Balance is a popular way to manage things, maybe because its principal allows us to live in harmony with the forces around us. We increasingly fill our lives with more things. More people, more places, more activities and more expectations. Its no mystery that balance has become harder to maintain.
When we feel most imbalanced in our lives is often mirrored by our chemical make up. This state could be what we identify as the blues. Depression is associated with an imbalance or deficiency in neurotransmitters. Although this isn’t always the case. This association might only be identifying the chemical manifestations of depression, not the causes. The complexities of depression are vast. They probably constitute a crossover of how we are built with how we live.
Could the way we think, move, act…..aka LIVE, influence how we feel? Are we effectively balancing various aspects of our lifestyles?
Albeit the complexity of depression, we could look to re-balance one potential factor which could be at play. The Endocannabinoid System.
The Endocannabinoid System
The ECS includes its own Cannabinoids, Cannabinoid receptors and a set of enzymes that make and destroy Cannabinoids.These Cannabinoids which exist within us are called Endo-Cannabinoids. The ECS influences aspects of our physiology across the body. Including our endocrine, nervous and immune systems.
An interesting observation has highlighted an endocannabinoid deficiency with a number of diseases. They include Depression, Migraine, IBS and Fibromyalgia. This may then have implications on how the rest of the body works.
The ECS uses Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), as its principal endocannabinoid signals. These EC’s can regulate neurotransmission in the Central nervous system and brain. This influences:
- Pain perception
- Energy balance
- Control gut permeability
- Function of the immune and nervous systems
AEA and 2-AG interact with the ECS by binding with CB1 and CB2 receptors, distributed far and wide throughout the body. CB1 receptors lay within the brain. A few are also found in the lung, kidney, liver, fat, heart, muscle, and bone.
CB2 receptors are densely packed into the immune system and scattered across the nervous system, liver, gut, muscle, and bone.
The harmony between these receptors and Endocannabinoids constitute the tone of the ECS.
The fascinating thing about the ECS is that its function can be controlled analogously. We can live in a way which affects its function. Cannabis is the most famous way to tap into this system.
Introducing its own Phytocannabinoids into our ECS, we can mimic the way our Endocannabinoids operate. We can thereby tune the function of this system. This is why Cannabis is the closest thing to a silver bullet or panacea for ill health and chronic disease.
Whats even better is that you don’t just need Phytocannabinoids to influence the function of this system. How we eat and how we move are a couple of ways of toning up this system.
Working out can feel like being on a drug when you are getting it right. The high that most runners feel after a session is no thanks to Anandamide. AEA, otherwise known as the bliss chemical, gives us that feeling of euphoria. This feeling burns brightly long after exercise is over.
Exercise is well known for its antidepressant effects, which is now thought to be via the activation of the ECS. The release of AEA via ECS signalling can have incredible benefits beyond that of just emotional boosts. The AEA released during exercise and remaining after is also thought to increase BDNF. BDNF is a protein which also accounts for the anti-depressant effects of exercise. As well as neurogenesis and neuroplasticity in the brain.
Anandamide also facilitates the release of Dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter which rewards our behaviour and encourages its repetition.
This fulfilling and rewarding phenomenon is what can leave us hungry for more the next day. Addicted to exercise? Thats Anandamide. For those in need of a healthier addiction, a sense of reward, a sense of fulfilment – exercise could be the solution. AEA was found to increase in proportion to the intensity of exercise, so give er hell.
For a rocket boost of focus, endurance, stamina and strength you may consider blazing one up before your workout.
This is the first thing that most people turn to when they need a pick me up. Its the reason we can sometimes drill an entire bar as if it were a rapidly melting ice cream on a blazing hot day.
Cacao, the plant that gives chocolate its magic also interacts with the ECS. Cacao was traditionally thought to contain Anandamide in straight up Cannabinoid form. However, upon closer study it turns out Cacao contains an enzyme inhibitor which can increase circulating levels of Anandamide within us.
Cannabinoid like fatty acids, N-acylethanolamines in Cacao, chemically and pharmacologically similar to Anandamide may be responsible for the inhibition of the enzyme, Fatty Acid Amide Hydroxylase.
FAAH is the enzyme that breaks down Anandamide. When inhibited, we have a short window of bliss in which to drink in Anandamide. This effect can alter the function of other neurochemicals such as Dopamine and Serotonin.
Phenylthylamine (PEA) is also present in chocolate. PEA mimics the feeling of being in love and might explain the infatuation with chocolate many of us have. PEA actually triggers the release of Dopamine, providing us with a mouthful of reward. This is what keeps us coming back for more. Studies also suggest a deficit in PEA to be an important modulator of mood, and that a deficit may contribute to depression.
The combined effects of these chemicals could be accountable for the profound sense of well being we feel when consuming chocolate. True food therapy.
You don’t have to nail a bar of chocolate a day to get these benefits. Cacao nibs in smoothies or a Cacao hot chocolate can be a healthier, sugar free way of feeling great throughout the day.
Cannabis contains up to 60 cannabinoids, various terpenes and flavinoids. These compounds finely tune the ECS by way of CB1 and CB2 receptor binding and inhibition. This is how we see such profound improvements in mood, appetite, pain, sleep and immunity when we use High Grade Cannabis.
Cannabis is famous for its two kingpin Cannabinoids – THC & CBD. THC the part of the Cannabis plant that is psychoactive, producing the high.
An explosion of feel good brain chemicals including Dopamine, Serotonin, GABA and Acetylcholine circulate the brain before your joint even goes out. THC is what makes you feel happy, rewarded and motivated.
THC actually dos this by activating CB receptors which modulate the release of these neurotransmitters. Notably CB1 within the brain, producing the famous psychoactive effects.
Anandamide exhibits both anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects, whilst also promoting neurogenesis. This is where new nerve cells form in the brain.
THC binds to the same receptors as Anandamide, and could explain the similar reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Its suggested to induce neurogenesis in a similar way to Anandamide. Quite the opposite mind melting propaganda we have been fed in the past.
A synthetic cannabinoid was used (because THC is illegal) to investigate whether activation of the CB1 receptor would produce neurogenesis. Incredibly, chronic administration promoted neurogenesis in the hippocampus of the brain. This region controls learning and memory, whilst also reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Thus, through mimicking the action of Anandamide and altering neurotransmitter release, THC can produce a pretty damn good feeling. This may provide some respite from your blues and worries.
THC has powerful antidepressant effects, but vary depending on the strain of Cannabis and the user.
CBD isn’t psychoactive, but sure does take care of your immune system, ease pain and sooth depression and anxiety. It actually interacts with the CB receptors in the opposite way to THC, by either blocking or reversing the action of the CB receptors. This is why you don’t get high from CBD.
What you do get is a reduction in depression and anxiety possibly through hippocampal neurogenesis – the birth of new neurones. A hippocampus with impaired neuronal plasticity is thought to produce depressive symptoms.
Together these Cannabinoids act synergistically, almost in a way a see-saw does. This is how CBD can sometimes ameliorate psychoactive effects of THC. Their actions are also supported by terpenes which give Cannabis is alluring and diverse spectrum of flavours and aromas. The terpenes can also tweak the ECS, which is called the entourage effect.
The antidepressant effects of Cannabis are well recognised. But, they are not so well understood due to the complex matrix of pathways by which it works its magic.
Maca is a root which hails from the mountainous Andes of Peru. It is most famous for its use as an adaptogen, benefiting the mind body in a plethora of ways. Adaptogens are truly magic – they act to harmonise your biochemistry and physiology in a way which is unique to your needs as an individual. They are incredibly powerful, increasing strength, endurance, cognition and more.
Maca actually interacts with the ECS in much the same way that Cacao does. Two Long Chain Fatty Acids in Maca, called Macamides produce FAAH inhibition. This inhibition allows circulating levels of Anandamide to stick around a while longer. This produces anti-anxiety, antidepressant like effects.
In a study with women, they took 3.5g maca powder for 6 weeks. The women noted reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety following the protocol.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega – 3’s are well established as antidepressants, and have been for decades. This is probably due to their action as an anti-inflammatory and as a building block for cell membranes and receptors. EPA and DHA are two omega-3’s which provide the most notable benefits for depression.
These are mostly attainable from fatty fish, which is why fish oils have become such popular supplements. The best thing about DHA and EPA is that we can use them as they come, from sea creatures and algae. In plants however, we must convert ALA to DHA and EPA in order to use them. This process can vary in efficiency between you and me.
Interestingly the scarcity of Omega-3’s in western diets can have damaging effects on our ECS. The lack of omega-3s actually has damaging structural and functional consequences on the CB1 receptor. The reduction in CB1’s mood controlling structure was seen to produce impaired emotional behaviour in mice.
By increasing your omega-3 consumption, you also increase CB1 and CB2 receptor density, and Endocannabinoid synthesis enzymes.
Omega-6 is also an important mediator of EC activity, and EC synthesis. The balance of dietary Omega 6:3 is thought to be an important modifier for the activation and suppression of EC receptors and their signalling.
So, it seems that we must maintain a healthy balance of Omega 6:3 to ensure optimal EC activity. Ratio’s may vary from person to person, depending on each of our needs and current state of health. Ratio’s from 2-4:1, Omega 6:3 have proven beneficial, and could be a good general balance to shoot for.
So, by upping your consumption of fish, eggs, meat and plants in a balanced manor, you could beneficially modify the tone of your ECS.