Our bodies all have a network of cannabinoid receptors that is vital to the health of all mammals: the endocannabinoid system. The ECS is a vast network of chemical compounds and receptors (namely CB1 and CB2) that regulate our most basic functions – sleep, appetite, mood, the immune system, inflammatory response, aging and memory. Endocannabinoids even produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria similar to those which come from ingesting cannabis.
Aside from regulating essential everyday functions, the ECS maintains the body’s homeostasis down to the cell level by reversing damage in whatever way necessary. In cancer patients, for instance, cancer cells can be programmed to kill themselves when endocannabinoid levels increase.
But as with most things, balance within this system is key. An overly inhibited CB1 receptor may lead to moodiness, depression and a suppressed immune system. On the other hand, an over-activated CB1 can increase risk of psychoactivity, inflammation, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular problems. One study found that a highly sensitive endocannabinoid system is linked to almost all chronic diseases. So, a balanced ECS is fundamental to good health.
Consuming cannabis is one fun and easy way to optimize the ECS. But not everyone has the freedom to enjoy this medicinal plant. Here are our top five simple ways to boost the endocannabinoid system without the aid of marijuana.
Drink Less Alcohol
Martin Lee, director of Project CBD and author of “Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific,” explained the problem with drinking:
“Alcohol is a poison that causes an acute stress response upon occasional consumption, which, in turn, provokes a temporary uptick of endocannabinoid activity as a protective response against stress,” Lee said. He added that while occasional drinking probably wouldn’t harm the ECS, “chronic alcoholism has the opposite effect, resulting in a depletion of endocannabinoid tone due to the wear and tear of too much stress. A low endocannabinoid baseline level makes a person more vulnerable to disease.”
Get Bodywork Treatments
A study by Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology showed that levels of anandamide — a cannabinoid responsible for feelings of bliss and joy — more than doubled after patients received osteopathic manipulative medicine treatments. This therapy can take various forms, including chiropractic, physical therapy and massage. Even acupuncture has a positive effect on the endocannabinoid system, so there’s never been a better excuse to take a spa day.
Eat Leafy Greens
If smoking frosty greens is not an option, then eating leafy greens will suffice. Along with oregano and black pepper, leafy greens contain beta-caryophyllene, a terpene that activates the CB2 receptor and is believed to have high potential for combatting inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders.
Eat More Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a well functioning ECS. Some scientists say that without them, CB1 receptors may not form correctly, which could lead to “impaired emotional behavior.” While fish oils are widely considered one of the best sources of omega-3s, hemp is an excellent alternative. Whether in seed, oil or protein form, hemp’s omega-3s can help keep your ECS functioning properly.
German researchers have shown that “runner’s high” is not actually caused by an endorphin rush, but instead is a result of an increase in endocannabinoid production. And running isn’t the only activity that produces this effect. Any exercise can lead to an increase in endocannabinoids, so long as the activity doesn’t feel forced. The body interprets forced exercise as a stressor, which can actually produce the opposite effect and decrease endocannabinoid receptor signaling. So, dust off the yoga mat, jump up and down on a trampoline or even go out dancing to maintain a healthy endocannabinoid system.
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
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