A Nutrition PhD Shares One Benefit Of Hemp That We Need To Talk About More
Most people take hemp-derived CBD capsules or sip on CBD drinks in the hopes of feeling a quick dose of relaxation.* And while the hemp plant can certainly deliver in the calm department, mbg's vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, sees another all-important reason to work it into your routine. As she explained on an episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, there's an entire system in our body that feeds off of hemp plant compounds—and we've been neglecting it for years.
The essential role of the ECS and how to feed it using hemp products.
Before we dig into the science, a little bit of back story on hemp: This resilient plant is a vigorous grower that has been cultivated to make clothing and other fibers for millenniums. In the 1970s, though, it was included in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug along with marijuana. 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—in part because one of its main feeders was deemed illegal for a time! "Thankfully, international research1 conducted by the brilliant Raphael Mechoulam and others carried on, and the 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, previously told mbg.
During the 50-odd years that hemp was off the market in the U.S., though, Ferira notes that 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.*
So, yes, research shows that the phytocannabinoids in hemp (including CBD) can evoke calm 2and ease stress3.* But beyond that, nutrition scientist and dietitian Ferira notes that they also feed a fascinating system4 that is constantly working to keep our bodies and minds in balance.*
Beyond providing in-the-moment relief from stress, leveraging a high-quality (e.g., organic, full-spectrum) hemp oil product daily may help support the long-neglected endocannabinoid system.* This is a major reason why hemp is the star player in mbg's calm+ supplement. Featuring USDA- and EU-certified organic full-spectrum hemp oil, this supplement was designed to deliver the full array of compounds that make this plant beneficial on so many levels.* We source from a multigeneration family farm that produces non-GMO, CO2-extracted hemp that is genetically tested to confirm its hemp DNA fingerprint. Because it is also tested for purity and potency, you can be confident that it's a safe, effective tool for relieving stress and maybe even more importantly, showing the ECS some love.*
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.