In the past decade, cannabis legalization has swept widely across the country and other parts of the world, something that’s ultimately led to increased research into the plant itself. Considering the amount of potential cannabis contains, it’s only natural that researchers would be interested in learning why cannabis works the way it does.
By now it’s widely understood that the beneficial effects of cannabis are associated with chemical compounds known as phytocannabinoids. Did you know that cannabis isn’t the only plant that contains phytocannabinoids? It’s true. Recent research has discovered that phytocannabinoids or other similar compounds are found in several other plants, suggesting that those plants may contain similar beneficial properties.
The Role of Phytocannabinoids and Cannabimimetics in the ECS
A cannabinoid is a chemical compound produced not only by plants, but the human body as well. Cannabinoids that occur naturally in the body are known as endogenous cannabinoids, or “endocannabinoids,” and are an integral aspect of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Cannabinoids that occur naturally in plants are known as “phytocannabinoids,” with the prefix phyto meaning “of a plant” or “relating to plants.” While CBD is commonly referred to as a cannabinoid, it is actually considered a phytocannabinoid because it’s derived from the cannabis plant.
Both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS, which is responsible for a vast variety of physiological processes. The suggested beneficial properties of phytocannabinoids are directly related to the way they interact with the ECS.
Cannabimimetic is a word you might not be familiar with, but is also something that plays a role in ECS function. Cannabimimetics are compounds that are known to activate CB1 and CB2 receptors that mimic endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids but don’t share a similar chemical structure. Basically, cannabimimetics contain similar properties as other cannabinoids when they’re consumed.
The following are plants you’re likely already familiar with; they contain either phytocannabinoids or cannabimimetics, all of which are suggested to positively influence the ECS.
8 Plants (Other than Cannabis) That Contain Phytocannabinoids
1. Black Pepper (Piper Nigrum)
Black pepper is abundant in beta-caryophyllene, a terpene known for its pain-relieving and digestion-promoting properties. Beta-caryophyllene is also considered a “dietary cannabinoid,” because it binds to CB2 receptors, with evidence highlighting that this compound exerts cannabimimetic effects.
2. Cacao (Theobroma Cacao)
Cacao has long been considered a superfood and is widely known to create feelings of pleasure and heightened mood. This is because it contains several “feel good” chemicals, including anandamide, one of the endocannabinoids naturally produced in the body.
Cacao also contains two other compounds known as N-Linoleoyl ethanolamide and N-oleoylethanolamide, which inhibit the production of the FAAH enzyme, ultimately leading to higher levels of anandamide and the blissed-out feeling chocolate tends to inspire.
Cacao and cannabis are actually two of three plants with compounds that actually fit into cannabinoid receptors in the brain like a “lock and key” system.
3. Black Truffles (Tuber Melanosporum)
In 2014, researchers discovered that black truffles contain both anandamide and endocannabinoid enzymes. They noted that black truffles are “well-equipped with endocannabinoid binding receptors.” When consumed, black truffles bind to CB1 receptors releasing anandamide, and researchers of the study contend that the release of the “bliss molecule” could be an “ancient attractant to truffle eaters.”
4. Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)
Echinacea is a popular natural option to support immune health. It’s known for its immunostimulatory benefits. While echinacea doesn’t contain cannabinoids, it does contain cannabimimetics that positively influence CB2 receptors, which may explain the immune-supporting properties it contains.
5. Helichrysum (Helichrysum Umbraculigerum)
Helichrysum, native to South Africa and thought to be part of the daisy family, has been referred to as a “complement to cannabis sativa,” as is shown to contain cannabinoids CBGA and CBG, as well as other compounds similar to cannabinoids. It’s been used for centuries as a traditional medicine.
6. Electric Daisy (Acmella Oleracea)
The Electric Daisy is often referred to as the “toothache plant.” It’s said to produce a numbing, tingly feeling that is caused by an alkaloid known as spilanthol, which is found in several different plants around the world used in traditional medicine. Electric Daisy contains cannabimimetic compounds known as N-Isobutylamides that interact with CB2 receptors to create its effects.
7. Liverwort (Radula Marginata)
Native to New Zealand, Liverwort is rich in a compound known as perrottetinenic acid, which contains a strikingly similar chemical structure as THC and is believed to act primarily with the CB1 receptor. It has a long history as a traditional medicine.
Although it has a structure similar to THC, Liverwort is said not to contain any psychoactive effects.
8. Kava (Piper Methysticum)
Kava is native to the Pacific Islands and has a long history of nutritional use. In the West, Kava is best known as a tea that is typically consumed for its relaxing, sedative-like effects.
Kava is abundant in compounds known as kavalactones, which have been shown to have an affinity to the CB1 receptor. Kavalactones have also been shown to inhibit the activity of FAAH and MAGL, the two enzymes found in the ECS. CBD also inhibits the activity of FAAH, which increases levels of anandamide and is one of the reasons CBD is suggested to help manage everyday stress.
Aside from their affinity to CB1 receptors, kavalactones are also known to bind to sites in the brain associated with addiction and cravings.
While these are but a few plants that are known to contain phytocannabinoids or cannabimimetics, it’s likely that increased research will reveal other plants that contain similar properties that work harmoniously with the ECS to provide the beneficial benefits cannabis is famous for.
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Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.