The Endocannabinoid System: A Guest Post by Kaisha Cabrera

Cannabis is commonly known. But have you heard of our endogenous cannabinoid system? It’s called the ECS, short for endocannabinoid system, and it’s our body’s largest neuromodulator system.

It functions as our body’s balance, working to keep almost every physiological process in homeostasis. It’s comprised of endogenous cannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors , and enzymes.

Endocannabinoid deficiency is a clinical deficit in endocannabinoid system function. This leads to various diseases and issues.

These issues include chronic pain, dysfunctional immune system, fatigue, and mood imbalances. The most common related conditions to
endocannabinoid deficiency include migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and psychological disorders.

 

 

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So, what exactly are cannabinoids?

First, there are three kinds of cannabinoids:

endogenous (inside body)

phyto-cannabinoids (produced by plants)

synthetic cannabinoids (made in the lab)

Endocannabinoids are lipid-based neurotransmitters naturally produced in the body. They help with functions such as sleep, memory, metabolism, appetite, learning, pain, and more.

The first endocannabinoids discovered (and the most studied!) include anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol (2-AG).

There are quite a few more of these, all working together to create an entourage effect.

What is anandamide?

Ananda is the Sanskrit word for “happiness, pleasure, joy, and bliss”.  Which makes good sense, because Anandamide is known as our bliss molecule and it’s part of our brain’s reward system, along with 2-AG.

One particularly interesting thing about anandamide is its relationship to exercise.

Often it’s said that  “Runner’s High” or the feeling of euphoria after working out is due to endorphins. However, endorphins cannot pass the blood-brain barrier.

As a result, recent scientific data supports the possibility that it’s actually caused by anandamide being released.

Okay, so what’s 2-AG?

2-AG is neuroprotective and is important in regulating neural inflammation (think of neurological disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease). Human breast milk contains 2-AG in high concentrations.

 

Tell me about the cannabinoid receptors…

The cannabinoid receptors are called CB1 and CB2. Think of these as locks and keys.

Cannabinoid receptors are largely found in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, immune cells, and gut, and they work to regulate hormone activity.

CB1 receptors are densely found in the central nervous system (CNS), while CB2 receptors are mainly associated with our immune system. Although both receptors can be found in other areas of the brain and body.

Where do we find Endocannabinoids?

A few of the main enzymes for the endocannabinoid system are FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), COX-2, and MAGL (monoacylglycerol Lipase) which break down and degrade the endocannabinoids.

Now with some of the basics of the endocannabinoid system out of the way, how can you help balance
your ECS?

Balancing the endocannabinoid system is largely dependent on nutrition, stress management, and pain relief.

Because our endocannabinoids are lipid based, it’s important to work on your dietary fats, namely your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and having anti-inflammatory fats as a regular part of your nutrition.

Omega-3 foods include:

  • Olives and Olive Oil
  • Nuts and seeds (hemp seeds, anyone?)
  • Fatty fish like sardines, salmon, and tuna
  •  Avocados and avocado oil

Additionally, you’ll want to focus on increasing your fiber intake and antioxidant-rich foods, as well as balancing your macronutrients.

There are dietary phyto-cannabinoids; some working by directly activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors, some inhibiting the FAAH enzyme to raise anandamide level, while some have the benefits of being antioxidants.

Nutrients in foods like cacao and dark chocolate work to inhibit the FAAH enzyme and contain anandamide. Other parts of foods helping inhibit FAAH are polyphenols like resveratrol. Wine, grape juice, peanuts, curcumin, and turmeric are great sources of polyphenols!

Stress management in all its forms can help balance the ECS. Because the ECS is in our skin.

Generally speaking, touch, like massages and osteopathic manipulative therapy, and fulfilling all our senses help the endocannabinoid system. This is due to the boost of oxytocin released.

Other ways to boost oxytocin include:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Cuddling and hugging
  • Laughing

To help you get some ideas on how to incorporate hemp seeds into your diet, here are a couple recipes:

endocannabinoid system support recipes

endocannabinoid system support recipes

References:
Russo EB. Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in
Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis
Cannabinoid Res. 2016;1(1):154-165. Published 2016 Jul 1. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009.

Desai S, Borg B, Cuttler C, et al. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis on the Effects of Exercise on the
Endocannabinoid System. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2022;7(4):388-408. doi:10.1089/can.2021.0113.
Ross M, PhD. Vitamin Weed: A 4-Step Plan to Prevent and Reverse Endocannabinoid Deficiency.
Greenstone Books; 2018.

Alger BE. Getting high on the endocannabinoid system. Cerebrum. 2013;2013:14. Published 2013 Nov 1.
McPartland JM, Guy GW, Di Marzo V. Care and feeding of the endocannabinoid system: a systematic
review of potential clinical interventions that upregulate the endocannabinoid system. PLoS One.
2014;9(3):e89566. Published 2014 Mar 12. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089566

Leonard-Johnson, S, PhD, Rappaport, T, BFA, MFA. Cannabidiol (CBD) and the Endocannabinoid (ECS)
System Course. Biologix Solutions.

McPartland JM, Giuffrida A, King J, Skinner E, Scotter J, Musty RE. Cannabimimetic effects of osteopathic
manipulative treatment. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2005;105(6):283-291.

Wei D, Lee D, Cox CD, et al. Endocannabinoid signaling mediates oxytocin-driven social reward.Proc Natl
Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(45):14084-14089. doi:10.1073/pnas.150979511

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