can help keep you healthy and feeling good. Exercise can be in the form of yoga, walking or swimming. Here’s something fascinating about that famed and fabled “runner’s high” that you’ve heard about: There are some studies out there disproving the source of an endorphin rush. Instead there is evidence suggesting that the high is a result of a bump up in endocannabinoids in your system.
Cold exposure has been shown to increase endocannabinoid levels.
Researchers have also found that cold exposure significantly increases the density of CB1 neurons (2). Cold exposure also stimulates the vagus nerve which we know connects the gut and the brain. Try swimming in cold water or finishing your shower with 30 seconds of cold water.
Get a Massage
Osteopathic manipulation has been found to rev up the endocannabinoids in your body. This type of manipulation is the same thing you find in massage. An osteopath will give you treatment – also known as OMT – on your muscles and joints which includes pressure, resistance and stretching.
Emotional stress has been shown to decrease CB1 receptor activity.
High cortisol levels for extended periods, such as those caused by chronic stress, also reduces CB1 receptors and significantly reduces cannabinoid binding to CB1 receptors.
Overall, researchers say there is strong evidence that the endocannabinoid system as a whole is required in order to properly deal with stress.
Take time to wind down – take a walk, do exercise you enjoy, don’t look at your phone for an hour before bed, mediate. Some supplements that can help you reduce stress include CBD, zinc, magnesium, rhodiola, ashwagandha.
History includes a long line of treatments that directly affect the endocannabinoid system, like for example, acupuncture. Acupuncture has been used in healthcare for thousands of years, and practitioners often saw results. However, no one really understood why acupuncture was effective.
It was only in 2007, when a study from China explained endocannabinoid system activation and acupuncture both induce similar effects. In fact, the study concluded that the endocannabinoid system mediates many of acupuncture’s therapeutic effects, including pain relief.
Cut Back the Extra Booze
No, you don’t have to give up the enjoyment of a glass of wine at dinner just don’t decide to finish the bottle. What’s wrong with that? If you’re celebrating and that action is rare, no sweat. But excess alcohol can inhibit and even deaden the signaling you need from your ECS receptors.
Beyond cannabis, however, certain foods can also help the ECS function optimally, improve your health, and enhance the effectiveness of medical cannabis.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive oil has numerous health benefits, particularly because of its strong anti-inflammatory effects with oleic acid – oleic acid reduces blood pressure, increases fat burning to help with weight loss, protects cells from free radical damage, may prevent type 2 diabetes, prevents ulcerative colitis and generates brain myelin and protective antioxidants polyphenols.
It’s also been shown to upregulate CB1 receptors.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. They are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system.
Research shows that they increase the synthesis of endocannabinoids and upregulate both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
There is also a connection between low omega-3 fatty acid intake, poor endocannabinoid function and mood changes.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish and fish roe (find sustainably caught, wild salmon or ocean trout).
Other sources of endocannabinoid-enhancing fatty acids:
- Hemp seeds and hemp oil
- Flax seeds (grind at home in a coffee grinder) and flax oil
- Chia seeds
- Sardines and anchovies
- Eggs (pasture-fed or omega-3 enriched only)
This herb contains phytocannabinoids and can help boost your immune system by providing something called alkylamides which are compounds that have been proven to have high bioavailability which helps your body absorb nutrients.
Good health is found not only in the food you eat and the activities you participate in. It’s also found in your endocannabinoid system.
Most people know dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, such as flavonols and polyphenols, which reduce oxidative stress. But you may not know , it also contains the endocannabinoid anandamide.
And it includes other compounds that slow down the breakdown of anandamide, increasing the amount of anandamide that stimulates your endocannabinoid system. Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute of San Diego were able to back up the claims that chocolate does contain three compounds that act as healing cannabinoids.
That’s why eating delicious, organic dark chocolate can give you the sensation of being relaxed and happy.
Eat Your Greens
Not only do leafy greens contain beta-caryophyllene, studies have also found that they activate the CB2 endocannabinoid receptor which may be key for defeating autoimmune disorders and conditions that flare up because of excess inflammation.
Research suggests that some probiotics can support the endocannabinoid system. In one study, researchers found that a specific strain of probiotic, lactobacillus acidophilus, increases the activity of CB2 receptors (53).
Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve which links your gut and brain and may help with depression.
Tea contains catechins, which are antioxidant compounds that have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.
Researchers have found that catechins in tea target and bind to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the most well known catechin. It’s found in green tea.
Drinking tea can also lower cortisol, and green tea increases BDNF (brain cell growth factors).
Your body naturally produces its own cannabinoids. Proper dosages of cannabis can also up-regulate and tonify your ECS. The plant, however, is not the only way to support your ECS. You can stimulate your ECS naturally with delicious endocannabinoid-enhancing foods and enjoyable activities which can lead to widespread health benefits. To truly achieve wellness patients should consider a variety of ways to boost their endocannabinoid system.
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