Of all the healing botanicals that adorn our planet, few offer the astonishing phytochemical bounty of cannabis. This flowering plant contains a cornucopia of 400 unique chemicals, with approximately 70 non-psychogenic but potent bioactive cannabinoids. 1,2 Documented evidence exists tracing human use of the healing and balancing power of cannabis to as long ago as 500 BC, in Xinjiang, China.3Chinese legend tells of the emperor Shen Nung (circa 2700 B.C) recommending cannabis for over a hundred different ailments in his pharmacopeia. And no wonder we gravitated to this plant so long ago—for cannabinoids are a fundamental communication system built into life—present in all plants and animals. Cannabinoids are critical for bioregulation and homeostasis throughout our body and brain. So, if you’re looking for balance, consider the bioactive gifts in cannabis.
These non-psychogenic cannabinoids are amazingly versatile. We actually synthesize our own cannabinoids and have a built in endocannabinoid system, which was first discovered in 1992.4 Cannabinoids play a significant role in regulating inflammation, pain, appetite, sleep, mood, insulin sensitivity, fat and energy metabolism, and also impact neurologic and immune conditions.5,6 The influence of cannabinoids is so broad because the cellular receptors that they bind are found in many types of cells throughout the body, and are expressed at high levels in the central and peripheral nervous system and immune system.7 Cannabinoids influence the activity of more than 1000 genes, and help increase our cellular antioxidant defenses as well as downregulate many pro-inflammatory mediators.8
Until recently, the cannabis we all knew was the oh-so-iconic marijuana—the plant with psychoactive effects caused by THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). As culinary historian David Shields, author of Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine, puts it: “The fear of getting high while dining on a salad dressed in hemp oil and vinegar kept hemp off grocery store shelves for a long time.”9However, hemp is now commonplace in groceries and health food stores as seeds, oils, and protein powders, and it has been well validated that consuming these substances will not alter blood chemistry in the manner of higher doses of the regionally-illegal THC.10 Hemp is being grown, with federal approval, in Kentucky, Minnesota and other states, and many industries have recognized and are profiting from it as a crop with a broad array of uses. This has opened up our access to the healing cannabinoids from hemp oil as well.
Here are some of the healing properties that cannabinoids may deliver to your body:
* Your brain. Cannabinoids have been shown to have a protective effect in the brain and nervous system. They are a potent neuroprotective antioxidant, superior to Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) and Vitamin C (ascorbate) in preventing toxicity from excess amounts of the neurotransmitter glutamate.11 Cannabinoids help to balance mood by their effect on a serotonin receptor known as 5HT1A, which is now being studied as a target for new antidepressants.12,13 Their balancing effects also have been seen on receptors which modulate anxiety.14 They help to regulate excitability in the brain, which may have an impact on epileptic seizures.15 In fact, they seem to offer an overall tonic for the brain, protecting against chronic stress, which can decrease the growth and density of new neurons in parts of the brain. They also influence mechanisms that govern the life and death of neurons, suggesting they may be helpful for neurodegenerative conditions.16,17 They contribute to the innate capacity of the brain to adapt, change and remodel itself in response to experience.18
*Your body. The onslaught of toxins and stress in today’s modern world is a great burden on our bodies. Cannabinoids are particularly beneficial in combatting the oxidative stress that burdens us all. They can help diminish damage related to diabetes,19 retinal disease,20 leaky gut,21 and other conditions associated with oxidative stress and immune activation.22,23 Cannabinoids have a modulating effect on inflammation and pain, which may support musculoskeletal system function and joint health.24,25,26 In some, they may have a positive impact on sleep as well, according to a 2017 review of scientific research, which found that cannabadiols may help improve disturbances in REM sleep leading to excessive daytime sleepiness.
In sum, nature in her infinite creativity, has gifted us with a flowering plant perfectly calibrated to our own endogenous, innate regulatory cannabinoid system. We might think of it as a great harmonizer, helping us to regain equilibrium and balance.
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