Welcome to the third instalment of our Endocannabinoid System blog series! If you missed parts one and two, feel free to give those a quick read-through before we dive into the nitty-gritty of how we can best support it in its never-ending quest for balance.
All things considered, it’s pretty amazing that investigating the effects of a humble plant led us all the way to the discovery of what some have hailed as the most important system in the human body. Even moreso when you consider that cellphones have existed for longer than we’ve been aware of the ECS. And truthfully, we understand cellphones a lot better than we understand this amazingly complex element of our physiology.
But that doesn’t mean we’re entirely unaware of the steps we can take to improve our endocannabinoid function. And that’s exactly what we’ll be exploring in the next two posts!
While a lot of these might seem pretty commonsensical, others are downright counterintuitive. But each and every one has been backed up by research. So without further ado, let’s get to it! First up is…
You had to know this was coming, right? Among so many other benefits, regular exercise has been found to sensitize the endocannabinoid system, allowing your body to fine tune its balancing mechanisms with more finesse. Moderate to high intensity exercise is also known to release anandamide into the bloodstream (also known as the “bliss molecule”), which is implicated in the euphoric “runner’s high.” It’s important to note that these benefits only appear to apply to exercises you enjoy, so think twice before forcing yourself through that hour-long treadmill gruel!
Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant found in colourful fruits and vegetables. As it turns out, certain flavonoids act like CBD in the body, inhibiting breakdown enzymes and increasing endocannabinoid levels. So taste the rainbow, eat the rainbow, and reap some serious endocannabinoid benefits while doing so!
You’ve probably seen the terpene beta-caryophyllene (aka BCP or caryophyllene) covered in our educational materials, or on screens in-store. Which makes sense, considering that BCP is among the five most abundant terpenes in the cannabis plant! Without going over too much of what we’ve already covered, caryophyllene is the only terpene know to bind with cannabinoid receptors, which makes it prettttyyy special. As an added bonus, it’s common (and delicious) in other aromatic herbs and spices, including black pepper, rosemary, and clove!
Although fat is the boogeyman of diets past, recent evidence has begun to clear the air – the association between high fat diets and heart disease is weak, saturated fats can be remarkably health-promoting, and it turns out we actually need fats for energy, cell metabolism, and ideal brain function. A huge win for fat-lovers everywhere. So… everyone, right? As an added bonus, high fat diets were shown to increase endocannabinoid production and receptor expression in mice. Yay! We’ll cover two specific types below that really boost your ECS.
One groundbreaking study suggested that olive oil consumption upregulates CB1 and CB2 receptor expression. Aside from its high phenol content and benefits for heart health, it looks like there’s one more reason to love olive oil.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to brain function, and most health experts recommend consuming anywhere between a 4:1 and 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. In actuality, the standard North American diet rests anywhere between a 25-15:1 ratio! Not good. In fact, at a certain point, deficiencies in omega 3 fatty acids seem to almost entirely shut off endocannabinoid signalling! You can up your intake by consuming more Omega 3-rich foods, including flax seeds and oil, hemp seeds and oil, chia seeds, fatty fish, and pasture-fed or omega enriched eggs. But if you can’t source enough from your diet, consider supplementing with a fish, krill, or algae-derived omega 3 oil – your brain and body will thank you.
There’s a reason people love CBD so much, and it mostly has to do with its effects on the endocannabinoid system. CBD inhibits enzymes that break down endocannabinoids, increasing endocannabinoid levels over time in a gentle but highly effective way. It also increases CB1 receptor expression, meaning more receptors for the extra endocannabinoids to bind with – a real double threat! Some research points to the potential that CBD also sensitizes cannabinoid receptors making them more responsive to endocannabinoids, but that isn’t fully understood.
Tea (Camellia Sinensis), especially green tea, is rich in a variety of antioxidants known as “Catechins.” These antioxidant compounds can bind with CB1 receptors, and have been demonstrated to reduce inflammation and protect nerve cells, among many other benefits. As an added bonus, green tea is known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, reduce fat storage, and increase focus.
As if we needed another excuse to drink the stuff, it turns out that coffee amplifies the effects of endocannabinoids! Reasonable amounts of coffee were also shown to reduce a certain kind of stress known as “social defeat stress” and even act as a mild antidepressant, although this was only observed in mice. Just be careful not to overdo it – high doses of caffeine are known to increase heart rate and blood pressure, exacerbate anxiety and depression, and impair sleep, all of which are harmful to your ECS in the long run.
Okay, I know it just seems like I’m pandering it this point, but it’s all true – Fatty foods. Coffee. Chocolate. All of these can contribute to your health and wellbeing! Chocolate’s an especially interesting case in that it contains compounds that are almost identical to anandamide, and may even contain small amounts of anandamide itself! This works to increase endocannabinoid levels as well as release a cascade of feel-good neurotransmitters including oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.
So there we have it. Some of the best-researched ways to increase endocannabinoid levels, sensitize the endocannabinoid system, and promote overall health and well-being. And the best part? Most of them are really enjoyable and carry benefits beyond supporting your endocannabinoid system!
Make sure to check back next week for a look at what to avoid to keep your ECS happy and healthy.
About the author
Lana Tong is an aspiring Endocannabinoid Psychopharmacologist and Squirrel Behavioral Therapist based in Victoria, British Columbia. She’s passionate about cannabis as a medicine, entheogen, food, fiber crop, and so much more. Lana hopes to one day swim in a pool filled with organic CBD-infused coconut oil – we all have dreams, right?