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.
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?
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?
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?
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 email@example.com
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