Don’t let the word scare you off. Cannabis sativa—known by its more colloquial name marijuana—has come a long way since the 1960s, when it had a reputation for being a hippie counterculture drug. Thanks to research revealing the health benefits of the various non-intoxicating components of the spiky-leafed plant—and the increase in legalization across the country—more and more Americans are using cannabis to treat pain…depression and anxiety…insomnia…and more.

Cannabis is rich in naturally occurring plant compounds called cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD, which does not produce a high) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, which does produce a high) are just two well-known cannabinoids, but more than 100 others exist.

Recent finding: A survey of 568 adults ages 65 and older conducted by researchers at University of California, San Diego, and published in a 2020 Journal of the American Geriatrics ­Society, found that 15% had used CBD or THC within the past three years…and nearly 80% of users reported having used it for medical purposes.

What many people don’t realize is that the human body makes its own health-promoting, cannabis-like substances called endocannabinoids. That’s right—your body naturally produces compounds that instill a feeling of calm…relieve joint pain and muscle spasms…help you drift off to sleep…and more. These cannabinoids, called anandamide and 2-AG, are designed to return the body to a state of balance when something—stress, injury, trauma—pushes it out of balance. They do this by attaching to receptors in a network located throughout the brain and body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system helps regulate bodily functions by seeking out and latching onto cannabinoids—either the endocannabinoids your body produces on its own or those found in the ­Cannabis sativa plant.

Using CBD or marijuana are among the ways to amplify your body’s ECS. But you don’t have to smoke or ingest CBD or marijuana to get similar benefits. Another little-known source of cannabinoids is food! Specifically, these 11 items…

  • Basil
  • Omega-3s
  • Black pepper
  • Oregano
  • Cacao
  • Rosemary
  • Cinnamon
  • Truffles
  • Cloves
  • Turmeric
  • Flax

Consuming the foods and spices on this list stimulates the ECS…and the more you eat and the more often you eat them, the more impressive the effects. If you already regularly use CBD or THC, you can expect even more of an impact on your mood, immune system, sleep and overall health. (In cannabis medicine, this is called an “entourage effect.”) Important: Eating these foods will not make you high or affect your results on a drug test. These 11 spices and foods fire up the ECS in different ways. Here’s how…

Black pepper, basil, cinnamon, clove, oregano and rosemary all contain the compound beta-caryophyllene that directly targets the body’s cannabinoid receptors, reducing inflammation and pain. (Freshly ground peppercorn’s distinct peppery aroma is due in part to beta-caryophyllene.)

Omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks of anandamide and 2-AG. Oily fish, seeds and nuts that contain omega-3s give your body what it needs to create those healthful endocannabinoids.

Cacao allows anandamide levels to remain higher longer. This is one reason dark chocolate helps people feel mellow. Anandamide, sometimes called “the bliss molecule,” stimulates the brain’s ECS receptors similarly to THC. But our bodies also make the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which helps break down anandamide—cacao helps inhibit the production of FAAH.

Truffles are rich in anandamide. Interesting fact: Anandamide attracts pigs, who eat and digest the tasty fungal fruits and then spread truffle spores in their droppings, allowing more of the tasty fungus to grow far and wide.

Flax contains soluble fiber, which can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and is an excellent plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. It contains a CBD-like compound that is thought to work on the CB receptors.

Turmeric, a traditional Indian spice, contains curcumin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. The curcumin in turmeric binds to CB receptors, which could potentially be useful to reduce appetite and help with weight loss. Bonus: Using turmeric with black pepper can increase the absorption—and effectiveness—of this wonderful spice.

You can enjoy any of the 11 ingredients however you like—cracking black pepper and turmeric over scrambled eggs…stirring cinnamon and walnuts into oatmeal…adding cocoa powder to smoothies (make sure the label says it’s 85% cacao or higher for maximum ECS stimulation).

Or you can try these recipes, which each contain ECS-fueling ingredients for that potent entourage effect…

Flaxseed Oil Dressing

This herb-infused dressing is great drizzled over salads, sautéed greens or roasted veggies. Yield: One-half cup.

  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons flaxseed oil
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine the first seven ingredients in a blender, and process until smooth. Scrape down the sides, and blend again. Next, slowly stir in the flaxseed oil and blend until creamy. Add the final three ingredients, and blend once more.

Note: Flaxseed oil can be found in the refrigerated section of natural grocery stores, often near the supplements. It should be stored in the refrigerator and should not be used for cooking, as heat damages its healthful properties. (Drizzling this dressing over hot food is fine, though.)

Seasoned Pumpkin Seeds

Take advantage of Halloween with this fiber-filled snack. Yield: One cup.

  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1½ teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. After washing and draining the pumpkin seeds, pat them dry with a dish towel or paper towels. Mix all of the ingredients except the seeds in a small bowl. Add in the seeds, and stir well to coat. Spread the mixture evenly on the parchment paper, drizzling any remaining oil over the top. Bake until lightly golden and crunchy, about 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes. Turn off the oven, and leave the seeds in the oven for five to 10 more minutes until desired doneness and crispness level is reached. Cooled seeds can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Spicy Salmon Basil Burgers

Yield: Six burgers.

  • 1¾ lbs. wild-caught salmon fillet, skin removed
  • 3½ cups basil leaves, loosely packed
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon zest (zest of 2 lemons)
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup green onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha hot sauce ­(optional)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoons black pepper
  • Oil for the pan (olive, grapeseed, or sunflower)
  • Toasted burger buns, lettuce and tomato slices for serving

Break the salmon into large chunks, and place in a food processor along with basil. Pulse until everything is ­broken down into small pieces. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, green onion, sriracha, salt, sugar and pepper, then pulse until smooth. Divide the mixture into six portions, and shape into patties.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil. When the oil is hot, add the burgers to the pan and cook until the bottoms are golden brown, about two to three minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown. Serve on buns with lettuce and tomato.

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