If you are familiar with CBD you have probably heard of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is the system in our body that CBD activates to bring us all its amazing benefits. We have covered it in more detail in our previous blog CBD and the endocannabinoid system. However to set the scene lets run through the basics of the ECS first.
Simply put it consists of three main elements. These are endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids or eCBs), enzymes and cannabinoid receptors. The main function of your ECS is to maintain homeostasis (a state of physiological balance) across numerous critical bodily functions. These functions include pain, inflammation, anxiety, mood, appetite, immune function and even reproduction.
It is also believed to be the largest neurotransmitter network within the body. In fact, cannabinoid receptors are so ubiquitous that they are greater than all other neuromodulator receptors combined. This includes receptors for neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Evidently the ECS is an important part of a healthy functioning mind and body.
How does the endocannabinoid system work?
Many of us do not realise that our cells are creating cannabinoid molecules all the time. They do this whether we are consuming cannabis products or not. Moreover they create them in response to stress, injury or illness to return us to homeostasis. Think of your ECS like the bodies dimmer switch. It is constantly increasing or decreasing cellular activity in response to our external environment.
Unfortunately poor diet, lifestyle, stress and other environmental factors can lead to a poorly functioning ECS. This typically means low levels of crucial eCBs such as 2-AG and Anandamide. Which, as a result, can lead to clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). Consequently CECD may result in poor health.
Luckily for us, Cannabidiol (CBD), a phytocannabinoid (plant based cannabinoid) can address these issues. However it isn’t the only way to do support your endocannabinoid system. Outside of cannabis compounds found in CBD Oil, you can also stimulate your ECS through a number of natural activities such as exercise and even diet.
What is Endocannabinoid Tone?
When we talk about supporting your ECS we are really talking about maintaining positive endocannabinoid tone. This describes the overall state of your ECS. In other words it is a reflection of the levels of eCBs present in your body, the density of cannabinoid receptors and the efficiency of the enzymes which break down eCBs.
If you’ve consumed CBD oil before you may be familiar with the lack of one-size-fits-all dosage. For example one may find relief from CBD isolate oil whereas another may do better with full spectrum CBD oil. Ultimately this is because each of us has a unique endocannabinoid tone.
To put it simply, if we are efficient at producing eCBs then we have positive endocannabinoid tone. Similarly if we are deficient at producing them then we have negative endocannabinoid tone. With that said, let’s look at how to support your endocannabinoid system naturally and maintain positive endocannabinoid tone.
Diet and the Endocannabinoid System
Many plants throughout nature are known to be cannabimimetic. This means that although they don’t share the same molecular structure as cannabis they have similar effects on the body. They too can interact with our ECS and affect our endocannabinoid tone.
Moreover the nutrients we put into our bodies even serve as building blocks for eCBs as we will explore below. There isn’t a one to one relationship between what you eat and what your endocannabinoid function is going to be. But it is clear that diet influences the endocannabinoid system in a big way.
Essential Fatty Acids and the ECS
Endocannabinoid tone is largely built upon our intake of essential fatty acids. More specifically our ability to convert them into the molecules we refer to as endocannabinoids. In other words, healthy fats, particularly omega-3 rich fats are building blocks for eCBs. That is why it is important to have a healthy ratio (ideally 1:1) of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids for a healthy ECS.
Unfortunately due to widespread use of industrial seed oils, the western diet typically does not. Many of our diets contain too much omega-6 with ratios of up to 1:15. Evidently, in order to support our ECS, more omega-3 fatty acids are needed to balance this ratio. This isn’t so easy however they are not as prevalent as their pro-inflammatory contemporary. Some of the best sources of omega-3s are oily fish, hemp seed & oil, flax seed, chia seed, walnuts and eggs.
The Best Diet for Healthy Endocannabinoid Tone
Eating a diet of natural whole foods is certainly one of the most important ways to maintain positive endocannabinoid tone. This means natural food that comes from the ground or animal products and little to no processed food. A diet low in refined sugar and avoiding seed oils such as sunflower oil and other vegetable oils. You know the ones that look like machine lubricant? Ditch those in favour of olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, etc. and you are on the right path.
Herbs and Tea
Fats are not the only food that can enhance our ECS however. Some herbs, spices and teas also contain beneficial compounds that can improve endocannabinoid tone. In fact, many of the terpenes we enjoy in cannabis extracts are also found throughout nature. For example Beta-Carophyllene a terpene cannabis shares with black pepper and other plants, has shown interaction with our CB2 receptors. Additionally Echinacea, Helichrysum, Maca, Copaiba and Turmeric can also help support our endocannabinoid system.
Dark Chocolate (Cacao)
Good news for fellow our chocolate lovers as cacao contains compounds molecularly similar to the endocannabinoid anandamide. Anandamide is also known as the bliss molecule which certainly explains chocolate’s blissful effects. Sounds like we should eat more chocolate, right? Kind of.. A lot of the chocolate available today has been adulterated with boatloads of refined sugar and even sunflower oil. We suggest opting for raw cacao or high percentage dark chocolate such as 80% dark. Alternatively sprinkle some organic cacao nibs in your smoothie for maximum benefits.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Above all the simplest foods that appear to improve eCB tone are prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics are vegetated matter that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut, otherwise known as your microbiome. Good sources of probiotics includes kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and other pickled vegetables. On the other hand prebiotics are food for the gut microbiome. Examples include garlic, banana, onion, leeks and asparagus.
The gut microbiome is integral to brain function therefore eating a healthy whole food diet is important for overall health. Moreover ECS signalling modulates a variety of functions in the gut including inflammation, permeability and appetite. As a result, you can support your endocannabinoid system by maintaining a healthy gut using probiotics and prebiotics.
Unfortunately due to industrial farming practices the food we consume today is significantly less nutritious than 50 years ago. The reason for this is that pesticides are killing off much of the microorganisms in the top soil. On the other hand, organic food, which is grown in synergy with nature, is much more nutritious.
That’s not the only reason to eat organic however, some studies have also linked pesticides with disrupting our ECS. It is best to opt for organically grown produce to keep your ECS running smoothly.
Exercise and the Endocannabinoid System
Another clear way of increasing the gain of your ECS is to undertake aerobic exercise. Decades of research has demonstrated the benefits of exercise for physical and mental health. Regular exercise can enhance wellbeing, reduce symptoms of disease and much more.
People even report reduced pain and lower symptoms of anxiety after taking exercise. This has often been attributed to ‘runner’s high’ from increased blood levels of endorphins, one of our bodies’ natural opioids. However scientists have questioned this theory particularly as endorphins cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to provide us such mental benefits.
Runners High and the ECS
Recent research has pointed the finger at our endogenous cannabinoid molecules as the catalyst of ‘runner’s high’ benefits. It found that exercise increases our levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide within the body. This certainly explains “runners high” as anandamide is dubbed the “bliss molecule” due to its mood boosting effects. Ultimately they discovered that endocannabinoid activity is responsible for runner’s high as opposed to endorphins.
Interestingly the researchers also found that while all kinds of exercise is capable of eliciting this response, exercise that elevates heart rate for at least 30 minutes was most effective at increasing endocannabinoid levels. Clearly you should aim to undertake 30 minutes of daily exercise to maintain healthy endocannabinoid tone and overall health.
Singing and the Endocannabinoid System
Another activity that brings joy to us is singing. I mean who doesn’t enjoy singing at the top of their lungs whilst alone in the car? Scientists have shown that singing significantly increases levels of endocannabinoids while improving mood. In fact eCB levels increased up to 42%; twice as much activity as seen in the same group while cycling.
Other activities such as dancing also showed endocannabinoids increase by up to 21%. Overall the three activities showed increases in endocannabinoid levels and improvements in mood. Yet another reason to rock a little two step while butchering the lyrics to your favourite song!
Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System
The cannabis genus, including the hemp plant, contains many different wellness molecules that affects our ECS. Should you have a poorly functioning ECS the hemp constituents such as CBD can provide support. Let’s take a look at how they work in more detail below..
Terpenes are highly aromatic, tasty oils that are produced by the cannabis plant alongside cannabinoids such as CBD. As you’ve probably guessed they are responsible for the characteristic smell of the plant. Terpenes do not just smell great however they also influence our ECS and in some cases display cannabimimetic activity.
Scientists have shown all terpenes activate our CB1 receptors, the same receptors THC bind to in our central nervous system. This echoes other research which concluded that cannabis terpenes enhance the therapeutic properties of cannabinoids. In other words terpenes work synergistically with the other components within the plant to increase its therapeutic value. This phenomenon is known as “the entourage effect.”
Terpenes are not unique to the cannabis plant though, they are also found throughout nature. For example the terpene myrcene is the one of the most abundant terpenes in the plant. It smells earthy and herbal like cloves and it is also found in lemongrass, mango and thyme.
You don’t even need to be consuming cannabis based products to enjoy the benefits of terpenes. Botanical derived terpenes also have the same ECS benefits as cannabis derived terpenes. After all we have been extracting terpenes from plants for millennia to harness their relaxing and soothing properties. For instance we use lavender oil, which contains the terpene linalool, to relax. To attest to this a Japanese study recently illustrated that just the smell of linalool can reduce stress.
THC is of course the infamous cannabinoid responsible for the characteristic high cannabis provides. When it comes to our ECS however, it is what’s known as an endocannabinoid down regulator. This means the more often you consume the THC molecule the more your body begins to withdraw its cannabinoid receptors. The logic being there are less receptors for THC to bind to thus reducing your high over time.
THC also mimics the endocannabinoid anandamide which is super useful for those of us who are deficient in anandamide. This is akin to supplementing with vitamins or minerals as we regularly do today. However if you are not deficient in anandamide then THC will effectively replace this in your body. This means you may experience withdrawal symptoms when ceasing use.
CBD is of course an incredibly safe and useful way to improve your endocannabinoid tone. Simply put CBD works by keeping eCBs around longer for more positive effects. It does this by competing for the same metabolic enzymes that metabolise endocannabinoids.
This prevents their breakdown and therefore enhances endocannabinoid tone. Of course unlike THC rich extracts, CBD products will never produce any psychotropic effects. Overall CBD is one of the best ways to support your endocannabinoid system.
Support your Endocannabinoid System
In addition to the above there are many other ways of improving endocannabinoid tone. These activities include good sleep, meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, breathing exercises, social interaction and more. Evidently the many ways to support your endocannabinoid system effectively mirror the basic pillars of health. Eat a diverse, whole food diet, prioritise sleep, reduce stress and move your body for a healthy ECS and subsequently, optimal health.
Our modern, sedentary lifestyles are pro-inflammatory and typically result in poor endocannabinoid tone. While we can always count on our greatest plant ally to return us to homeostasis, a holistic approach is best. This means incorporating as many of the above activities into our wellness routine as our schedules allow. And what better time than the beginning of a new year to make better endocannabinoid tone our new years resolution.
Want to know more about CBD?
If you’ve enjoyed this post you may like to read more about the science of CBD. Here are some of our most popular posts on Learning CBD.
- CBD and the Endocannabinoid System: A simple guide
- Is CBD really non-psychoactive? The definitive truth
We would love to help if you have any questions around this topic. Let us know by dropping us an email or comment on one of our social channels. We will endeavour to get back to you asap but while you wait the answer to your query may lie in our CBD FAQs.