Life balance is a concept that most of us can relate to in one way or another. There’s work-life balance to assure that we give optimal time to work, family, friends, and everything else. There’s a checks and balances system that many people put into place about eating – a weekend of parties with too much food and drink balanced with weekdays of healthful eating. The concept of balance also may apply to a system that we and all living things have – our endocannabinoid system.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a collection of binding molecules called ligands, enzymes that degrade the molecules, and receptors. The keys that open these receptors are referred to as endocannabinoids, which include anandamide and 2-AG, or 2-arachidonoylglycerol.
The ECS is involved in numerous physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, memory, sleep, immune health, and, of course, mediating the effects of cannabis.
What is endocannabinoid tone?
According to the neurologist and cannabis researcher who developed the theory, Dr. Ethan Russo,
Endocannabinoid deficiency is a hypothesis that all humans have an underlying endocannabinoid tone that is a reflection of the levels of anandamide and 2-AG, their production, metabolism, and the relative abundance and state of cannabinoid receptors.
His theory, which has become accepted by many in the medical cannabis world, continues that under particular conditions, endocannabinoid tone can become deficient.
And, this deficiency can, in turn, produce clinical symptoms and health conditions.
The upshot: if your body does not produce sufficient endocannabinoids or does not have the optimal number of endocannabinoid receptors, things can go very wrong. So, in this case, endocannabinoid tone is all about balance.
How can you change your endocannabinoid tone?
As with most bodily systems, each person has a genetic component that impacts endocannabinoid tone. Researchers have found several single nucleotide polymorphisms, abbreviated SnPs and pronounced snips, that can impact the ECS.
Genetics, however, is not destiny. You can influence many of your SnPs – which are basically genetic variations – via lifestyle choices. In other words, by your daily routine and health and wellness habits.
All these years without knowing, integrative nutritionists like us, have been impacting endocannabinoid tone by counseling patients about food, nutrition, and other lifestyle habits. Who knew that we were in the endocannabinoid business before we were actually in the cannabis business.
Food is a great health modulator
As a functional medicine practitioner, the first concept that you learn about is the relationship between the gastrointestinal system, which we like to refer to as the gut, and the brain.
It’s nothing like Vegas. What happens in the gut, does not stay in the gut. What happens in the gut, also happens in the brain.
Consider this: about 85% of our neurotransmitters are produced in the gastrointestinal system. So, in essence, the brain and the gut speak the same language with the endocannabinoid system as a modulatory force.
Bottom line: Food choices and nutrition can modulate your endocannabinoid tone. Here are a few places to beginProbiotics – good for health bacteria and yeast, particularly for the gut:
- Probiotics (good for health bacteria & yeast, particularly for the gut)
- Lactofermented foods such as kimchi & kombuchaYogurt
- YogurtProbiotic supplement (recommended by a holistic practitioner)
- Probiotic supplement (recommended by a holistic practitioner)Prebiotics – oligosaccharides that feed prebiotics
- Prebiotics – oligosaccharides that feed prebioticsArtichokes, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, jicama
- Artichokes, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, jicamaPrebiotic
- Prebiotic supplement (as recommended by a holistic practitioner)
- Inulin fiber
- Optimal balance between omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids
- Anti-inflammatory diet
- Little to no added sugar
- No trans fats
- 6-11 serving of mostly vegetables and fruits daily
- Low to no dairy products
- Low to no alcohol
Integrating cannabis with lifestyle medicine
Food isn’t the only way that you can modulate your ECS. So-called complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, can upregulate your tone. A few of these practices include:
- Herbal medicine
- Mind-body medicine
- Non-aerobic exercise
- Osteopathic manipulation
- Sex with orgasm
Treating yourself or, if you’re a practitioner helping your patients, with personalized lifestyle medicine can provide optimal, safer, and less expensive health outcomes.
This “root cause resolution” paradigm is the foundation of the Holistic Cannabis Academy, an online training program designed to look at medical marijuana through a holistic lens.
You can learn more about the ECS and clinical endocannabinoid tone from Dr. Russo and other cannabis experts by enrolling in the Holistic Cannabis Academy.
If you’re interested in finding out about how an ancient plant can upregulate your endocannabinoid system and improve health and wellness, and about integrating cannabis with other healthcare modalities, the Holistic Cannabis Academy will help you to become cannabis competent.
By Laura Lagano, MS, RDN, CDN & Donna Shields, MS, RDN