The endocannabinoid system. This term sounds complex, but it is actually just what it sounds like: the body’s internal (“endo”) system that responds to cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is so named because it was first discovered when scientists were studying the effects of cannabis on the body.1 The ECS is perhaps most notable for its role in regulating the limbic system, a part of the brain responsible for emotions, motivation, and our stress response. This system responds to our body’s own endogenous cannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG, and to exogenous cannabinoids. A well-toned endocannabinoid system can help us recover from major stresses, prevent stress-related overwhelm, regulate cortisol levels, and will naturally increase during times of stress.
Here are a few ways you can boost your body’s own production of endocannabinoids, and ways to supplement to further support your ECS.
A randomized-controlled study showed that massage and osteopathic manipulation greatly increased levels of endocannabinoids in the blood.2 Another reason to get a massage!
A type of acupuncture called electroacupuncture has been shown to increase levels of anandamide in the blood.3 Acupuncture also supports your hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) by reducing the amount of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains anandamide, one of the cannabinoids that our body produces even on its own. Anandamide is named after “ananda” the Sanskrit word for bliss, which comes as no surprise to chocolate lovers. Chocolate also contains N-acylethanolamines which are thought to activate our body’s cannabinoid receptors.4
Medium to high intensity exercise increases endocannabinoids and activates the cannabinoid receptors in your body—making you more responsive to the signals your body is making!5
- Alternating hot and cold
Try ending your shower with a full minute of cold water. The rush of cold is not only energizing and good for your circulation, but it increases endocannabinoids and activates their primary receptor CB1.6
Orgasm has been shown to increase levels of endocannabinoid 2-AG, or 2-arachidonoylglycerol. 2-AG activates the CB1 receptor, which is associated with pain, cognition, fear, and emotion.7
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Oils that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like cold water fish are well-known for their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. These fatty acids also serve as precursors to endocannabinoids, which our body readily converts to help our ECS.8
- Botanical medicines
Even common kitchen spices can play a role in the ECS. Nutmeg, for instance, supports the ECS by slowing down the rate at which endocannabinoids are broken down by the body’s enzymes.9
Black pepper also boosts natural endocannabinoids by decreasing their reuptake, thus making more available to your body for longer.10 Other plants have phytocannabinoids, too, including electric daisy, echinacea, and chocolate.11
Probiotics, namely Lactobacillus acidophilus, increases expression of cannabinoid receptors in the gut. In one study, L. acidophilus’s effect on the endocannabinoid system and on endogenous opioid receptors led to a decrease in abdominal pain in people with irritable bowel syndrome.12
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the most direct ways to support the endocannabinoid system. CBD is a non-psychoactive phytochemical derived from cannabis. It has been very well-studied in the treatment of seizure disorders and is known to have a balancing effect on the central nervous system. If you are considering using CBD, please consult with a licensed medical provider for information on dosing and to review possible medication or supplement interactions.
- Gaoni Y, Mechoulam R. Isolation, Structure, and Partial Synthesis of an Active Constituent of Hashish. J Am Chem Soc. 1964;86(8):1646-1647. doi:10.1021/ja01062a046
- McPartland JM, Giuffrida A, King J, Skinner E, Scotter J, Musty RE. Cannabimimetic effects of osteopathic manipulative treatment. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2005;105(6):283-291.
- Chen L, Zhang J, Li F, et al. Endogenous anandamide and cannabinoid receptor-2 contribute to electroacupuncture analgesia in rats. J Pain Off J Am Pain Soc. 2009;10(7):732-739. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2008.12.012
- James JS. Marijuana and chocolate. AIDS Treat News. 1996;(No 257):3-4.
- McPartland JM, Guy GW, Di Marzo V. Care and feeding of the endocannabinoid system: a systematic review of potential clinical interventions that upregulate the endocannabinoid system. Plos One. 2014;9(3):e89566-e89566. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089566
- Krott LM, Piscitelli F, Heine M, et al. Endocannabinoid regulation in white and brown adipose tissue following thermogenic activation. J Lipid Res. 2016;57(3):464-473. doi:10.1194/jlr.M065227
- Fuss J, Bindila L, Wiedemann K, Auer MK, Briken P, Biedermann SV. Masturbation to Orgasm Stimulates the Release of the Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol in Humans. J Sex Med. 2017;14(11):1372-1379. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.09.016
- McDougle DR, Watson JE, Abdeen AA, et al. Anti-inflammatory ω-3 endocannabinoid epoxides. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2017;114(30):E6034-E6043. doi:10.1073/pnas.1610325114
- El-Alfy AT, Joseph S, Brahmbhatt A, Akati S, Abourashed EA. Indirect modulation of the endocannabinoid system by specific fractions of nutmeg total extract. Pharm Biol. 2016;54(12):2933-2938. doi:10.1080/13880209.2016.1194864
- Reynoso-Moreno I, Najar-Guerrero I, Escareño N, Flores-Soto ME, Gertsch J, Viveros-Paredes JM. An Endocannabinoid Uptake Inhibitor from Black Pepper Exerts Pronounced Anti-Inflammatory Effects in Mice. J Agric Food Chem. 2017;65(43):9435-9442. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.7b02979
- Shunney A. Intro to CBD. Therapeutic Value and Pharmacology of Exogenous Cannabinoids. NDNR.; 2018.
- Rousseaux C, Thuru X, Gelot A, et al. Lactobacillus acidophilus modulates intestinal pain and induces opioid and cannabinoid receptors. Nat Med. 2007;13(1):35-37. doi:10.1038/nm1521
- Felice J. Endocannabinoid System. NDNR.; 2018.