How to Nurture Your Endocannabinoid System (and Not Get High)

Photo by Unsplash

We all know how to protect our immune system, but scant attention’s been paid to the endocannabinoid system (or ECS). But you know what they say: There’s no time like the present.

The ECS wasn’t discovered until the 1990s, so naturally researchers still don’t know a whole lot about it. Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and the CEO of SmartCannabis™ explains how the cannabinoids themselves—the 2-AG and anandamide (the “bliss molecule”)—are but two of a whole host of molecules that bodies naturally produce to regulate homeostasis, otherwise known as the stable equilibrium in the human body.

“These keep all of our systems in check and functioning normally so we can maintain balance and achieve optimal function,” says Rae.

The functions of cannabinoids, you ask? They help regulate everything including sleep, appetite, hormonal regulation, digestion, and stress. CBD is a cannabinoid. THC is a cannabinoid. And yes, cannabinoids are naturally present in the human ECS.

These molecules, which act on our cannabinoid receptors, are part of a larger group of lipids that the body uses as building blocks for all kinds of purposes. Also, these molecules don’t live very long in the body because enzymes chew up their components and recycle them for other biological purposes.

Because of this interconnectivity, Rae notes it can be a challenge to conduct research on the endocannabinoid system: “It’s difficult to try and isolate the ECS, as it’s not an isolated system, but part of larger part of the body using fatty molecules to take care of itself.”

The ECS can be influenced the body’s unique genetic makeup, as well as outside factors such as diet and exercise. For example, anecdotal evidence suggests that consuming cannabis edibles containing fats, or on an empty stomach, will cause the cannabinoids to have a longer and more intense effect.

In addition, anandamide is also present in chocolate which is why one can feel so blissed out after eating a cannabis-infused chocolate edible. Interestingly, exercise increases anandamide levels and other endorphins, which explains the runners high that is mediated by the ECS.

Taking Care of Your ECS

According to Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts, as THC turns into the more potent Delta Hydroxy 11, “the only way to bypass this increase when using THC-infused products is through topical application or inhalation.” As topicals probably don’t break the blood-brain barrier, they are ideal for those seeking non-intoxicating means of dealing with their pain.

As we always say, full-spectrum cannabis products provide the maximum benefits for helping the ECS achieve homeostasis—and feeling the full benefits of CBD, for example—as they contain all of the properties of the plants and can buffer some of the harsher molecules.

“There isn’t a ton of evidence that CBD isolate alone can have the kind of effects that we need without some other kind of help," says Stem. "This is true especially if you are really diminished in your 2-AG and anandamide levels naturally.”

But for those patients who cannot tolerate any amount of THC or live in a state where cannabis is not legal, CBD isolate can provide some relief. Trista Okel, founder and CEO Empower® BodyCare says “it’s important that if we’re using CBD isolate, that we’re adding other things like terpenes that will get that molecule where it needs to go or support it.” Some brands refer to product produced by this procedure as “broad spectrum CBD".

Future ECS Research

“The connection between cannabis and autoimmune disorders almost points to where we might start thinking of any autoimmune disorder as a disorder of the endocannabinoid system,” says Rae. For example, research coming out of Israel focused on using cannabis to treat Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis seems to indicate that cannabis can reset the body’s ECS through ingestion and topical application. Also, there are promising signs regarding microbiomes that point to a possible relationship with gut bacteria, the ECS, and cannabis.

“Over time, we can see the link between certain types of inflammation, autoimmunity, and the endocannabinoid system," says Rae. "Over time, we can end up with a Ven diagram and see where all this overlaps. Then we can start to see some interesting conclusions regarding which diseases fall into this triad.”

Becky Garrison is a writer whose credits include The Guardian, The Revealer, and more. When she takes a break from her iPad, Becky can often be found sailing, kayaking, biking, or sampling craft beer, wine, spirits, and cannabis.