Guess what? Did you know that cannabis is not the only plant that has an impact on the endocannabinoid system (ECS)? Even though the ECS was named after cannabis, experts have discovered there are other botanicals that contain special phytochemicals that interact with this highly evolved system in addition to those found in hemp.
Endocannabinoid system 101
If you are wondering why you should care about the fact there are other plants capable of affecting the ECS, here’s a short explanation.
The endocannabinoid system was discovered in the 1980s, and it was found to play a critical role in balancing and regulating the other systems in the body, helping them maintain a state of homeostasis. Among the many systems and functions regulated by the ECS are appetite, body temperature, energy level, inflammation, metabolism, muscle control, pain, sensation, and stress response.
At that point, researchers thought cannabis was the only source of the special phytochemicals (called phytocannabinoids, such as alkylamides, anandamide, beta-caryophyllene, diindolylmethane, yangonin) that could interact with specific cannabinoid receptors in the body (i.e., CB1 and CB2). Receptors are components that receive messages from the body. The spinal cord and brain are the main locations for CB1 receptors, while the peripheral nervous system—and especially immune system cells—are the main places CB2 receptors are found.
During the course of their investigations, experts uncovered other plants have the same phytocannabinoids as cannabis. This means consumers have other options from which to choose when looking for ways to enhance the function of their ECS system.
How other plants impact the ECS
Similar to cannabis, cannabis-free phytocannabinoids imitate those produced by the body. That is, they attach themselves onto CB1 and CB2 receptor sites located throughout the body. Once they are bound to the sites, they release chemicals called neurotransmitters that carry critical information to glands and organs that are involved in homeostasis.
Six-plus non-cannabis plants with phytocannabinoids
These non-cannabis phytocannabinoids are among the most researched thus far when it comes to impact on the endocannabinoid system.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) can initiate a response in CB2 receptors. One reason for this ability is the presence of an alkaloid called guineensis, which stimulates ECS. Black pepper can be helpful in reducing the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis and osteoporosis.
Clove oil has a phytocannabinoid called beta-caryophyllene that has an ability to bind with CB2 receptors and relieve inflammation and pain. Clove oil also contains eugenol, a potent antimicrobial, antidepressant, and antioxidant.
Echinacea is an herb that contains N-alkyl amides, which are very similar to THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in how they have an impact on inflammation, pain, and the immune system. Echinacea can activate the CB1 receptor.
Ginger root, which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation affects muscles, joints, and tissues, which are part of the peripheral nervous system. Thus, the phytocannabinoids in ginger are attracted to CB2 receptors, which means it may have an impact on inflammatory conditions ranging from asthma and arthritis to dementia and heart disease.
Magnolia harbors two potent components called magnolol and honokiol, both of which can activate CB receptors. In fact, magnolia can impact both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Peony is a native of China. This flower is an excellent source of cannabinoids. It is valued for its ability to provide relief for inflammatory conditions, joint diseases, menstrual cramps, and muscle spasms.
Several other plants are being evaluated for their phytocannabinoid properties and ability to interact with the endocannabinoid system. They include black truffles, cacoa, Chinese rhododendron, helichrysum umbraculigerum (a daisy native to Africa), kava kava, and liverwort.
[Editor's Note: Emerald Health Bioceuticals has a line of products that are a plant-based alternative to cannabis.]