Holiday Bliss and Your Endocannabinoid SystemWilliam Heckman2022-08-23T20:44:35-05:00
*This is an article from the Winter 2021-2022 issue of Contentment Magazine.
By Sharon Montes, MD, Living Well Whole Health
If you simply maintain your inner chemistry in a certain way, the body itself will produce these “bliss” molecules, whilst the nervous system will receive it. If you generate sufficient amount of anandamide in your system, you will be blissful, yet alert. – Sadhguru1
How can we stay happy and healthy this holiday season? Holiday gatherings of all kinds can trigger many and varied emotions. There will be an abundance of opportunities to feel unhealthy stress. On the other hand, if you nourish your endocannabinoid system you can dial up your body’s chemistry for increased inner bliss.
Not Everything You Learn in Medical School is Accurate
When I was in medical school, I learned that many medications work by mimicking the structure of chemicals our bodies produce naturally. Medications work by fitting into specific receptors both on and inside our cells to cause predictable reactions. One example of this is our endorphin system. Each individual’s body produces a collection of different endorphin molecules that are designed to help us deal with pain and produce a sense of well-being. Opioid/narcotic medications were designed in labs to mimic these effects. I was taught that endorphins were responsible for that euphoria or similar to the “runner’s high” one gets after prolonged exercise. Well, it turns out I was taught wrong!2
What I didn’t learn about in medical school was the existence of an endo (self-produced from within) cannabinoid system. About 30 years ago, Israeli scientists discovered many compounds, called cannabinoids, that had beneficial effects on the nervous system of humans. These cannabinoids are so powerful at helping human brain health that in 2003 the USDA took out a patent on them.3
Stress Management and Our Endocannabinoid System
Our sympathetic nervous system activates our adrenal glands when under stress. Overactivation creates an abundance of cortisol, which if elevated over a prolonged period of time, leads to poor immune system health. Our master regulatory system – our endocannabinoid system (ECS) – connects and brings balance to all our systems. The outside and inside of our cells are loaded with receptors for endocannabinoids. Our cells communicate to tissues and other cells and systems via the endocannabinoid system.
Multicellular organisms (ligands) communicate using chemical signals to other cells with matching receptors ready to receive the signals, including the molecules of cannabinoids. Once a molecule binds to the receptor, the molecular structure causes reactions to take place that affect organs, tissues, and other cells. This intracellular communication, particularly within the endocannabinoid system, affects most other systems in your body.
In fact, the ECS regulates the body’s biochemistry of almost 40 trillion cells. It shifts into high gear whenever triggered by an emotional, mental, or physical event – when cellular homeostasis becomes unbalanced. Whether it’s from the stress of our job, a toxic environment, financial burdens, relationship issues, kids, or unhealthy food, prolonged strain on our minds, emotions, or bodies leads to eventual dysfunction, chronic disease, and breakdowns — it all begins with the ECS. Impacting our adrenal glands, stress of any kind creates and releases increased cortisol. Endocannabinoids are produced in the gut affecting the brain-gut connection. To function optimally, the immune, nervous, and endocrine/hormone systems must be in proper balance and the ECS provides the framework.7
Cannabidol, or CBD, has been well-studied for stress management and prevention. CBD as a supplement helps reduce the symptoms of mood disorders, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, fatigue, immune weaknesses, and general stress levels. In addition, CBD is a defense for the adrenal glands, thyroid, and brain against some of the effects of stress. It is also a factor in the body’s cortisol and neurotransmitters production.
Two of the most important endocannabinoids that our bodies produce are anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG). These human-produced chemicals have similar effects in the body as the plant cannabinoids, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), that you probably have heard so much about over the last several years.
Our focus here is the endocannabinoid called anandamide, which was discovered in 1992. The name anandamide is derived from the Sanskrit word Ananda, which means happiness, pleasure, joy, and delight. Anandamide is also known as “the bliss molecule.” There are ways we can naturally increase the effectiveness of our body’s ability to manufacture and use this bliss molecule.
By either decreasing the breakdown, or increasing the production of anandamide, we can enjoy more of the happy health benefits of this naturally occurring cannabinoid. To decrease the breakdown of anandamide, select choice foods such as: minimally processed chocolate (such as cocoa powder and unsweetened cacao wafers or nibs), truffles. black pepper, apples, and blackberries.
To increase the production and effectiveness of anandamide naturally, participate in as many of the following suggestions as are right for you:
Exercise – In as little as 2 minutes a day of intense exercise, you can increase your production of anandamide and improve the sensitivity of its receptors.
Touch – Increase your natural Oxytocin to stimulate production of anandamide by making time to touch and be touched. This includes all forms of positive physical touch – hugs, cuddles, massage, petting an animal, and making love. One study showed blood anandamide levels increased by 168% after an osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).4 (OMT focuses on soft tissue manipulation and stretching as a type of holistic care. It differs from a chiropractic adjustment which primarily concentrates on bones and joints, especially those in the spine.)
Mindful presence – Choose to be fully present in a healthy activity. It could be yoga, meditation, listening to music, or giving others your undivided attention.
Food choices – Our bodies make endocannabinoids from the precursors of Omegas 3 and 6 found in virgin olive oil, fatty fish, walnuts, and eggs.
Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) – Another endocannabinoid, PEA, is found in soybeans, green coffee, and raw peanuts as well as nutritional supplements.5
CBD/hemp supplements – although these supplements must contain less than 0.3% THC (dry weight) to be legally sold in the United States, they increase overall amounts of anandamide by decreasing its breakdown from the enzyme Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH). To get the best results it’s important to obtain good quality supplements.6
Recap – The keys to holiday bliss? Take time to touch and be touched. Listen to music and be present with loved ones. Eat some chocolate and smoked salmon. Savor the simple sweet and small bits of life. And be kind to yourself.
McPartland, J. M., Giuffrida, A., King, J., Skinner, E., Scotter, J., & Musty, R. E. Cannabimimetic effects of osteopathic manipulative treatment. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2005;105(6), 283–291.
Sharon Montes, MD, FAIS is a pioneer in holistic medicine. She served as both medical and education director at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine and has practiced and taught integrative medicine for over 30 years. Co-Founder of the thriving integrative practice, Living Well Health Group, based in Loveland Colorado; Dr Montes works with game changers of all ages to help them develop greater resilience. If you would like to receive a free e-book or get information about other programs, including the Heart-Centered Stress Management Program, visit www.livingwellhealthgroup.com.
The dictionary defines “content” as being in a state of peaceful happiness. The AIS magazine is called Contentment because we want all of our guests and members to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each them. Stress is unavoidable, and comes in many shapes and sizes that makes being in a state of peaceful happiness seem like a very lofty goal. But happiness is easy to find once you are able to find ways to manage your stress and keep a healthy perspective when going though difficult times in life. You will always have stress, but stress does not always have you!
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