Most people think hemp and marijuana are the only plants that contain cannabinoids — and have for a very long time. But it turns out, cannabinoid-like compounds are found in a variety of plants. It’s great news as we explore new ways to keep our endocannabinoid system (ECS) functioning in tip-top condition (which helps keep our whole body functioning in tip-top condition*). Here are the top 5 showing some interesting potential in initial studies:
Yes, members of the humble sunflower genus contain cannabinoid-like compounds. Unfortunately, they’re not the ones common to our backyard gardens or grocery store shelves. Helichrysum, a genus consisting of 600 varieties of sunflowers, is native to South Africa and contains cannabigerol-like (CBG) phytocannabinoids called amorfrutins. Among other things, amorfrutins are currently being studied for their impact on healthy lipid and glucose metabolism.*
Echinacea has been used therapeutically for thousands of years, so it’s not too much of a surprise to find it contains cannabinoid-like compounds. Specifically, certain Echinacea species contain cannabimimetic compounds called N-alkylamides (NAAs) that aren’t exactly similar to cannabinoids but still trigger CB2 cannabinoid receptors. NAAs are currently being studied for their immune-modulatory possibilities.*
The highly prized Black Truffle, eagerly hunted by rabassiers (French truffle hunters) with their well-trained, truffle-sniffing pigs, are valuable for more than their culinary exquisiteness. These incredibly expensive mushrooms that sell for over $2,000 a pound (earning them the moniker “black diamonds”) have been found to contain anandamide. Anandamide is a cannabinoid-like compound that was named the “bliss molecule” for its role in stimulating a sense of happiness and mental wellbeing.*
This simple pantry staple does more than add a little bite to your favorite foods. Black pepper also contains beta-caryophyllene (BCP), a terpene found in cannabis (though at much higher concentrations). BCP has been found to have widespread health-supportive benefits and is being studied for a range of things including neuroprotection.
Here’s reason #17,354 to love chocolate: Cacao, the key ingredient in chocolate, contains beneficial N-acylethanolamines (NAEs). NAEs are cannabinoid-like fatty acids which can increase anandamide (the “bliss molecule” mentioned above) activity in the body.* This may explain why consuming chocolate creates euphoric-like effects.*
As you can see, phytocannabinoids aren’t just exclusive to cannabis and hemp — even if they do prove to be the richest source of them. What we’re curious to see as more studies emerge is this: since our body needs a balanced diet rich in nutrients to support our overall health, might we also benefit from diverse sources of phytocannabinoids to support our ECS? Only time will tell.