Keeping up with the pace of our modern world, or dealing with disasters, tragedy, fear or grief can put our nervous systems into a constant heightened response that, in turn, causes stress. Stress can have a devastating impact on the human body including an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and a compromised immune system. Stress can also impact our mental health, contributing to chemical imbalances in our brains that may lead to anxiety and depression.
Our endocannabinoid system or ECS, the network of receptors that exists throughout our bodies and brains, plays an important role in regulating our internal systems. There isn’t any physiological process that is not affected by our ECS. Our ECS comes into play when we eat, sleep, relax, exercise, and have sex, as well as during pregnancy, while giving birth, and even when nursing a baby.
A well-functioning ECS works to bring our internal systems into balance. The technical term for this type of balance within the human body is homeostasis. When we’re sick, our internal endocannabinoid system jumps into gear to help put things back on track. Our ECS is key to establishing and maintaining overall health and wellbeing.
When we face stressful situations, our endocannabinoid system kicks into gear to help balance our nervous system. The ECS helps regulate our endocrine system, the system that includes the hormone-producing glands that release adrenaline and cortisol. When we’re stressed, our brains release too much adrenaline and cortisol leading to organ damage and disease.
Studies show that cannabis boosts our ECS and increases our feeling of wellbeing. One way cannabis does this is through the increase of anandamide in our system. Anandamide, Sanskrit for “bliss,” was the first internal cannabinoid or endocannabinoid found in mammals. This “bliss molecule” is part of our ECS and affects pain sensation, appetite, memory, fertility and depression.
Scientists from Germany, Illinois and Wisconsin found that people with higher anandamide levels in their systems could better tolerate life’s stressors. Cannabis, and more specifically the cannabinoid cannabidiol or CBD, can increase anandamide levels in our body or prevent those levels from dropping. Simply put, more anandamide means less stress and more bliss.
For some, a major cause of stress can be living with chronic health issues. Pain can also cause stress and anxiety. If cannabis can be effective in alleviating pain, reducing anxiety and addressing health conditions such as epilepsy and Crohn’s disease, it stands to reason that stress is reduced.
Lack of sleep or the inability to get to or stay sleep can cause or increase stress. Cannabis, especially moderate amounts of the cannabinoids THC and CBN, can induce and improve sleep. Getting more restful sleep improves your ability to cope with everyday stressors.
Cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis that can address anxiety include CBD, THCV, CBD, beta-carophyllene, limonene, terpineol. THC in smaller doses can relieve stress and anxiety but is more effective when CBD is present.
Studies show that CBD can reduce anxiety while also offering neuro-protective benefits. While CBD alone as an “isolate” can be helpful, the real therapeutic value of CBD is enhanced when other cannabinoids and terpenes are present, including some THC, in what is referred to as a “full spectrum CBD.” Even trace amounts of THC, under 0.3%, can increase the effectiveness of CBD.
Look for CBD products that invest in third-party testing. THC products in Alaska must be tested for heavy metals, pesticides, mold and other potentially harmful compounds, but CBD testing is not mandatory. Companies that test their CBD and make test results available not only verify product safety but also reveal the chemical make up of the CBD product and list any other beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes that may be present.
Cannabis or CBD can be part of a regular self-care routine to reduce stress and enhance wellness. As with any health supplement, let your doctor know if you are using cannabis or CBD because both can affect any other medications you may be taking.
Aliza Sherman lives in Anchorage and has been involved in the cannabis industry since early 2016. She is the co-founder of Ellementa, an international network for women interested in cannabis for wellness. She is the author of a new book, “The Essential Guide to Cannabis and CBD: Optimizing Your Health With Nature’s Medicine” (Ten Speed Press). http://ellementa.com/cannabisbook