Cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) are the chemical compounds found in cannabis. These compounds are formulated into tinctures and balms intended to provide relief from stress,  anxiety, and inflammation. Cannabinoids can assist our bodies by imitating the compounds our bodies already naturally produce, called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids work to maintain internal balance stability and health. To summarize a complex system: endocannabinoids mediate communication between cells. When cannabis is inhaled, injected, or consumed, cannabinoids bind to receptor sites in our brain (where CB-1 receptors are located) and body (where CB-2 receptors are located). This concept is one of the crucial ways we’ve come to understand cannabis as medicine.

With the help of greater scientific research, we are beginning to understand how these active compounds work within our  bodies. But what about other plants? Beyond cannabis, the fact is that there are many other plants, herbs, and flowers that possess these cannabinoids and interact with the human endocannabinoid system. These plants contain substances called phytocannabinoids and cannabimimetic compounds that mimic cannabinoid properties when consumed. Often, we refer to these plants as“superfoods”.
Echinacea is one well known plant that contains many cannabimimetic compounds. It’s known for its ability to support the immune system, as well as aid in pain management and fatigue. The cannabimimetic compounds found in echinacea interact with CB-2 receptors in a similar way as cannabinoids, which makes sense when we consider how CB-2 receptors help regulate the immune system and inflammation.

Black pepper is another plant that contains phytocannabinoids, specifically beta-caryophyllene (BCP) ( also found in cloves). Black pepper assists in reducing inflammation, and new studies suggest it may increase the effectiveness rate of drugs used in cancer treatments.

It should come as no surprise that black truffles, a plant even biologically older than cannabis, contains the molecule “anandamide,” which bonds to CB-1 receptors. Anandamide, often referred to as “the bliss molecule,” is a neurotransmitter derived from arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid ( Anandamide can help with mood regulation and mental well-being.

Cacao is another common plant that contains phytocannabinoids, specifically an anandamide reuptake inhibitor. Its official name, theobroma cacao, literally means “food of the gods.” Beyond anandamide, cacao contains several “happy brain” chemicals including theobromine, tryptophan, and phenylethylamine, as well as a compound called FAAH, which interacts with our endocannabinoid system. While chocolate is nowhere near as potent as cannabis and certainly not as psychoactive, it still can be a healing plant for our brains and bodies.

Echinacea, black pepper, black truffles, and chocolate are all plants we encounter quite regularly containing phytocannabinoids. This discovery can help us expand our understanding of our own endocannabinoid systems– cannabis is just one plant (of many) that contain healing phytocannabinoids.

Raisa Tolchinsky

Raisa Tolchinsky hails from Chicago, received a B.A. from Bowdoin College, and is currently a candidate for an M.F.A in poetry at the University of Virginia. A 2019 Brooklyn Poets Fellow, she has read and edited for Tin House Books and Tricycle Magazine, and is founding editor of SIREN. Her poems, essays, stories, and interviews have appeared in Muzzle Magazine, Tricycle, Blood Orange Review, and KR Online. When she’s not writing, she’s boxing or dancing like a weirdo on her roof. Learn more about Raisa and her work on Instagram @raisatolchinsky and on Twitter at @raisaimogen.

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