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Relieve Stress With The Endocannabinoid System

Let’s face it, we all encounter stress during our lives. Whether it’s showing up in the form of meeting deadlines for work and managing our workload, raising a young family,...

Let’s face it, we all encounter stress during our lives. Whether it’s showing up in the form of meeting deadlines for work and managing our workload, raising a young family, or handling challenging relationships with the inlaws, the demands placed on us in our modern society seem to be ever-increasing. This is why we need to understand this crucial yet little known system of the body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. We all have our limits of what we can realistically juggle in our lives before we begin to feel overwhelmed. For some of us, we are more sensitive to mental or emotional pressures, meaning we can hit burnout faster, leading to increased feelings of helplessness, self-doubt, cynicism, loss of motivation, and a decreased sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in our lives. If the stress continues and overwhelm is left unchecked, burnout can become chronic and lead to more disabling mental health states.

The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is considered to be one of the most important systems of physiology in the body. It is responsible for maintaining order and balance across every major bodily system. The first most important activity this system acts upon is to modulate energy, well-being and pleasure. The second is to slowly nudge the body back to health in the face of injury and disease. If you haven’t heard of this system until now, that’s because it was only recently discovered (in 1992 by Dr Raphael Mechoulam and his team), and isn’t yet widely taught in medical schools with an informal 2014 survey showing only 13 percent of US medical schools including it in their training of new doctors.

The ECS plays a critical role in the regulation of disease states in the body due to its ability to restore balance when illness or injury occurs; whether physical, mental, or emotional. In 2013, researchers Pacher and Kunos revealed in a paper that “modulating endocannabinoid system activity may have therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans, including obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative, inflammatory, liver, cardiovascular, skin diseases, gastrointestinal, psychiatric disorders, pain, cancer, chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting, among many others.” The importance of the endogenous endocannabinoid system to the treatment of our wellbeing is directly related to our survival and cannot be underestimated or overstated. This system is so vital that it can be seen forming at just eight week’s gestation, and the endocannabinoids it produces can be found in breast milk which support healthy balanced human growth, development, and nourishment of the baby’s own endocannabinoid system as it adjusts to the stressors of living in the world outside. Fascinatingly, cannabinoids found inside the hemp plant, also act in much the same way in the body as our body’s own endocannabinoids; and can help to support and restore healthy functioning of the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system unsurprisingly appears to interact robustly with several other non-cannabinoid systems to accomplish tasks of regulating disease and well-being, including the endorphin system, the vanilloid system (the system responsible for transforming pain from acute to chronic), and the immune system.

endocannabinoid system stress relief

The Ghost In The Machine

When the endocannabinoid system modifies these other parts of our physiology, it begins to regulate pain, inflammation, bone health, formation of new nerve cells, mood, fat and sugar processing, energy, hormone balance and brain health.

The endocannabinoid system has a range of remarkable and unique abilities and actions. Two of the endocannabinoids it produces, AEA and 2-AG, are considered “on demand” substances. They exist as common, spare molecular parts until they are needed. They work within seconds to correct an imbalance, and disappear into spare parts again. They are gone almost as fast as they appear, making them quite challenging to watch and locate, hence one reason science has taken this long to find such an important system. The ECS acts in the body in much the same way as the man behind the curtain from the Wizard of Oz.

This is a system that doesn’t store up its main components, but creates them when it needs them, on demand. It really is the “ghost in the machine”: largely and almost completely responsible for maintaining balance to the body’s most essential systems that control mood, pain, inflammation, wellness, energy and illness. The endocannabinoid system is susceptible to overwhelm and dysfunction in much the same way the rest of us is. Research published in peer reviewed medical journals by Dr Ethan Russo and other researchers supports the theory of a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD), which essentially means that an inactive or dysfunctional endocannabinoid system could very well underpin many of the treatment-resistant mental, emotional, or physical disorders we see affecting society today. [1] [2]

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not consitute medical advice. Prior to making changes to your lifestyle or treatment plan always consult with a doctor.

Relieving The Stress

In a large scale analysis of the available research was published in Nature Reviews finding that, “a large body of data has emerged in recent years pointing to a crucial role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of the behavioural domains of acquired fear, anxiety and stress-coping." [3] With another study finding that, “the endocannabinoid system appears to play a pivotal role in the regulation of emotional states and may constitute a novel pharmacological target for anti-anxiety therapy.” [4] Another study stated “(endo)cannabinoid signaling within this brain region (hippocampus) prevents stress-induced behavioral changes.” “Endocannabinoid signaling contributes to emotional and behavioral flexibility during the exposure to aversive stimuli (stress), functioning as a regulatory buffer system for emotional responses (helping us cope). Endocannabinoids are essential players in plastic events involved in the flexibility of hippocampal functions in basal conditions and during stressful situations.” [5]

Meaning, endocannabinoids assist us to be more emotionally and behaviorally flexible during times of stress and to cope better. We all know when we’re in fight or flight, our thinking becomes distorted, and our intelligence and mood drops. So it’s crucial that we maximize our ability to remain steady and calm during times when we’re experiencing pressure. Which seems to be an awful lot for most of us in modern times.

What this all means is that having a healthy functioning active endocannabinoid system assists us in maintaining calm and steadfastness during times of stress, whether those stressors are physical, mental, or emotional. The endocannabinoid system can assist us in maintaining a balanced emotional state by supplying our body with the endocannabinoids we need to help create a healthy buffer from the daily stress in our lives. 

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