In order to understand the relationship between sleep and cannabinoids fully, we have to first understand what the endocannabinoid system (ECS) actually does:
In the same way we have a circulatory system, a lymphatic system, and an endocrine system, the ECS is endogenous - meaning it is of internal origin, and part of the body’s natural structure. It’s found in all vertebrates, not just us, and it has a role in regulating many physiological processes. Technically, it’s classified as a ‘homeostatic regulator” meaning it’s continuously working to bring a state of balance within the body.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid known as the 'bliss molecule' due to early scientific discoveries on its role in the feeling of happiness. It is a lipid-based neurotransmitter, meaning it’s involved in the body’s signalling processes and is derived from an essential omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid (found in foods like walnuts, walnut oil, pumpkin seeds and legumes). Alongside another cannabis-like chemical called 2-AG, anandamide interacts with endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body to regulate fear, anxiety, stress tolerance, appetite, pain perception, the immune and inflammatory responses, and cognitive function.
Healthy anandamide levels affect sleep quality and emotional regulation, enhancing deep sleep, which is important for memory consolidation and nervous system repair, as well as increasing alertness and reducing daytime sleepiness, in turn enhancing daytime performance, on top of strength and consistency of the sleep-wake cycle.
All of this sounds great, right? But how do we boost our anandamide levels naturally?
There are a handful of helpful integrations to your routine that could help. They include:
Compounds in plants often mimic endogenous compounds found within the human body. A phytoestrogen, for example, is another plant-derived compound that interacts with, but is not generated by, the human endocrine system. Instead it is consumed by eating soy, legumes, sesame, and various grains. CBD
CBD is one of many hundreds of phytocannabinoids whilst not produced by our ECS, but fit perfectly into its receptors and effectively interact with it. When ingested CBD acts as an inhibitor to the enzyme fatty acid amides hydrolase (FAAH), thus preventing the major break down of anandamide, increasing the amounts circulating and available.
The post-exercise buzz is a term applied to the neurobiological reward felt after a period of intense exercise. And I for one am pretty thankful for it! Without it, taking care of physical health would be a whole lot less appealing.
Recent studies have shown that what was previously pegged solely as a surge of endorphins, also correlates with increased levels of anandamide in the bloodstream. This makes exercise another means of enhancing their availability and impact on our sleep, happiness and wellbeing.
Cannabis is not the only plant that interacts with the ECS. Echinacea, used as a naturopathic remedy for arthritis, migraines, and the common cold, contains a compound called cannabimimetics. Whilst not exactly the same as cannabinoids, these interact with and stimulate receptors in the ECS nonetheless. Black Pepper, Acmella Oleracea, Helichrysum Umbraculigerum, and liverwort also contain compounds that do much of the same.
Cacao, however, is a little different because, alongside a handful of other happiness-inducing chemicals, it contains actual anandamide and FAAH. It’s one of only three known plants to contain compounds that literally fit into the human brain like a lock and key. So - eat more chocolate! (As if we needed an excuse.)
Hsiao, Y-T et al. (2012). Effect of cannabidiol on sleep disruption induced by the repeated combination tests consisting of open field and elevated plus-maze in rates. Neuropharmacology, 62(1): 373-384. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390811003467
Hortes n Chagas, M et al. (2013). Effects of acute systemic administration of cannabidiol on sleep-wake cycle in rats. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 27(3). Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881112474524
Kromorowski J, Stephen, H (2007) The role of the endocannabinoid system in regulation of endocrine function and in the control of energy balance in humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17369778
Pagotto U, et al. Encore (2006) The emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in endocrine regulation and energy balance.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/16306385/?i=2&from=/17369778/related
Para, MJ, Makriyannis, A, Loving, DM (2016) Endocannabinoid Signaling Regulates Sleep Stability. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27031992
By Phoebe Jones