Photo Credit: Starkel Nutrition
When it comes to bodily systems, none are less understood or potentially as important as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).Unfamiliar with your endocannabinoid system? You’re not alone. Many people are unaware they even have an ECS, let alone how it impacts their day-to-day lives.
Just like every other system in our body, there are steps we can take to protect, strengthen, and optimize our endocannabinoid system.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
We all have an endocannabinoid system in our bodies. The ECS is a biological system composed of an intricate network of fat-based neurotransmitters with receptors on every organ in your body. The purpose of the ECS is to process cannabinoids, both internally and externally produced.
The ECS is believed to help our bodies maintain a state of internal homeostasis or balance. Emerging research shows the ECS plays a crucial role in various physiological processes, including sleep, hunger, digestion, heart rate, memory, and more.
Research on the ECS is limited but growing. This system has receptors throughout your body, and the two most-studied receptors are CB1 and CB2. We’re still learning about these receptors, but here’s what we do know:
- CB1 receptors are located in the brain, central nervous system, and connective tissue. CB1 is believed to be the most densely populated ECS receptor in the brain and is the primary receptor for THC. CBD acts as a CB1 antagonist.
- CB2 receptors are located throughout the immune and digestive system and are critical for the proper function of these systems. CB2 receptors do not produce the intoxicating “high” feeling that comes with THC.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds produced by the hemp and cannabis plants. There are over 100 cannabinoids, but the two most common and best known are THC and CBD.
Our bodies also produce cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids. These include anandamide, which plays a crucial role in early memory formation and retention, as well as a variety of other functions.
When you consume cannabis, you’re supplementing your system with the addition of phytocannabinoids. It’s believed many common ailments stem from an imbalance in the endocannabinoid system, so intentional cannabis use can help combat both the symptoms and root causes of many of these.
If you’re interested in using cannabis intentionally to optimize your endocannabinoid system, here’s what you need to know.
How to Optimize Your Endocannabinoid System
The best way to optimize your endocannabinoid system is through regular dosing of phytocannabinoids, external cannabinoids from the cannabis and hemp plants.
The mood-boosting properties of CBD are well documented, and daily dosing of CBD can help improve everything from sleep quality to wakefulness and focus throughout the day. CBD is not intoxicating and has subtle psychoactive effects, making it perfect for daily use. A small edible, tincture, or bowl of CBD flower is a great way to give your system a boost.
One of the main health benefits of THC is its lasting euphoria-inducing qualities. While high doses of THC can lead to sedation, small doses can help boost your mood, relieve pain, and stimulate appetite. Consider a micro-dose of under 10 mg of THC to get the benefits without the full intoxicating effects.
Eat Endocannabinoid Boosting Foods
Photo Credit: Medicinal Genomics
- Healthy Fats
The endocannabinoid system is composed of fat-based transmitters, so a diet rich in fatty acids can help the body better absorb and process cannabinoids. Hemp plants are abundant in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are the building blocks for the CB1 receptor. Increasing your consumption of Omega-3’s can stimulate your endocannabinoid system. Sources of Omega-3’s include hemp seeds, hemp oil, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed. Anchovies and sardines are rich in Omega-3’s as well, and most grocery stores carry eggs enriched with Omega-3s.
- Vitamin C
Omega-3 isn’t the only dietary supplement that can boost your ECS. Vitamin C helps speed the absorption of CBD as well as improves immune system response. Since the human body doesn’t produce Vitamin C, reach for veggies and fruits like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, and lemons.
If you thought chocolate was good for the soul and the body, you’d be right. Cacao powder has a similar chemical structure to endocannabinoids and can increase endocannabinoid levels by slowing their metabolic breakdown in the body. Reach for dark chocolate to get the most of your sweet tooth.
Herbal teas made from dried leaves have a variety of health benefits, including ECS-boosting powers. Teas like turmeric, echinacea, and Camellia Sinensis can increase endocannabinoid levels in the body, stimulate the CB2 receptor, and slow the metabolic breakdown of endocannabinoids.
Herbs contain a variety of health benefits, include high levels of terpenes like beta-caryophyllene. This chemical compound is responsible for the smell of many herbs and stimulates CB2 receptors in the body. Maximize the benefits of herbs by always generously seasoning your food! Find beta-caryophyllene in lemon balm, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and hops.
Move Your Body
Unsurprisingly, exercise is a great way to stimulate the endocannabinoid system. Regular movement encourages the production of anandamide, one of the cannabinoids naturally produced by your brain. Anandamide got its name from the Sanskrit word for joy, which fits because it is linked to the production of several other feel-good chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine.
To get the most of your workout, consider consuming a small dose of THC or CBD 10 – 20 minutes before moving. This can create a positive feedback loop for your endocannabinoid system, increasing the efficiency of the dose and the feel-good effects later.
One of the best things you can do not only for your endocannabinoid system but for your overall health is to reduce and avoid stress. Stress slows the growth and repair of endocannabinoid receptors, and high cortisol levels can impede CB1 function.
While it’s impossible to avoid it entirely, we can take steps to mitigate stress’ effect on our systems. Activities like meditation, yoga, massages, and facials can help reduce stress levels and increase stress tolerance.
The Bottom Line
Your endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in almost every function in your body, so it’s important to care for it the same way we care for our other systems. The more you pay attention to optimizing your ECS, the better you’ll feel!
Written by: Jessica Riley
Edited (for SEO) by: Veronica Castillo