Experts have attributed CBD oil with everything from reducing anxiety to pain relief – it's no wonder that it's one of the most talked-about supplements of 2018. But while CBD oil can certainly be a huge help, it's not the only – or even necessarily the best – way to keep your endocannabinoid system in tip-top shape.
What's the Endocannabinoid System?
To understand the benefits of CBD oil, one first needs to grasp the inner workings of the endocannabinoid system. This network within the human body is comprised of neurotransmitters and receptors involved in regulating physiological, cognitive, and nervous properties. Mood, memory, pain, and more are affected by the endocannabinoid system in myriad ways – many of which we have yet to identify.
“The endocannabinoid system,” explains Green Relief, “is the ultimate balance system of our bodies that yearns to achieve homeostasis. It keeps everything in check: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, muscular and nervous systems (just to name some of the systems that keep you chugging along).”
Despite being such an essential part of our health and wellbeing, however, the endocannabinoid system is relatively new, at least as far as our understanding of human physiology is concerned: its very existence was only discovered in 1988.
We have since found that two primary endocannabinoid receptors exist: CB1 receptors, primarily found in the brain and nervous system, and CB2 receptors, found elsewhere in the body. Cannabinoid compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), both of which are found in cannabis, interact with these receptors.
But CBD and THC, while certainly the best known, are far from the only cannabinoids in existence; in fact, in 1992, scientists discovered that the human body actually makes its own. These cannabinoids are known as endocannabinoids and are distinguished from phytocannabinoids, found in plants.
Phytocannabinoids: An Ever-Growing Alphabet Soup of Compounds
The cannabis plant contains more than 80 different cannabinoids, many of which we still know very little about.
Of those that have been studied, one major phytocannabinoid is CBN or cannabinol. An oxidized version of THC, CBN has been identified as a possible sleep aid as well as a possible antibacterial agent.
CBG – cannabigerol – is another important cannabinoid, touted by Green Relief as the “granddaddy” of them all.
“It’s the cannabinoid that is the starting point for THC, CBD, and CBC,” explains the outlet, which notes that this phytocannabinoid stimulates appetite, bone growth and brain cells and suppresses cancer cells, seizures, and inflammation.
CBC (cannabichromene) is one of the oldest known cannabinoids and may have pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
Phytocannabinoids are certainly present in cannabis, but there are also other plants that contain cannabinoids.
Emerald Health Bio is one company producing a line of products featuring PhytoCann, a proprietary, cannabis-free cannabinoid supplement made with a blend of herbs and botanicals. PhytoCann was found in a recent in-vitro study to impact more targets than CBD or THC alone or in combination. The company produces several different blends to target different issues, including sleep issues, anxiety, and inflammation.
Do We Need External Cannabinoids?
While phytocannabinoids have certainly been shown to help with conditions including anxiety, pain, and even cancer, some researchers warn against using them as a blanket "cure" for all of your woes.
“This idea that cannabis or CBD is like a vitamin and everyone should take it... I've heard this said, but it's always by somebody who's making a market in this product,” explains Cannabis Expert and Harvard Physician, Jordan Tishler, MD.
These experts draw a distinction between those in a disease state and those who are generally healthy. For the former group, explains Jade Beutler, CEO of Emerald Health Bioceuticals, phytocannabinoids can help support an endocannabinoid system that has been "beaten into submission" by a chronic ailment.
“If you're going to smoke, take, or eat CBD, THC, cannabis, marijuana, or our products, that's an outside influence, ” he says. “It’s a supplemental effect, and that’s a wonderful way to – in a manner of speaking - activate your endocannabinoid system, having an outside influence on an internal system.”
For these people, a product like CBD oil might be the right choice. To find out more about whether CBD oil could be right for you, check out our three-part guide to this supplement taking the natural health world by storm, including frequently asked questions about CBD oil, an exploration of the clinically proven benefits of CBD oil, and our vetted CBD oil buying guide.
For someone whose endocannabinoid system is already in a state of homeostasis, however, this isn’t necessary.
“If we take a 20-something-year-old strapping young kid that's in perfect health, medical cannabis or our products probably aren't going to do much,” says Beutler.
For these people, promoting a healthy endocannabinoid system that produces its own cannabinoids could be enough – or even a superior option.
"It’s important to remember that plants are still medicinal," says Dr. Felice Gersh, author of the forthcoming book PCOS SOS: "A Gynecologist's Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness."
"Naturally raising your own endocannabinoids will always be the best there can be for the body."
How to Promote a Healthy Endocannabinoid System
Promoting a healthy endocannabinoid system is a matter of facilitating your body's ability to do three distinct things, according to Steven Looi, Director Strategy and Origination White Sheep Corp.
Firstly, one must stimulate the endocannabinoid system with molecules that help it grow. Secondly, one must promote the production of the body’s own endocannabinoids. And thirdly, one must increase the receptivity of the endocannabinoid system, to ensure that these endocannabinoids are actually interacting with the system.
While this might seem ultra technical, in reality, this is fairly easy to do.
1. Feed the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system requires certain molecules to help it function properly.
“Just like you need vitamins and nutrients for your organs to function properly,” explains Austin Katz, a former medical cannabis grower and co-founder of Shea Brand, “you need certain acids in order for your endocannabinoid system to function properly.”
These include omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in foods like fatty fish, hemp seeds, and some nuts.
“By consuming fatty-acid-rich foods, you increase both your body's ability to produce and bind with endocannabinoids, but also increase the bioavailability of your receiving neurons (fat cells that contain receptors),” explains Katz.
Flavonoids in cacao are also helpful, as they inhibit the breakdown of the body’s own endocannabinoids, according to one 1996 study published in the journal Nature.
In addition, the terpene beta-caryophelline can help stimulate CB2 receptors in the body, according to 2010 research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. This terpene is found in foods like black pepper and cloves.
2. Avoid Blocking the Endocannabinoid System
Just as some substances can help the endocannabinoid system, others can hinder it. These include chemicals like neonicotinoid pesticides or phthalates found in plastics.
As these chemicals can interact with or block the receptivity of the endocannabinoid system, it's best to avoid them. Choose organic produce devoid of pesticides, and opt for glass storage containers instead of plastic.
3. Nurture the Endocannabinoid System
Like many systems in the body, the endocannabinoid system is adversely affected by stress and stress hormones like cortisol.
To reduce the impact of stress on the endocannabinoid system, experts suggest introducing healthy behaviors such as exercise, social interaction, massage, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and even fasting, which Gersh notes can actually help increase natural endocannabinoids.
The field of research surrounding cannabinoids is exciting, but there's still a lot we don't know about endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and the way that they interact with our endocannabinoid system.
“The endocannabinoid system is still a big mystery to a lot of people,” says Katz. “We're only scratching the surface, and using cannabis and cannabinoids to make us feel better is only really the beginning.”