How does maintaining the endocannabinoid system contribute to your health?
As Dr. Bonni Goldstien wrote for Project CBD, “Take care of your endocannabinoid system and it will take care of you.” This recently discovered body system just may form the foundation of our health and wellbeing, yet we still know very little about looking after it. A balanced endocannabinoid system manages mood, memory, inflammation, chronic pain, appetite, and more. Doesn’t it require daily upkeep and maintenance? And further, if you support your endocannabinoid system with cannabis intake, will you prevent the onset of illness and disease to make yourself more healthy? Here’s what the research says.
Dr. Goldstein, a Los Angeles based physician, details four ways to support the endocannabinoid system: diet, exercise, therapeutic approaches, and cannabis. Recommendations for diet and exercise aren’t surprising, but will cannabis make you healthy? It’s time to investigate ways to keep your endocannabinoid system balanced and happy, including the use of cannabis.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
If the endocannabinoid system doesn’t ring any bells, it’s because researchers stumbled on to this physiologic regulatory system only a few short decades ago. Since its discovery, researchers have determined it’s primary mission is to maintain constant homeostasis.
The system comprises two elements: receptors and chemical messengers. These work together to respond to internal or environmental stressors. If an imbalance is detected, the endocannabinoid system sends out transmissions (called endocannabinoids) to activate or deactivate two receptors: CB1 and CB2.
A primary example of this action is the inflammatory response. The CB2 receptors help suppress pro-inflammatory compounds’ expression, preventing the spread of localized inflammation to other areas of the body. The two endocannabinoids, AEA and 2-AG, also play an important role in increasing or decreasing inflammation.
Will Cannabis Make Immune Cells More Healthy?
As a 2017 paper on the endocannabinoid’s role in pain and inflammation explained, “Immune cells are not only able to be influenced, but are also able to generate and secrete endocannabinoids that lead to changes in immune-cell behavior as well as the production of other inflammatory factors that subsequently influence tissue inflammation” Barrie, N., & Manolios, N. (2017). The endocannabinoid system in pain and inflammation: Its relevance to rheumatic disease. European journal of rheumatology, 4(3), 210–218. … Continue reading.
Further, Ethan B. Russo and other influential researchers now support the endocannabinoid theory of disease, which postulates that endocannabinoid imbalance may be responsible for chronic conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, and inflammatory bowel syndrome. Further, working to keep the endocannabinoid system in balance is a way to reduce the risks of these conditionsRusso E. B. (2016). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. … Continue reading.
Improving Diet for Endocannabinoid Balance
As Dr. Goldstein outlined in her 2018 piece for Project CBD, diet is one of the most important ways to support a healthy and functional endocannabinoid system. But, what sorts of dietary changes could improve endocannabinoid function?
Endocannabinoids, the chemical messengers our bodies produce to regulate receptor activity, are made from essential fatty acids. For example, linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, plays a crucial role in AEA production. Boosting daily essential fatty acid intake is one way to provide the body with the building blocks it needs to produce its own endocannabinoids Naughton, S. S., Mathai, M. L., Hryciw, D. H., & Mcainch, A. J. (2013). Fatty Acid Modulation of the Endocannabinoid System and the Effect on Food Intake and Metabolism. International Journal of … Continue reading.
What healthy foods increase daily intake of essential fatty acids like linoleic acid? Meat, eggs, nuts, and seeds are all nutrient-dense sources of linoleic acid. Other valuable sources of essential fatty acids include oily fish, flax seeds, soybeans, and vegetable oil products.
Therapeutic Approaches to a Healthy Endocannabinoid System
Acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and osteopathic manipulation are all therapeutic means to improve endocannabinoid function. These approaches may work through different pathways, but encourage internal homeostasis, much like the endocannabinoid does.
Acupuncture is a perfect example of how an external therapy can rebalance endocannabinoid function. Research published in 2017, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews examined the intersection between the endocannabinoid system and the benefits of acupuncture Hu, B., Bai, F., Xiong, L., & Wang, Q. (2017). The endocannabinoid system, a novel and key participant in acupuncture’s multiple beneficial effects. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral … Continue reading.
This review explored the ways through which endocannabinoid system activation and acupuncture produce similar effects. Patients often seek treatment with acupuncture for pain, mood, appetite, and inflammatory conditions — all issues managed by the endocannabinoid system.
According to the authors of this review, “Acupuncture may restore homeostasis under different pathological conditions by regulating similar networks of signaling pathways, resulting in the activation of different reaction cascades in specific tissues in response to pathological insults.”
This is a relatively new scientific hypothesis, but fascinating nevertheless. Endocannabinoid function could see benefits from some of these traditional therapies.
The Value of Exercise To The Endocannabinoid Function
Exercise is an essential component of any healthy lifestyle, but it also supports a healthy endocannabinoid system. As per, “Physical activity and the endocannabinoid system: an overview,” exercise influences endocannabinoid activity in remarkable waysTantimonaco, M., Ceci, R., Sabatini, S., Catani, M. V., Rossi, A., Gasperi, V., & Maccarrone, M. (2014). Physical activity and the endocannabinoid system: an overview. Cellular and molecular life … Continue reading.
Basically, as the researchers explain in this 2014 piece, physical activity increases the endocannabinoid AEA’s plasma levels. New theories are emerging, which link the positive effects of exercise on the mind and body to the related changes in the endocannabinoid system. The boost in neurogenesis, following intense exercise, is only one example. Exercise promotes endocannabinoid production, which in turn promotes neurogenesis. Could the other benefits related to exercise simply stem from a well-nourished endocannabinoid system?
If this new theory pans out, it means we should exercise not just for muscle tone, but for endocannabinoid tone as well.
Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System
This brings us to the final point — cannabis. Basically, will cannabis make you healthy, and more importantly, will it boost the endocannabinoid system’s functionality?
Cannabis, a plant with a long history of medicinal use, contains compounds called cannabinoids. These cannabinoids further interact with the human endocannabinoid system in a way that mimics our naturally produced endocannabinoids AEA and 2-AG. The therapeutic properties of this plant stem directly from their ability to activate and influence the function of the CB1 and CBD2 receptors.
Russo’s theory about endocannabinoid deficiency hypothesizes that an imbalance is the root of many chronic conditions. Furthermore, all of these conditions benefit from medical cannabis therapy. Again, this is another fascinating intersection between cannabis, chronic disease, and endocannabinoid function.
But, will cannabis make you healthy if applied like a daily supplement? Cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, work within the endocannabinoid system to reduce pain, decrease inflammation, boost mood, and improve sleep patterns. Further, ongoing support for the endocannabinoid system, through cannabinoid therapy, could facilitate homeostasis and prevent disease. More research is definitely needed to explore this idea in-depth, but there is a strong case to be made for cannabinoid therapy as preventative medicine.
Endocannabinoid System Support: Cannabis As a Preventative Medicine
Although patients typically begin treatment with medical cannabis following diagnosis with a disease or illness, there may be a place for cannabis as preventative medicine. Basically, the plant has a unique ability to target common daily concerns related to endocannabinoid imbalance, like pain, inflammation, mood, and appetite. But, will cannabis make you healthy? Based on what we know about endocannabinoid function and cannabinoid medicine, it’s a very convincing idea.
|↑1||Barrie, N., & Manolios, N. (2017). The endocannabinoid system in pain and inflammation: Its relevance to rheumatic disease. European journal of rheumatology, 4(3), 210–218. https://doi.org/10.5152/eurjrheum.2017.17025|
|↑2||Russo E. B. (2016). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 1(1), 154–165. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0009|
|↑3||Naughton, S. S., Mathai, M. L., Hryciw, D. H., & Mcainch, A. J. (2013). Fatty Acid Modulation of the Endocannabinoid System and the Effect on Food Intake and Metabolism. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2013, 1-11. doi:10.1155/2013/361895|
|↑4||Hu, B., Bai, F., Xiong, L., & Wang, Q. (2017). The endocannabinoid system, a novel and key participant in acupuncture’s multiple beneficial effects. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 77, 340-357. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.04.006|
|↑5||Tantimonaco, M., Ceci, R., Sabatini, S., Catani, M. V., Rossi, A., Gasperi, V., & Maccarrone, M. (2014). Physical activity and the endocannabinoid system: an overview. Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS, 71(14), 2681–2698. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00018-014-1575-6|