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Is this ancient system the secret to the modern health crisis?

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Dr Ranna is chief medical officer at cannabis education company Endoverse

Thirty years after its discovery, a UK company seeks to drive awareness of the endocannabinoid system and train medical professionals in the newly found field of ‘Endocannabinology’.

Research has linked the endocannabinoid system to sleep, fertility, stress, nerve function, digestion, appetite, metabolism, mood and inflammation. But most people have never heard of it.

Former vascular specialist, Dr Ranna is Chief Medical Officer at Endoverse, a company on a mission to educate the general public and inform medical professionals about the benefits of endocannabinology – the study of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The endocannabinoid system is a lipid signalling system which takes care of the body’s homeostasis, or its ability to maintain a stable internal state. The ECS achieves this through the activation of receptors; the most well-known being CB1, which is found in various organs in the body, and CB2, which is primarily affects the body’s immune system.

As the UK’s first organisation dedicated to balancing the endocannabinoid system, the company hopes to recruit medical professionals in the UK to take part in training programmes and gain a certification in the emerging field of ‘endocannabinology’.

Speaking to Cannabis Health, Dr Ranna explains: “ECS is involved with every function in our body and the balance of it is directly related to our health status.”

As the ECS was only discovered 30 years ago, academic understanding of it remains incomplete and there is still very little public understanding of how it affects the body and the mind.

Although the ECS was discovered as a result of research into THC, cannabis is just one of many ways to affect the function of the ECS.

In fact, Dr Ranna says that amongst the medical community, one of the main reasons it is misunderstood is because of its association with the controversial plant. But she asserts that it has “nothing to do with cannabis except in name”.

Dr Ranna says: “The complexity [of ECS] means that searching for evidence is complicated and the knowledge base surrounding the system is expanding every day.

“ECS is not only CB1, CB2 receptors and endocannabinoids. There is a growing family of other receptors and active molecules, including gut and microbiome, involved.”

Existing data suggests that the ECS is linked with a number of chronic health conditions. For example, there is strong evidence that the ECS is connected with epilepsy and metabolic syndrome.

For a short time, a medicine called Rimonabant was used for the treatment of metabolic syndrome. The substance blocked CB1 receptors which are primarily found in the brain as well as other parts of the body such as the liver.

Although the treatment successfully reduced appetite, cravings and fat, it had adverse side effects which increased anxiety and depression. It was quickly withdrawn for these reasons, however it proved that the CB1 receptors are involved in the regulation of metabolism.

Dr Ranna highlights a number of theories that suggest some illnesses are connected to the under-activation and over-activation of the ECS.

Modern western lifestyles are commonly associated with high levels of stress, unhealthy diets and a relatively sedentary day-to-day life. This is thought to result in the over-activation of the body’s ECS.

Looking back circa 500 million years ago, when scientists believe the ECS first began to develop, humans lived very different lives, with an inconsistent source of food and challenging environmental conditions.

Dr Ranna explains: “For the majority, the endocannabinoid system’s existence helped us to survive.

“In the environment of unstable food intake, the energy conserving role of CB1 receptors developed. Activation of CB1 receptors increase hunger, attractiveness of fat and sweet food, fat accumulation and insulin secretion.

“It encourages reward seeking behaviour – we feel good after eating the food and I am sure ancient people felt great after hunting a mammoth.

“The up-activation, when there was enough food, was needed to store fat for tougher times. Episodes of up and down activation were changing according to access to food through the year.”

Flashforward to 2020 and we are in a completely different world, where for most people, real hunger is rarely experienced.

Dr Ranna says the continuous offer of food chronically over-activated our ECS, leaving humans in a “pitfall” of over-activation.

Thankfully, rebalancing the endocannabinoid system is simple. Regular exercise and adopting techniques for controlling stress helps the body achieve homeostasis and improve overall health.

Scientists believe the most important factor for balancing the ECS, however, is diet. A change in eating habits to incorporate more nutritious foods with low processed fat and sugar levels has been shown to help treat metabolic syndrome, anxiety, depression, autoimmune diseases and many more conditions.

Dr Ranna explains: “The ECS is a lipid system. It means that our own endocannabinoids are produced from fatty acids, such as omega 6 and omega 3. Some of these are essential, meaning out body is not able to produce them, and so we have to eat them.

“Western diet contains a large amount of saturated and trans fatty acids, but there is a lack of polyunsaturated acids (PUFAs). Generally, we need to eat PUFAs in a ratio of between 3:1 and 5:1.”

For Dr Ranna, key to improving public health and reducing cases of obesity is taking more responsibility as individuals and educating children from a younger age.

“As individuals we all have a part to play and must take more responsibility for our own health,” Dr Ranna adds.

“There are many people who already do, but we all have a chance to live healthier lives.

“We need to teach our children how to cook and eat properly, deal with stress and take care of themselves. Once they learn ways to balance their ECS in their childhood, they will not have to face an over activation in the future.”

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