You Have an Endocannabinoid System — Now You Have to Take Care of It
It’s no secret that my husband and I are longtime cannabis and hemp advocates. We’ve cheered as the majority of Americans have come around to supporting legalization, and applauded as cannabis law reform spreads from state to state.
Still, decades of prohibitionist propaganda have left many in the dark about the powerful wellness potential of these long-demonized plants. Most people don’t know that cannabinoids (the chemical compounds found in cannabis and hemp) are good for your health — in many ways.
One of the reasons my husband Willie and I founded our own hemp-based wellness company, Willie’s Remedy, is that we believe cannabinoids offer truly amazing benefits — and there’s growing scientific evidence to support this belief.
So here’s what I want you to know: Every person on this planet has something called an endocannabinoid system. Understanding what it is and how it works could revolutionize your health.
The Endo-What System?
If the endocannabinoid system (ECS for short) is new to you, there’s a reason: It’s relatively new to scientists, as well.
We’ve known for millennia that the different compounds found in cannabis and hemp can heavily impact our bodies and minds. As you’re probably aware, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid that creates the “high” of cannabis. And we’re learning more every day about the non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD), which has been shown to reduce seizures, anxiety, inflammation and more.
But because of decades-long restrictions on research, we’ve only recently gained a better understanding of why and how these plant compounds have such profound effects on us. Why does THC make people feel high? How is CBD able to control seizures? And how do cannabinoids reduce pain, stimulate appetite (a.k.a. the munchies), elevate our mood, or help us sleep?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers who were trying to answer some of these questions discovered specific receptors in the brains of rats and mice that reacted to cannabinoids. Further research revealed that these receptors were located throughout the body and researchers dubbed it the “endocannabinoid system.”
Scientists also found that our bodies actually make their own cannabinoids. That’s right: Even if you’ve never in your life consumed marijuana, your body contains cannabinoids. Referred to as endocannabinoids (to distinguish them from plant-sourced phytocannabinoids) both types of compounds interact with the ECS receptors.
Why Does the Endocannabinoid System Matter?
Scientists have determined that the ECS is involved in some of our body’s most important processes. From immune response and reproductive function to our endocrine and nervous systems, the ECS is key to maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in our bodies.
And although our bodies can and do produce their own cannabinoids, some researchers theorize that endocannabinoid deficiency is at the root of many chronic illnesses and health problems. If our bodies aren’t making enough endocannabinoids, the ECS can’t maintain balance, and that can create problems with digestion, immune function, hormones, moods and sleep cycles.
This is where phytocannabinoids come in.
CBD is all the rage right now, for many reasons: Phytocannabinoids like CBD promote balance in our bodies by stimulating our endocannabinoid system. Preliminary research has shown this plant compound has the incredible ability to reduce pain sensation, decrease inflammation, soothe anxiety — and potentially more.
Giving Your ECS some TLC
In the same way we try to support our immune system by getting regular sleep, or maintain bone health by lifting weights or taking calcium supplements, we also need to take care of our endocannabinoid system.
Many of the common staples of healthy living support ECS function. Recent research shows exercise increases the production of endocannabinoids; consuming foods rich in omega‑3 fatty acids can also help support the ECS, while alcohol has been shown to deplete the ECS. But in addition to staying active, eating well and skipping that third cocktail, phytocannabinoids extracted from hemp and cannabis could also support a healthy ECS.
My husband — who has consumed a lot of cannabinoids in his life — is still playing music, recording albums and touring nationally at the age of 86. I honestly believe they’ve helped keep him going strong.
In my dreams of the future, plant-based wellness will go so mainstream that doctors will check our blood for healthy endocannabinoid levels in the same way they now check our hormones and cholesterol.
Bradley E. Alger, Ph.D., researcher and professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, summed it up perfectly when he called the ECS “one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health…the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind.”
I believe that if you take action to make that body-mind bridge as sturdy and resilient as possible, and give your ECS the attention it deserves, every aspect of your health and wellness will benefit.
Annie Nelson is a driving force behind Willie’s Remedy, the hemp wellness brand she’s building with her husband, musician and activist Willie Nelson. Annie’s belief in the healing power of organic nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are the inspiration for Willie’s Remedy products, which tap into the many natural benefits of the hemp plant.