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“You don’t need cannabis to impact your endocannabinoid system”

Chief scientific officer at Endoverse, Simon Weissenberger reveals more about a complex and often misunderstood area of medicine.

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Psychologist, researcher and chief scientific officer at Endoverse, Simon Weissenberger, reveals more about a complex and often misunderstood area of medicine: the endocannabinoid system. 

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) was discovered in the early 1990s by Israeli scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, during his research on the cannabis plant and its effects on the mind and body.  

Although the system is inexorably linked with the cannabis plant, its function extends far beyond the plant. The ECS is thought to keep our body in a state of balance both physiologically and cognitively, however, most people have never heard of it.

A Manchester-based company, Endoverse is seeking to educate medical professionals and the general public about the benefits of the recently established field of ‘endocannabinology’ and demonstrate that there is more to this complex system than its association with cannabis.

Existing evidence suggests that endocannabinology could be a useful tool for treating various health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, depression, obesity and other eating disorders.

Since launching in 2019, Endoverse has launched a training course that teaches medical professionals about the system and how they can introduce endocannabinology into their practice. The company is now rolling out a number of new services, including a post-COVID programme that aims to use the ECS to help people overcome the symptoms of Covid-19.

The company also has plans in the works for a new arm of the business which will develop solutions for monitoring the status of the ECS by measuring the level of endocannbinoids in the body.

Chief scientific officer at Endoverse, Simon Weissenberger

Cannabis Health: What is the ECS?

Simon Weissenberger: There are two main receptors that are known – CB1 and CB2.

In the fast-paced, high-stress society that we live in where people are always connected to their phones, we have an overstimulation of the CB1 receptor. This can be associated with anxiety, stress, as well as with things like looking for food or needing a dopamine hit.

The point is to have a balance and overall, in our society today, it’s better to keep CB1 under-stimulated rather than overstimulated. Some of the examples of what helps here, are things like polyunsaturated fatty acids found in oils like olive oil, hemp seed oil and CBD of course.

CB2 is more associated with the immune system which is something that isn’t straightforward or black and white. For instance, it’s not ideal to have an overactive immune system. If your immune system is constantly on the lookout, it’s going to start attacking yourself. This is called autoimmune disorder. 

CBD, for example, tends to lower immune function and that’s why it’s good for something like multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune disorders

CH: Why is the ECS important? 

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SW: The ECS is important because it regulates so many of our physiological functions. 

The ECS is a relatively new discovery in medicine, but it is such a crucial component of everyday health because it regulates things like neural signalling, immune function and a whole variety of things like thermogenesis [maintaining a constant body heat], immunity, homeostatic regulation, hunger, general mood and even pain regulation.

It is a system which is in the background, but there are so many bodily functions, physiological functions and mental health issues that are intrinsically connected to it.

When we take common sense approaches to health and wellbeing like exercise, getting enough sun and diet, it is all intertwined with the balancing of the ECS. 

CH: What is the connection between cannabis and ECS? 

SW: The discovery of the ECS and its importance in overall health came about thanks to the cannabis plant, which has been both a blessing and a curse.

The legality of the cannabis plant varies around the world and it’s mostly illegal, so it gives the system a bad rep and people who are studying it are misperceived. Very often [researchers] are working for the cannabis industry and we have no problem with that whatsoever; we’re just trying to make it a little bit more scientific.

The big myth that we’re trying to debunk is that you need cannabis in order to impact your ECS. The basic fact is that the ECS is associated more with fatty acid metabolism in our body than it is with the cannabis plant.

CH: Aside from cannabis what other factors can come into play? 

SW: Exercise, diet and overall lifestyle all play a significant role.

We want to move the perception away from cannabis equalling the ECS, get the public to understand how other factors play a part, and then introduce certain health, counselling and dietary interventions to improve people’s wellbeing.

CH: What role do fatty acids play in the ECS? 

SW: The power that fatty acids have on our health is immense and they are essential for the ECS.

The ligands (fat) connect to the receptors and are the building blocks of the ECS; the ECS needs that fat to be built. 

We’re focusing on educating the public about the fact that fats and fatty acids are necessary for human health. There are these misconceptions that low fat diets are good for you. But most people don’t know that there is a biosynthesis effect, so even if you are eating a low-fat diet, your body is producing fat and saturated fat. 

CH: Your primary focus of research is ADHD. Where does the ECS fit into this area of your work?

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SW: There were claims made in the past about omega 3 supplements, and how they help with ADHD. There is now research to confirm that. If you supplement with omega 3 and you take your normal medication, you will have a better outcome than somebody who, for example, is just taking Ritalin and not eating well.

Changing diet and integrating exercise are examples of things that people can do to improve their symptoms of ADHD. We now know that these factors are working on the ECS. 

CH: What is the potential of the ECS moving forward? 

SW: There is definitely a huge potential and I see it primarily on two fronts.

Number one is the research aspect, so understanding in greater depth how this complex system works and how we can improve our health, while being cognisant of the ECS.

The second is just as important, which is delivering therapeutic interventions for people that are aware of the ECS. It is a shame that it has been ignored for so long.

CH: Why has the ECS flown under people’s radar for the past three decades? 

SW: One of the main reasons is that its discovery is so recent. In medicine and science, you work on the shoulders of giants. We knew that there were some receptors that connect with cannabis, but then all of a sudden, we’re hearing that these are actually fundamental. It’s like discovering a hidden treasure which you have been trained not to look at.

We know more about the ECS now, but it is still not in the paradigm of medicine yet. The thing that is hard to get with the system is that it’s all-encompassing, but it’s also subtle. 

 I’ve spoken to medical doctors who say you need to decondition from standard medical training which is based on very black and white thinking. You need to get away from that and start thinking more holistically and that when it starts to make more sense. 

CH: What do Endoverse’s training courses for medical professionals entail?

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SW: Our training focuses on the physiology of the ECS and helps medical professionals understand what is regulated by the ECS in the human body, in what way and what the impacts are on the functioning of the system.

CH: Who can take the courses and what can participants do with the qualification?

SW: People who take our courses should already have some background in either medicine or counselling; something with a scientific background. 

Through learning about the ECS, you gain the knowledge you need to integrate endocannabinology within your field. 

For example, a client who is in counselling which integrates the Endoverse model would have blood tests, they would have a diet log, and we would take all that into account within the framework. It could be somebody who has low self-esteem along with some health issues. We would work with their diet and the ECS and maybe introduce CBD as well.

CH: What projects do you have coming up? 

SW: One of the relevant things I will be focusing on is the post Covid or ‘long Covid’ symptoms, and how they can be managed passively by endocannabinoids like CBD and things like this, but also how these are impacting the ECS and how is it related.

Up to 60 percent of people who experienced Covid-19, have some kind of prolonged symptoms that might be manifested as insomnia, anxiety, breathing problems, and so on. These people need some kind of post-Covid care.

We are preparing post-Covid online programs, individual and group consultations and we are working on a post-Covid retreat.

CH: What is Endoverse’s vision? 

SW: The vision is to educate the public on the ECS, and to provide certain interventions or ways that we can look at balancing the ECS holistically – through fatty acids for diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes.

 

The UK’s first organisation dedicated to the study of Endocannabinology, Endoverse is on a mission to simplify food supplement messaging and debunk myths surrounding hemp seed oil and CBD.

Anyone who wants to learn more can contact Endoverse at company@endoverse.com

Advocacy

Emigration: “I tried cannabis again and I noticed that I was in less pain when I took it.”

In a new series, we speak to Irish cannabis patients about their decision to emigrate in search of easier, safer cannabis access.

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Emigration: A stack of suitcases against a window revealing a sunset and a plane

In a new series, Cannabis Health News talks to people who have experienced emigration in search of safe, legal cannabis access.

Our previous stories have focused on the difficulty of packing your entire life into boxes and emigrating with your family to a new country for access. However, there is another side to emigration: the potential for return.

What happens once you are a medical cannabis patient in another country and need to travel home?

The returning Irish from emigration in the past few years has hit record numbers. As people settle into life away from home, it gets harder to return. Travel options have never been easier with several flights to and from Ireland daily from all over the country, ferry options and failing that, zoom calls are a vast improvement on Skype.

COVID lockdowns meant that it’s been a difficult year for travel. Families who have experienced emigration may not have seen in their families since the beginning of the crisis. Now thanks to vaccines, travel is starting to become a possibility again.

This leaves medical cannabis patients in a confusing situation. What do you do if you have a prescription in one country yet need to go to another?

Joe’s story

This is the situation *Joe is in. This is not his real name but he has asked to remain anonymous due to the persisting negative attitudes towards cannabis which he is prescribed for debilitating arthritis.

“I have since the age of 14 suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. I also suffer from sciatica. I played rugby six days a week for my school, worked on the family farm and lived a full and normal life. My body then changed and while initially my shoulders were affected but then my knees. It felt like someone was trying to tear my arms from their sockets and that I had broken glass in my knees. That was 36 years ago.”

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a person’s joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common forms of the condition. It can start when a person is between 40 and 50 years old although it also affects children and teenagers.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system targets affected joints causing pain and swelling. The outer covering of the joint is the first place to be affected before it spreads across the joint leading to further swelling and a change in shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. People with rheumatoid arthritis may also develop problems with other tissues and organs.

The Irish Children’s Arthritis Network (iCAN) estimates there are over one thousand children and teenagers currently diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.

Emigration return

Emigration in Ireland soared in the 1980s as a result of a harsh recession and lack of jobs. It is estimated that during the ten years of the 1980s, 206,000 more people left Ireland.  Like a lot of Irish teenagers unable to find work and looking to leave home, Joe decided to leave Ireland for the UK. While working on a building site, he encountered other workers using cannabis.

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“Although I had my condition to contend with it, my symptoms were at their worst in autumn and winter and I went to the UK in the summer to work on building sites (I had no idea my short visit would last 33 years and counting.”

“I was brought up in Ireland with typical conservative social values. Many fellow workers on site were smoking cannabis but I had no interest and indeed felt it was both inherently morally wrong as well as being illegal.”

“For months my fellow workers would say to try some. I relented when we were out together one night as I had a few drinks so my guard was down. I smoked some cannabis. I was violently ill. I did not know that smoking cannabis with drink would have such an immediate and obvious effect.”

Emigration: A red Irish passport sitting on a black bag

Emigration, cannabis and pain

Joe began to feel more pain as winter began and his joints reacted to the cold. Despite his illness the first time, he tried cannabis again and noticed an effect on his pain levels. His quality of life began to improve and he started to make positive changes.

“I tried cannabis again a few weeks later and by this time the winter was in full flow and my bones were aching. I noticed that I was in less pain when I took it. I prayed for guidance on the issue and felt it was not a sin for me to use cannabis because it was helping to alleviate my symptoms.”

“I then started to use cannabis more frequently. When I reached 19, I no longer needed to take my prescription and I was able to cancel an appointment for injections. As my condition had relented I was able to reengage with my passion for sport and would swim a mile per day, cycle to and from work and work as a scaffolder during the day.”

“I studied A levels at night school. I returned to studies as I felt if my condition worsened I would not be able to engage in physical labour and I also had a calling to be a lawyer. Anyone who has handled scaffolding tube on a cold winters day will also understand why I felt a move indoors could be a welcome change.”

Joe did well enough in his A levels to gain a place to study law at university. He qualified as a solicitor and worked at one of the top regional practices in the country. He had the honour of meeting Irish President Mary McAleese on one of her trips to Manchester. He credits being able to live such a full life to the benefits of cannabis.

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Breaking the law

However, he was starting to worry about what could happen if his use was to become public knowledge. Especially as someone working in law.

“Cannabis had managed my condition so effectively that I was able to play football for the corporate team and had no outwards signs which could not be dismissed as being down to simple stiffness. I was concerned however that should my use of cannabis become public knowledge my career would be brought to an abrupt end.

“I was leading a double life – cannabis at the time was dismissed as having no medical use and I was afraid no-one would believe me if I said I was taking it for my arthritis.”

Joe stopped using cannabis for three years as he became fed up with breaking the law. He had also noticed attempts to change the law in regards to medical cannabis and wanted to see if he could access it legally. But his symptoms flared up as a result of him stopping his treatment.

“During my cannabis break however my arthritis flared up with a vengeance. Although now prescribed methotrexate, sulfasalazine and naproxen. During my near 30 year use of cannabis prior to this point, I needed no other drugs. Significant bone erosion occurred in this 3 year period.”

“My hands and feet were badly affected and I was unable to form a fist with either hand for about 2 years. I had to stop playing classic guitar. In addition to studying law, I also studied music and played guitar in ensembles and gave performances with others in my spare time so losing the ability to play was quite hard to take”

Joe was delighted when his prescription for cannabis was approved. After taking it for about a year, he found his condition far more under control and began to come off some of the drugs he had been prescribed. He was also able to play the guitar again.

One of the biggest things, he notes, is the feeling of being able to access his medication responsibly and not break the law.

“Cannabis, for me, does have limitations. Once I take it, I won’t drive for the rest of the day. It can give me mood swings although nothing too extreme. I can be grumpier in the mornings. I am mindful that all drugs have their side effect. I am losing my hair due to methotrexate which gives me a number of bladder issues as well as nausea.”

Emigration: two hands packing a suitcase with clothes ready to travel

Emigration and settling

Although Joe is happily settled in the UK with no plans to move home, he still has family in Ireland who he would like to visit. This presents him with an issue, how to pack his prescription?

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Going without cannabis while abroad can result in a lot of pain as Joe discovered when he stopped taking it. However, bringing it with him can result in having to again break the law. The other alternative is accessing the black market which is not safe for patients.

“My elderly parents live in Ireland and I would love to visit them. Ireland’s policy on drugs is different to that of the UK. There is nothing unusual about this as individuals states have their own laws. The UN passed the psychoactive Substances Convention in 1971. The Convention enables international travellers to bring their medication with them to other jurisdictions, even though they have different drug policies. Ireland is a signatory to this convention. The Irish State also supplies details of who to write to seek prior approval for the carriage of controlled drugs.”

Seeking approval

Joe has started an email and letter campaign of writing for help. He is not the only Irish person in the UK who has experienced emigration and wants to travel home. He encourages others to get involved.

“I have on many occasions asked both the relevant Secretary for Health and the Minister for Health for permission to travel to Ireland with my cannabis prescription and for clarification of Ireland’s drug policy for tourists and have pointed out the large numbers of people who could be affected. It’s not just persons prescribed cannabis if Customs is going to seize all controlled drugs.”

“Although nearly 6 months have passed, I am yet to receive either a formal approval or rejection of my request to travel home. In the meantime, my parents are of course getting older as indeed am I.”

There are also other concerns about using cannabis medicine while in another country besides emigrating.

Joe cautions: “To anyone who is thinking of just leaving their cannabis medication at home in the UK and then driving in Ireland, please bear in mind that in addition to dealing with withdrawal symptoms you may also fail a roadside drugs test.”

“It’s not at all clear that you will have a medical defence to a drug driving charge in Ireland. Thus if you want to travel lawfully with a car, consider not taking your cannabis prescription for sufficient time to pass a drug driving test, but obviously, this is impractical for sick people who are only granted a prescription for cannabis where other medicines haven’t worked.”

Joe advises that those thinking of travelling to Ireland with their prescriptions for CBMP should seek approval for their medication. This can be done by writing to the Controlled Drugs Unit in Dublin.

Catch up on part two: Adrienne’s story in our series on medical cannabis and emigration.

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CBD and gaming: Could CBD help you level up?

When it comes to gaming, could CBD give you a competitive edge? Always Pure Organics’ Sally Dempster explores the benefits.

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Always pure organics

Always Pure Organics’ Sally Dempster explores the CBD trend within gaming.

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Gaming Community

The gaming community is growing exponentially, from people playing casually with friends to professional esports competitors, all of whom are contributing to the phenomenal 1.8 billion (US) dollar industry. Especially with the lockdown conditions of Covid-19, the gaming industry has seen a huge surge in revenue and time spent video gaming- increasing by double digits in all regions. The increased amount of time spent gaming can sometimes lead to health problems; frequent players often report physical aches and pains, altered sleep cycles, stress and anxiety. Many of these health problems can be caused by the prolonged periods of time spent at a console or in front of a screen.

Physical aches and pains from gaming can manifest themselves in a variety of forms including carpal tunnel syndrome, gamer’s thumb, and tennis elbow. Avid gamers can sometimes fall prone to these problems which cause inflamed muscles, nerves, or tendons due to overuse.

Whilst cannabidiol (CBD) cannot cure the underlying damage caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, gamer’s thumb or tennis elbow, it may help to reduce overall swelling and it has been shown in studies to relieve inflammation. Research on CBD has also shown that the Cannabis sativa extract may, in some cases, be beneficial as a method of pain relief. Using CBD as a form of pain management could help to relieve pain from gaming conditions, enabling players to be more stress-free and relaxed throughout the natural healing process. It is important to note that using CBD as a method of pain management for acute pain will not result in instant healing; users should be aware that any decrease in pain does not equate to a fully healed injury.

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Gaming: Two men holding gaming devices playing a football game on the Tv

Read more: How medical cannabis could help with rare skin conditions

Gaming and scientific debates

There are ongoing scientific debates as to whether video games induce stress or whether they help to manage and reduce it. The answer to this debate perhaps depends on the level of investment that the player has in the game. Players who spend less time gaming or who only play for recreational and social purposes, for example, are less likely to get stressed during play compared to high stakes players or career gamers.

Evidence points towards CBD having a calming effect on the central nervous system. Taking CBD before gaming may help pre-emptively mitigate stressful feelings, this is due to the fact that CBD is a neurotransmitter that will bind to receptors in the brain. These bindings displace any anxiety-inducing neurotransmitters and stop them from binding to the receptor, which helps to restore equilibrium in the brain.

A recent study determined that video games do affect the stress system, in addition to the cognitive system of humans depending on the game style. Fear inciting games, which feature genres such as, survival, action, and psychological horror is more prone to elicit feelings of stress and tension. The research also demonstrated that the type and level of stress triggered in the players depend on the game style (Aliyari et al., 2021).

Esport competitions have closely monitored regulations regarding doping. Competitions adhere to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances; players found breaking these regulations could find themselves (and their teammates) banned from competing. Cannabidiol is the only cannabinoid compound found in cannabis permitted in esport competitions.

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Although WADA has removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances it is still advised that competitors using the extract choose CBD products carefully as some broad-spectrum products contain low levels of THC which is still a banned substance in esports competitions.

As the number of gamers increases and the industry grows, player gaming injuries will become more prevalent; extracts such as CBD may prove useful in mitigating these issues. Cannabidiol could, in some cases, also aid with the reduction of stress created when playing video games. Especially at high levels of competitive esports, there is an intense amount of pressure on the players to perform; now that WADA has approved CBD for use in competitions it may be able to minimise players’ feelings of stress and anxiety while gaming.

Read more: When should you consider medical cannabis?

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CBD may reduce side effects associated with anti-seizure medications.

Could CBD help with the side effects of anti-seizure medications for people with epilepsy?

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Anti seizure medication: A brown pill bottle on its side with white pills spilling out against a blue background

A study published in the journal, Epilepsy and Behaviour examined CBD’s potential impact on anti-seizure medications for people with epilepsy.

There are 600,0000 people living with Epilepsy in the UK. It’s one of the most common nervous system disorders affecting people of all ages. It’s a neurological condition that can result in seizures. Treatment for epilepsy can include anti-seizure medication, diet therapy such as the ketogenic diet and surgery.

The side effects of medication can include dizziness, nausea, headaches, fatigue, vertigo and blurred vision.

There are medications such as Epidolex prescribed for rare seizure disorders such as Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. However, it is not approved for other forms of epilepsy. There are around 60 different types of seizures and it is possible to have more than one type. Seizures can vary depending on where in the brain they are happening.

The study

Researchers at John Hopkins Medicine in collaboration with the Realm of Caring Foundation and other institutions conducted the observational study.

They analysed data collected between April 2016 and July 2020 from 418 patients. The participants included 71 adults with epilepsy who used artisanal CBD products for medicinal purposes and 209 who were caregivers of children or adults who also used artisanal CBD. The control group of 29 adults with epilepsy who were considering CBD and 109 caregivers who were interested in it for dependent children or adults.

Participants were asked to fill in a survey and answer questions about their quality of life, anxiety, depression and sleep. They were also given follow up surveys every three months for over a year.

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Read more: Can CBD help me sleep?

Anti seizure medication: A golden bottle of oil against a green background with a dropper dripping oil into the bottle.

The results

In comparison with the control group, artisanal CBD users reported 13 percent lower epilepsy medication-related adverse effects. They also had 21 percent greater psychological health satisfaction at the beginning of the study.

Their anxiety was recorded as being 19 percent lower and depression was 17 percent. Both the adult and youth groups reported better quality sleep than the control group.

The caregivers of patients currently using CBD reported 13 percent less stress and burden in comparison with the control group. Patients in the control group who started using artisanal CBD reported improvements in their physical and psychological health. They also self-recorded reductions in anxiety and depression.

Reactions

Participants were asked to record possible adverse effects related to their CBD use. Among all of the participants, 79 percent did not report any effects.

Of the remaining participants, 11 percent reported potential drowsiness, 4 percent said their symptoms may have gotten worse, 3 percent had concerns about the legality and 4 percent worried about the cost of the profits.

The researchers reported that further research is needed to understand how the findings could be applied to patients. They also stated that patients should consult with their doctor before trying CBD products.

Read more: When should you consider medical cannabis?

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