While the hemp plant can certainly deliver in the calm department, there’s an entire system in our body that feeds off hemp plant compounds we’ve been neglecting.
Before we dig into the science, let’s look into a bit of the back story on hemp. This resilient plant is a vigorous grower that has been cultivated to make clothing and other fibres for millenniums. In the 1970s however, it was included in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug along with marijuana (Ed. in the U.S.). This was a bit of a “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” scenario, Ferira explains, considering that hemp plants contain little to no THC (literally trace levels, less than 0.3% of the plant), the main psychoactive component of marijuana.
What they do possess, however, is a rich array of non-psychoactive, unique plant compounds that can help promote balance in the body. These compounds, called phytocannabinoids, seem to engage most directly with our endocannabinoid system (ECS).
If you’ve never heard of the ECS, you wouldn’t be alone. The system, which has receptors throughout the body and brain, hasn’t been as widely studied in the U.S. over the years. However thankfully, international research conducted by the brilliant Raphael Mechoulam on ECS and its key components and pathways were discovered over the past 40 or so years,” explains Ferira. And, since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill that removed hemp and hemp-derived products from Schedule I status, a new wave of research has demonstrated its importance in regulating many essential physiological processes.
Ferira describes the ECS as a ‘fancy thermostat’ for homeostatic balance, able to bring the body back to baseline during times of stress. We know that this master regulatory system can help us calm down, sleep, and maintain a healthy inflammatory response, and that may be just the beginning. “There is not a human experience the ECS does not affect, from fertility and conception to moderating pain, mood, mental health, learning, sleep, and appetite as we grow and mature, to modulating brain health as we age,” Jessica Knox, M.D., MPH, co-founder of the American Cannabinoid Clinics says.
During the 50-odd years that hemp was off the market in the U.S., the ECS was missing a valuable input. “There’s this entire system in our body waiting to be nourished by phytocannabinoids,” she explains. She likens this to if other powerful plant compounds (phytonutrients) like carotenoids were outlawed for decades. Illegal carrots? Since carotenoids are essential for eye health, our vision as a nation would suffer. Considering the key role that phytocannabinoids play in supporting a healthy stress response, it isn’t so hard to believe that their absence could be contributing to the record levels of anxiousness we’re seeing today.