It’s increasingly evident that the answers to chronic disease – disease like Alzheimer’s, cancer and obesity – won’t be found at the bottom of a test tube.
Rather, the answer is already inside us. It's within our endocannabinoid system. Research at the edge of scientific advancement has shown that it might be the key to a long, of healthy life.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is the endocannabinoid system?
Before we go any further, let’s get some facts straight. Even with the variety of limits placed on endocannabinoid system research by governments all over the world (mostly the US), we still know the basics of how this system works.
The endocannabinoid system is the collective term given to the system of self-produced cannabinoids (hence, endo) and the special fat cells, receptors, and enzymes that support them. However, the most important bit is the cannabinoid receptors, since that’s ‘ground zero’ for the effects we’ll discuss shortly. The receptors are also the parts of the system responsible largely for processing and synthesizing the effects of endocannabinoids, organic cannabinoids like THC, and synthetic cannabinoids.
Endocannabinoid system research suggests that these receptors can be split neatly into two types of cells: CB1 and CB2.
CB1 is found mostly in the brain, largely concentrated in the basal ganglia, hippocampus, and cerebellum (although it is found elsewhere too). In fact, endocannabinoid system research actually suggests that CB1 is the most common receptor in the brain. CB1, because of its location, is the receptor responsible for the psychoactive and euphoric aspects of THC.
CB2 is found mostly in the immune system and some hypothesize that these receptors are responsible for many of the medical benefits derived from cannabinoids.
So, why does your body go through the effort of producing all this stuff?
Because it’s critical to maintaining a stable internal environment.
The core function of the endocannabinoid system is (endocannabinoid system researchers think) to maintain homeostasis. That is, keep an internal environment the same despite a changing (and perhaps hostile) external environment.
You can think of homeostasis a bit like a house. You want the inside to be a steady 78 degrees, right? Even if the temperature outside is sub-zero. So you build walls and insulate and get a furnace going to reach and maintain that comfortable internal environment.
The endocannabinoid system is like the walls, furnace, and insulation. Depending on where it is, it might work differently – but it’s all to achieve a comfortable (and stable) internal environment.
The (bumpy) history of endocannabinoid system research
Unfortunately, we don’t know was much as we would like about the endocannabinoid system.
For example, one of the cornerstones of endocannabinoid system research – the fact that there are two receptors driving the whole train – might not even be true. There’s been some speculation among scientists that there might be a third receptor out there to discover, which would likely significantly expand the role of cannabinoids in our bodies.
The lack of endocannabinoid system knowledge is that for years, any research on cannabinoids has been complicated by the US government’s attitude towards them, their effects, and their legality.
As a result, most of the research has been done elsewhere in the world (primarily Israel) and has been stymied due to poor commercial prospects. However, since the 1990s it’s been gaining momentum.
First, in 1992 Dr. Raphael Mechoulam at his Center for Research on Pain isolated the receptors CB1 and CB2 we mentioned before. This was the first real significant breakthrough in endocannabinoid system research since THC was isolated in the 1960s (also by Dr. Mechoulam).
Since then, there’s been an increasing body of literature uncovering cannabinoids as helping address chronic pain (e.g. fibromyalgia patients), mental plasticity (helping Alzheimer’s patients), and addressing a slew of other medical conditions, including:
- Movement disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s, Huntington’s)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Spinal cord injuries
- Heart disease and stroke
To name a few.
We think we’re on the edge of something big, as the medical community realizes the value and potential of this all natural, cure-all drug.
What you can do to help your endocannabinoid system
It's not all about THC though. There are plenty of things you can do to naturally support your own endocannabinoid system and keep it in balance, which in turn will balance your entire body. Because there is too much of a good thing – if your CB1/CB2 ratios fall out of line, you can end up feeling stressed, anxious, and paranoid.
In short, staying on top of your endocannabinoid system is the best way for you to achieve a positive balance. Here’s how:
1. Balance Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats
Generally speaking, Omega-3 fats (found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and cod liver oil) are considered ‘good fats’ and Omega-6 fats (found in sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, vegetable oils, eggs, and poultry) are considered ‘bad fats’. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s high in cholesterol and talk daytime TV hosts are raging against it, then it’s an Omega-6 food.
This is a fairly gross over-simplification.
Like all things with your health, it’s about balance. So you want some Omega-6 fats and some Omega-3 fats. And it’s not like you’re going to have to eat three salmon steaks for every egg you look at. The recommended ratio is 1:1, which is relatively easy to achieve.
There’s some speculation that the classic ‘runner’s high’ isn’t actually an endorphin high, but rather is driven by your endocannabinoid system. Of course, this does come with a caveat – you have to enjoy it. Forced exercise is unlikely to produce the same result, so find something you like and get out there and do it.
3. Get a massage
A study has found that and osteopathic treatment session is a superb way to boost your endocannabinoid system. However, we think that any old massage will do the trick. Plus, did you really need an excuse?
Your endocannabinoid system is the key to unlocking long-term health and is critical to maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Plus, as more medical research comes to light about the benefits of cannabinoids, it’s increasingly clear that maintaining your endocannabinoid system likely has long-term preventative health benefits for mental, physical, and degenerative diseases.
Want to know more about how you can help your endocannabinoid system? Check out our book for more.