Natural High: Exercise and the Endocannabinoid System

    As the days grow longer, and the temperatures warmer, we can’t help but yearn to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors and moving our bodies more. Depending on where we live, however, we may be coming out of a long winter of hibernation, and we may find it difficult to switch gears, both physically and psychologically.

    Whether our goals are as modest as feeling more comfortable in shorts or a bathing suit, or as ambitious as training for our first triathlon, knowing more about the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) can help us achieve them. This ancient, but only recently discovered, system is responsible for maintaining biological balance (homeostasis) in every cell, tissue, organ and system in the body, and plays a key role in everything from our motivation to engage in healthy behaviours, to how easy it is for us to get in shape, to effective pain management when we occasionally overdo it.

    Most of us automatically think of CBD or cannabis when we hear about the endocannabinoid system, and that is in fact how scientists first discovered it (while investigating how THC, the psychoactive constituent of cannabis, gets us “high”), as well as how it got its name. But what is much less widely known is that the compounds in cannabis that interact with the ECS (called phytocannabinoids, or plant-derived cannabinoids) are thousands of times weaker than those produced internally within our own bodies (called endocannabinoids, short for endogenous, meaning internally produced, cannabinoids).

    The primary endocannabinoids are called anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglyol (2-AG). Fun fact: anandamide was named after the Sanskrit word for bliss (“ananda”), and is thought to be responsible for creating the state of exercise-induced euphoria known as “runner’s high.” This is a clue to the ECS’s role in balancing the neurotransmitters that are involved not only in maintaining a positive mood and a sharp mind, but also in regulating motivation and reward, encouraging us to engage in the behaviours that are good for us by making those behaviors feel good.

    The ECS is intricately involved in the physical aspects of exercise as well. When we work out, we are actually inflicting a minor injury on the muscle tissue we are recruiting, and it is in the healing of these micro-tears that our muscles grow stronger. A similar principlechallenging the body, which initiates a process of adaptation that leaves it better prepared to deal with similar challenges in the futureapplies to our cardiovascular capacity as well.

    The mechanism by which the ECS achieves this is commonly considered a dirty word: inflammation. However, without any inflammation we would never make any progress in our fitness goals. And yet too much inflammation can cause the muscle soreness, swollen joints, limited range of motion and overuse injuries that keep us sidelined. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for making sure we don’t experience too little or too much inflammation… that it’s juuuuuuust right.

    So, how do we support the ECS’s efforts to keep us in the inflammation Goldilocks Zone? The first step is to make sure that the body is getting everything it needs to function at its best. Endocannabinoids can only be made by the body from omega fatty acids obtained from the diet, and they are produced on demand (in other words, they can’t be stored), so we need to ensure we are getting sufficient levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, in the right ratios, at the appropriate times. This can be complicated and time consuming to keep track of, so you can look to a product like Endo Omega (available in fish oil and vegan options) that is specifically formulated to support optimal endocannabinoid levels.

    If you have the nutritional building blocks covered and are still experiencing symptoms of excessive inflammation, you can layer in external ECS activation with phytocannabinoids. These can be cannabis-derived (like CBD), or cannabis-free. A great cannabis-free option that has been shown to outperform CBD and sidesteps a lot of the cannabis-related concerns (for instance, it is legal in all States and guaranteed to be safe for those in professions with mandatory drug testing) is Endo Inflame from the ECS experts at Emerald Health Bioceuticals. It is formulated with their proprietary cannabis-free phytocannabinoid blend combined with clinically significant quantities of curcumin and boswellia, herbal superstars scientifically proven to support a healthy inflammatory response.

    And just in case you still need that extra nudge to get off the couch… guess what the most effective lifestyle factors are in supporting a healthy endocannabinoid system? Time in nature, healthy sun exposure and physical activity! How’s that for a positive feedback loop? You’re welcome.


    Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.