Balance: An Overview of The Endocannabinoid System

Most of us are actively searching to achieve balance. In our relationships, in our lifestyles, with our diets and in our work – we all strive to live balanced lives. Our internal mechanics are no different. Every variable within us, from blood flow to temperature regulation, digestion and even mental health is involved in an active struggle achieve and maintain balance – or what is commonly called homeostasis.

Within the last few decades, it was discovered that the Endocannabinoid system is in fact responsible for maintaining homeostasis. Like most discoveries, the ECS was stumbled upon by accident, through an investigation of how cannabis “works” on the brain of rats. It was quickly revealed through numerous studies that there is a complex system within and throughout our bodies specifically designed to synthesize Endocannabinoids (eCBs).

You can think of eCBs like neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers of the nervous system. Like neurotransmitters, eCBs are the chemical messengers of the Endocannabinoid System – and if Endocannabinoids are messengers, then ECS Receptors can be though of like guards outside your mailbox. ECS receptors, like neurotransmitters, sit atop the surface of cells – dictating which chemicals may pass in order for cells to communicate with one another. In the case of the ECS, these receptors come in two varieties called CB1 and CB2 – located mostly in the brain, gut and pelvis, but are spread through our immune, nervous and circulatory systems as well.

Most cannabinoids can bind to both receptors but interestingly, CBD is one of the only known cannabinoids that doesn’t bind to either receptor. Unlike it’s counterparts THC, CBG, CBN and the other known cannabinoids – which fit inside receptors like keys in a lock – CBD modifies the receptors ability to to bind to the other cannabinoids. Which brings us back to balance.

The ECS is complex and there is not a one-size fits all solution to an imbalanced system. Some will benefit from boosting their natural levels of eCBs, through diet and exercise, while others may need relief from an overstimulated ECS – brought on by chronic imbalance – which is where CBD can be most beneficial. 

Think of it like an injured leg. Normally you are able to balance your weight, but once one leg is injured, you are forced to put more weight on the other. For a while, this is okay and your body will adjust by making you limp. Over time however, that adaptation will become a detriment and could cause even further damage to your healthy muscles and joints. 

Similarly, your body’s eCBs can be thrown out of balance by poor diet and lack of exercise but the most common detriment to the ECS is of course – stress. 

When exposed to stress, our ECS reduces the levels of Anadamide (an Endocannabinoid naturally produced in our bodies – commonly referred to as the “bliss” molecule) which causes feelings of anxiety, agitation and anger. At the same time, your ECS increases levels of 2-AG (another naturally occurring Endocannabinoid) which can dull our perception of pain. 

Eventually, after constant exposure to the stress, your body will adapt to the fact it cannot escape. High levels of 2-AG will eventually overstimulate CB1 receptors in the brain, resulting in a natural reduction of those receptors (another attempt to maintain homeostasis). With fewer eCB receptors now in your brain, it will be very difficult to maintain emotional balance, which can lead to depression, substance abuse and a myriad of other mental health issues. 

So, instead of stimulating (and possibly overstimulating) your ECS, CBD modifies your receptors so that they are harder to activate and thus over-activate. CBD also boosts your natural level of Endocannabinoids by reducing their reuptake and degradation. This aspect of CBD has a balancing effect on many people and is why so many have found beneficial use from the molecule. 

As you would expect, not all Endocannabinoid Systems are created equal. Some people are born with low levels of Endocannabinoids and must find ways to naturally boost their systems. Here are some ways to naturally boost your Endocannabinoid levels. 

Exercise: An hour or more of moderately intense exercise can naturally raise the level of Anadamide in your blood – leading to what many have described as a “runner’s high” or euphoric sensations following physical exertion. 

Diet: Endocannabionids, like neurotransmitters, are made of fatty acids called lipids. By consuming foods that have a high fatty acid content, like seafood and fish oil, you can naturally stimulate the production of Endocannabinoids in your body. Flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and hemp derived food products are also excellent ways to increase your Omega-3 fatty acid content. 

Phytocannabinoids are also excellent receptor-stimulators. In addition to cannabis, phytocannabinoids can be found naturally in hops, ginger, truffles, nutmeg, black pepper and chocolate. 

Fasting: A 24 hour fast can drastically boost your levels of 2-AG. Interestingly, many of the benefits attributed to intermittent fasting can be compared to the benefits of a balanced endocannabinoid system, namely: reduced inflammation, better cardiac health, neuroprotection and even the prevention of cancerous cell growth. 

Detoxification: Chronic abuse of alcohol and THC can over-stimulate your CB1 receptors, causing your ECS to decrease the number of receptors available. This imbalance is particularly strenuous during the detox phase, but evidence shows that your receptors will return to their natural levels after 3-4 weeks of abstinence. 

Vitamin D: Many are aware of how Vitamin D can boost your mood by how sunlight can affect us – especially during the winter. Just 15 minutes of sun exposure can naturally raise your levels of Endocannabinoids. Just remember to out on an effective sunscreen! 

The Endocannabinoid system is an extremely complex and diverse system. It’s functions and efficacy are individualized from person to person and it seems as the bonfire of knowledge on the ECS grows, the more its light reveals just how much we still have to learn. If you feel you are out of balance, it may be beneficial to try and naturally raise your levels of Endocannabinoids through the methods listed above. However if the imbalance persists, it may just be you need to incorporate a CBD product to help bring your ECS back into homeostasis. 

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