Recently we discussed the wide range of new medications and treatments that are currently being developed that can modulate the body’s endocannabinoid system to bring great benefits - but without using cannabis. Today, we want to discuss new scientific studies which are showing that there are also natural herbs and compounds that can either enhance, mimic, or even replace CBD to bring about relieve from ailments such as chronic pain and inflammation as well as slow neurodegeneration.
Ever since scientists first identified the Endocannabinoid system around 40 years ago, they knew that it must not only be the compounds found in cannabis which can alter and affect this system. Why would we evolve such a system, and why is it found in many other mammals? We all have endogenous cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids) circulating through our blood stream. These endocannabinoids are made by various organs, and tell the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the system when to activate or deactivate, controlling all sorts of systems in our bodies – from our immune system, our autonomic nervous system, to our central nervous system. This in turn regulates our health, mood, appetite, body temperature, and so much more.
This system is also influenced by exogenous cannabinoids from our diet and environment. The most well known endocannabinoid of course are the THC and CBD found in the Cannabis sativa plant, but there are others. One of the first non-cannabis exogenous cannabinoids that was discovered was the compound anandamide, which gets its name from the Sanskrit word ‘ananda’, meaning ‘joy or bliss’. This compound was found, among other places, in the cacao we use to make chocolate, and may explain part of the reason we feel so great when eating chocolate, and also why menstruating women also may find some relief from cramping by consuming dark chocolate.
More recently, researchers have been looking into 4 other natural plant compounds that can contribute to, or even replace the use of CBD. Some of the most prominent and wells studied of these are Oleoylethanolamide (OEA), Biochanin A, Guineensine, and Beta-Carophyyllene. All of these compounds are beginning to show great promise and, if you are already taking CBD, may be something that you want to consider taking as well. In the next few sections we will go through a bit about each compound, and where to find it.
OEA is actually an endocannabinoid which exists naturally in the body. It is a fatty acid, which interacts with the endocannabinoid system to regulate and decrease inflammation as well as regulate appetite and metabolism. It has been shown that administering OEA to rats can even treat obesity. Like CBD, OEA has also been shown to have neuroprotective effects.
OEA is naturally found in many animals and plants, although in low abundance. Some of the natural food sources of OEA include cacao powder, oatmeal, and nuts. However, it seems unlikely that the amount obtained from eating these foods, although beneficial, is enough be therapeutic. As such, new supplement sources are being made available, as the compound is cheap and easy to produce. Most of these supplements are directed towards weight loss, but as we discussed above, they also hold benefits in reducing inflammation and as an analgesic. More recently, OEA has been identified as important in regulating the mind-body interaction of the gut microbiome, and may be considered a nootropic.
Biochanin A is very different from OEA, in both its composition and its action. Whereas OEA is a fatty acid similar to the cannabinoids found in cannabis and the body, Biochanin A is a plant flavone, which gives plants their color and aroma/flavor. Biochanin A works by reducing the activity of an enzyme called Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase, which acts to breakdown anandamide after it has been released into the synapses and has down its job. By reducing the activity of this enzyme, Biochanin A actually leads to an increase in anandamide concentrations in the nerve synapses. This can lead to feelings of wellbeing and decreased pain. Greater anandamide levels have also been correlated with improved motivation, pleasure, and mood. Other studies have pointed to Biochanin A as a neuroprotectant, and even a cancer preventative.
Biochanin A is safe to consume, and can be found in a variety of plants, including red clover, peanuts, alfalfa sprouts, chickpeas, and soy. However, it should be noted that the bioavailability of Biochanin A is low when taken orally or from foods. So, supplements which are specially formulated to provide better absorption and bioavailability are encouraged if you think this compound is something you want to add to your regime. The most prominent supplements on the market today for biochanin A include those made from soy isoflavones or red clover extract.
Guineensine is in a third class of compounds from biochanin A or OEA, and is an alkaloid found in black pepper, as well as some other pepper plants. Recently, it has been found to be a novel inhibitor of endocannabinoid reuptake. This means that when both anandamide and 2-AG are released into the space between the axon and dendrite of the nerves, they are not taken back up, and remain in the synapse. This can cause an seeming increase in the abundance of the two endocannabinoids, without actually adding to their abundance, making their effect more long lasting.
Although for years Guineensine was only available by isolating it from plant sources, in 2019, researchers in Switzerland found a new way to synthesize the compound quickly and cheaply which should help to bring this compound to the medical and supplement industries very soon.
Of all the compounds we have looked at in this article, Beta-Caryophyllene is the only one that directly interacts with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system in the same way as CBD. In fact, Beta-Caryophyllene works almost exactly like CBD, as a partial antagonist of CB-2 type receptors to reduce inflammation and pain, improve insulin function, protect against age related cognitive decline, and inhibit growth in some cancers such as breast cancer.
Beta-Caryophyllene is also a powerful anti-microbial that was found to help reduce the prevalence and adherence of the endo-fungus candida, which is a major issue for patients with suppressed immune systems, such as those going through cancer treatment. Of all the compounds discussed today, Beta-Caryophyllene is probably the one with the longest history of medical use, and the most well backed by science. Beta-Caryophyllene is one of the most common terpenes found in plants that we consume, but is especially concentrated in cannabis, black pepper, basil, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and rosemary. There has also been some evidence to show that a diet high in broccoli (a Beta-Caryophyllene containing vegetable) can help reduce inflammation and pain. Short of eating large amounts of these foods, Beta-Caryophyllene can also be obtained from essential oils made from the plants listed above, with some supplies now making gel tabs and other easy to use supplements.
The four plant compounds listed above are being found to affect the body’s endocannabinoid system in many interesting and unique ways. Researchers now believe that by either adding these compounds to your regimen alongside CBD or even taking them independently can improve the efficacy of the desired results. If CBD is unavailable or price-limited in your region, these can also be a good substitutes to get the relief provided by the exocannabiniods found in the Cannabis sativa plant. As future drugs are developed, it is assumed that they will be a compilation of CBD and some of these other compounds mentioned, which could lead to decreases in the negative effects of aging, such as pain, inflammation, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Until then, they are an important part of a healthy diet, and something which you can begin assimilating into your health regimen immediately.
As with all supplements, be sure to research your sources, as the industry is largely unregulated and prone to inaccurate labeling, unproven health claims, and dangerous contaminations. If you are on any medications, talk with your doctor before starting any herbal supplements as some negative interactions can sometimes occur. Only purchase supplements from reputable dealers.