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  • Writer's pictureLuke Stephan

The magic of the Endocannabinoid System: A powerful ally against stress and inflammation

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Do you ever have issues with stress or inflammation?

Or its manifestations... anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, chronic disease, allergies, arthritis, weight gain, poor digestion?

If yes, it is helpful to know a little bit about the body's Endocannabinoid System (ECS).

The ECS is one of the body's main regulatory systems. The ECS regulates many systems, from cellular energy to the nervous, digestive, endocrine, immune and circulatory systems. One of its critical roles is dialing down stress and inflammation. This can help resolve anything from poor sleep to an inflamed colon.

Clinical studies tell us fine-tuning the ECS can be achieved by diet, exercise and supplements, with massage being the most beneficial intervention of all.

About the ECS

The body has two main endocannabinoids. One of these (Anandamide) can be felt as runners high and the other (2-AG) you can feel in post-orgasmic bliss. The endocannabinoids fit into receptors. The two main receptors are CB1, especially found in the brain, and CB2, especially found in the immune system and on the skin.

The ECS regulates:

- The immune system

- Stress and cortisol

- Inflammation

- The gut-brain axis & vagus nerve

- Energy production

- Digestion

- Pain perception

- All neurotransmitters including:

Serotonin, melotonin, GABA, glutamate and dopamine.

Boosting the ECS can be done by:

  1. Increasing the number of endocannabinoids

  2. Increasing the sensitivity/number of the receptors

  3. Reducing the number of degrading enzymes.

Higher levels of endocannabinoids are associated with:

  • Better mood including joy, optimism, calmness and pleasure

  • Increased brain neurons and better cognition, memory, focus and concentration

  • Better sleep

  • Less chronic disease

Lower levels of endocannabinoids are associated with:

  • Higher stress and activation of the amygdala (fear centre of the brain)

  • Higher inflammation

  • Over-active immune system conditions like asthma, allergies, arthritis

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Insomnia/sleep problems

  • Fatigue and obesity

What supports the system?

Endocannabinoids are released in response to stress and inflammation but over-stimulation reduces the effectiveness of the system in the long term. For this reason, cannabis in excess becomes detrimental over time.

Anything that lowers stress and inflammation boosts the ECS. Exercise, social interaction, singing, dancing, a diet heavy in fruit and vegetables, mediation and yoga are all clinically proven to boost the ECS.

The following increase internal production of endocannabinoids:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids

  • Oxytocin – the hormone produced in response to love and intimacy

  • Chocolate (cacao)

  • Spices (cinnamon, pepper, clove, rosemary, basil, cardamom, pepper)

  • Running

  • Massage

In clinical trials, massage increased endocannabinoid levels more than ANYTHING else - by up to 168%. Running was next best at 100%. Ideally a massage that incorporates fascial and meridian work like osteopathy or Zenthai Shiatsu.

Some substances can bind to ECS receptors and act as an external cannabinoid. These include marijuana, tea, echinacea, cacao, cruciferous vegetables and curcumin. Lastly, perhaps the most effective way to boost the ECS is to reduce degrading enzymes. Substances which do this include CBD oil, cacao, apples and maca.

CBD oil can be very supportive without overwhelming the system the way THC can. The market for CBD oil is booming and for a very good reason – it can restore balance to the ECS and in doing so eliminate disease, reduce pain, improve sleep, reduce stress and quell inflammation.

DHEA is beneficial on multiple fronts including activating receptors and reducing degrading enzymes. It modulates cortisol, thereby reducing the stress on the body and mind. DHEA is the immediate precursor to testosterone and estrogen. Higher testosterone (in men) and higher estrogen (in women) are known to strengthen the ECS.

PEA (Palmitoylethanolamide) can be profoundly useful in reducing pain and inflammation. It indirectly boosts the ECS in multiple ways and is one of the strongest ways to reduce histamine release and the resulting inflammation.

Wrapping up

Stress and inflammation can show themselves in a thousand different ways. Underlying imbalances are often experienced in multiple, seemingly unconnected ways.

They are connected though which is why Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda can be so useful – their focus is on balancing the underlying systems of energy that govern everything.

Between these energetic and physical systems is the ECS.

Boosting the ECS can resolve long-standing complaints like insomnia, eczema, indigestion, depression and constipation. Supplements including CBD, DHEA and PEA can assist. Increasing dietary intake of chocolate, apples, spices, cruciferous vegetables and seafood can assist. Exercise, meditation, yoga, dance, friendships and intimacy can assist.

And more than anything else, massage! Clinical studies tell us nothing is more beneficial than a regular massage.

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