The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of cell receptors and corresponding molecules in humans and other animals. The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, which is optimal balance in the body. This system has many different functions, including regulation of sleep, appetite, immune function, mood, and pain. There are plenty of plants out there that are known to have positive effects on the human endocannabinoid system and are cannabinoid-like in function. The most well-known are echinacea, black pepper, and chocolate. Chemicals in these plants aren’t the same as those found in cannabis but they have the same effect.
Here are 6 plants that work with the endocannabinoid system:
The Kava plant (Piper methysticum) has grown in popularity for its anti-anxiety and calming effects. Kava root has been used traditionally by Pacific island cultures who make a medicinal drink from the roots. The concoction is thought to provide sedative, pain relieving, and euphoric effects.
Rosemary, black pepper, and cannabis all contain a compound called beta-caryophyllene (BCP). BCP is a terpene that acts like a cannabinoid. Terpenes are flavor and aroma molecules found in plants. BCP is what gives all three of these plants a peppery kick and contain therapeutic properties that give terpene the components that can potentially help heal stomach ulcers and aid addiction recovery.
Japanese Liverwort (radula perrottetii) and New Zealand Liverwort (radula marginata) called perrottetinene has a very similar structure to THC. They engage the endocannabinoid system like the compounds in cannabis. These cannabimimetic compounds in liverwort engage the CB1 receptors like THC.
While many of the compounds in plants engage the endocannabinoid system like cannabinoids, scientists are still on the hunt for plants that contain the exact same chemicals. One particularly finding comes from a South African flower, Helichrysum umbraculigerum. Cannabigerol (CBG) is an acid-like compound found in the plant. CBG occurs early on in the cannabis growth cycle and is thought to be a precursor of sorts to better-known cannabinoids like THC and CBD. CBG has shown potential as an antibiotic, antidepressant, and even chemotherapeutic agent. Helichrysum umbraculigerum is the first non-cannabis plant to contain this compound.
CBD can block an enzyme that breaks down endocannabinoids (enzyme FAAH) in the body. Endocannabinoids are the body’s own THC. Preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids increases the amount of them in your system. This can cause a cascade of effects, including mood stabilization. Compounds in Maca (Lepidium meyenii) called N-benzylamines block FAAH. This improves endocannabinoid tone, boosting the system overall.
There is a difference between cannabinoid compounds created by plants and those created by animals. Animals create endocannabinoids and plants create phytocannabinoids. These chemicals are very similar to each other, but they have some differences. It has been found that black truffles create anandamide (AEA). AEA, also known as the bliss molecule, is the human version of THC. This endocannabinoid is usually made by animals and binds to the CB1 receptor. While the truffles don’t have cannabinoid receptors, they do have AEA. So these mushrooms release a compound that draws animals to eat them that in turn spreads their spores.