“The endocannabinoid system represents a microcosm of psychoneuroimmunology.”

The two most common questions asked when facing illness, especially chronic conditions, are “what happened?” and “what do I do now?”

This is especially true when you lead a healthy lifestyle. And what do you think of when you think of a healthy lifestyle?

  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Taking your vitamins?
  • Annual checkups?
  • Limiting exposure to toxic chemicals, personal care products

By all of these accounts, if you’re doing these things you’re likely healthy. You’re doing the work. So what’s missing? Why is your body stressed? While you might be taking care of your physical health, you’ve likely overlooked taking care of yourself at the level of your thoughts and emotions.

Mind-body medicine studies how our mind, mood, thoughts, and emotions affect our body. That would be things like stress management, stress reduction, going for walks in nature, unplugging from technology, getting a massage, meditation, mindful breathwork, and thought and belief awareness.

It’s likely you’ve already heard talk of the mind-body connection created by consuming cannabis, or at least heard of the spectrum of issues cannabis is helping with: Intractable illnesses that don’t respond to other forms of treatment, like MS, fibromyalgia, PTSD, Tourette syndrome, IBS, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, and the list goes on.

But how is it that cannabis is helping with all of these unrelated conditions? Because we can’t think of another medication out there that would be able to help with so many illnesses.

In a nutshell:

It's because it interacts directly with our body’s own endocannabinoid system, or ECS.

Your built-in self-correcting system.

The ECS is a little-known but massive bodily system responsible for maintaining homeostasis (i.e. balance) in the body. It consists of a network of neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids, as well as receptor sites, the most well-known being the CB1 and CB2 receptors and enzymes.

Think of the ECS as the traffic lights of the city keeping the streets moving smoothly—but if a light goes out anywhere, it will cause problems (congestion, confusion). Traffic and people will keep moving, but without the guidance and rules, the flow just won’t be as efficient and far more susceptible to accidents.

It has actually been referred to as the most prolific and integrative system in human health and homeostasis, dubbed our body’s own master system because of its role in maintaining balance among all the other systems of the body.

Now, this is important because all illnesses can be boiled down to some sort of imbalance in the body, whether genetically induced or otherwise.

Now, if you haven’t heard of this system before, you’re not alone. And, if you are hearing about it for the first time, you might be wondering why on earth you haven’t heard of this epically important system until now. And it is partly because it is newly discovered—in the 1980s. But it’s also because of the stigma around cannabis, for which the system was named.

How to keep your ECS healthy, toned, and strong.

Scientists discovered this system when they were trying to discover the answer to the question: “how does cannabis work?”

They learned that compounds in the cannabis plant, called phytocannabinoids, fit nearly perfectly with the receptor sites of the ECS. Used properly, this plant can help to activate, tone, and support the endocannabinoid system when it’s out of balance.

So, the question now becomes: "How do you keep the endocannabinoid system itself healthy and balanced?

Let’s use that example again with the ECS and the traffic lights. In this scenario, cannabis is like the friendly, sexy police officer that comes in to direct traffic when the lights are out. So the officer is doing their best, and certainly it’s helping to keep the traffic moving in a more organized manner, but we still have to figure out, or at least try to figure out, how to fix the lights.

So, how do we go about fixing the lights? How do we support and heal the endocannabinoid system when it’s out of balance?

Well, it just so happens that one review study, in particular, looked at 325 other studies to look at what helped and hindered the endocannabinoid system by investigating key endocannabinoid health factors.

Here’s what they learned would directly affect the system:

  1. Pleasurable movement and exercise. It has to be something you enjoy doing.
  2. Diet, drugs, and supplements. For example, herbs and supplements that contain powerful antioxidants to prevent cell oxidation. Healthy fats, like Omega-3 fatty acids, to help the body synthesize its own endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids, like CBD, help tone the ECS, increase endocannabinoid tone, and improve resilience to stress and disease.
  3. Environmental exposure. For example, some pesticides will actually downregulate the endocannabinoid system.

But one sentence really jumped out when reading this study:

“The endocannabinoid system represents a microcosm of psychoneuroimmunology.”

In case you don’t know, psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interaction between 1. The psychological processes (MIND) and 2. The systems of the body (BODY).

It's a fancy way of metaphorically saying the endocannabinoid system is a microcosm of mind-body medicine.

Hopefully, you can see where this is all coming full circle.

Because here’s what else was shown to pose the single most injurious threat to the endocannabinoid system: chronic stress.

This could be stress from pain or stress from repeated thoughts and emotions, like stress from anger, guilt, depression, or something that is chronic or long-term.

So, in addition to minding your movement, diet, and environmental exposure, you may want to add these things to the list of endocannabinoid system-strengthening techniques:

  1. Stress management and reduction. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, biofeedback (learning to manage your heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure).
  2. Thought and emotional awareness. Reflect on your emotions, ask others for perspective, keep a thought diary and ask yourself what the basis of your negative thoughts is—then counter remaining negativity with positive self-affirming thoughts.
  3. Activities that trigger the relaxation response. Taking a walk in nature, getting a massage.

A public health revolution.

It’s been said that mindfulness can be the next big public health revolution.

We believe it’s only a matter of time before mindfulness, stress reduction, and thought/emotional awareness are every bit as important as seeing your doctor, taking your vitamins, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular exercise.

And, maybe the ECS can help to catalyze that. It’s our hope that the more we understand the ramifications of this master system, the more we will be willing to develop a truly integrated approach to whole-person health. Who would’ve thought that cannabis, the “gateway drug,” can actually help to form the gateway to the next great public health revolution?

For your endocannabinoid system.

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