CBD & ECS: It’s time to get to know your endocannabinoid system
There’s a system in your body that your doctor may never mention, but it impacts everything from pain to anxiety, immunity to gut health. It influences mood, appetite and even sex hormones. It’s the reason why cannabis has such a profound effect on humans. It’s called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Researchers describe the ECS as the most complicated signalling system in our bodies. The first endocannabinoid receptor was identified in 1988. Since cannabis is known for its psychoactive effects, i.e. getting high, research was initially focussed on how endocannabinoid receptors communicate and influence our brain and central nervous system. As research progressed over the last 30 years, we found that the ECS isn’t only in the brain. It’s everywhere in the body: the heart, liver, pancreas, skin, reproductive tract, you name it.
When it’s working well, it helps the human body live in balance, or homeostasis. On the other hand, low endocannabinoid levels have been linked to a number of illnesses and diseases. These include major depression, generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD, MS, sleep disorders and more.
Cannabinoids: vitamins for your ECS
“Cannabinoid” is the name given to any compound that interacts with the ECS, including the cannabinoids made naturally by your body (called endocannabinoids, “endo” meaning inside) and the ones found in plants (called phytocannabinoids, “phyto” meaning plant). The most well-known cannabinoids are CBD and THC. However, there are more than 120 in the cannabis plant alone, and they’re all unique. This is an over simplification, but you can think of cannabinoids like vitamins and minerals. When we don’t get enough from nutrition, or the body doesn’t make enough of its own, you end up with a deficiency; your endocannabinoid system doesn’t work as well as it could and you may start to experience symptoms of disease.
By making a habit of some simple food and lifestyle practices you can stimulate your endocannabinoid system naturally, which may lead to a number of health benefits including less stress and anxiety, improved mood, better concentration, deeper sleep, an increased rate of neurogenesis (brain cell birth) and even reduced inflammation.
Hemp vs Marijuana
Cannabis sativa is the taxonomic name for the cannabis plant, which includes both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana has typically been bred for higher levels of THC, the cannabinoid that gets you high. Hemp is cannabis that generally has low levels of THC and has been historically used for food and also industrial purposes, like making building materials and clothing. The other cannabinoid getting lots of attention is CBD. It’s a hot health trend for 2019 around the world, with users praising its anti-inflammatory, neuro-protective, appetite suppressive, gut-supporting and anti-anxiety properties.
Most CBD products you can buy in health food stores overseas are derived from hemp – with levels of THC less than 0.3 percent — meaning they are non-intoxicating and won’t get you high. Cannabinoids and endocannabinoid-supporting nutrients are not exclusive to hemp. These “vitamins” for your endocannabinoid system can be found in other plants, like hops, rosemary, black pepper and cacao. Yep you read that right, in dark chocolate made with raw cacao.
The endocannabinoid system and stress
If there’s one thing most of us can agree on, it’s that we’re stressed. Stress is most readily defined as anything that presents a challenge to homeostasis. Typically a real or perceived threat to our well being. And whether it’s a small thing like getting stuck in traffic, or major stressors like losing a loved one, we encounter stress in one form or another on a daily basis. Fascinating research has identified that the endocannabinoid system plays a major role in the way our body responds to stress. This could have major implications for how we prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses. Almost every health problem out there can be exacerbated by stress and potentially even caused by it . These can include extremely common ones like anxiety, depression, heart disease, GI issues, asthma, and headaches.
What that means? I expect a very exciting future for cannabis and plant based medicine supporting our endocannabinoid system over the coming years. Cannabis the only plant on earth that can feed you, house you, clothe you and heal you.
By Georgia Branch, Co-Founder Hemple
You can find more resources and in depth information on the endocannabinoid system at hemple.com or on the “Hemple Podcast” on iTunes.
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