Cannabis pioneer launches company to unlock the potentials of the endocannabinoid system

Meg Hartley for Leafly
Published on June 29, 2020· Last updated July 28, 2020

Scientists have been articulating the prowess of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) since the ‘80s, yet nearly four decades later, the ECS is hardly covered in medical schools, despite dysfunction of the system being linked to many illnesses. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a system of neurotransmitters and receptors that enables our bodies to benefit from cannabis, and even though medical cannabis is legal in most states, there are only a couple pharmaceuticals on the market that make use of it.

Cannabis has been studied for even longer than the ECS, but we still use the plant rather simplistically. Even though there are many components to cannabis—cannabinoids, terpenes, terpenoids, flavonoids, oh my!—the industry mostly focuses on the cannabinoids THC and CBD, when over 100 compounds have been discovered in the plant.

Luckily, there are people on a mission to elevate this state of affairs. Acclaimed endocannabinoid scientist Ethan Russo has partnered with business aficionado Nishi Whiteley to create CReDO Science, and they’re off to a running start. Their research focuses on how to apply cannabis to balance the health of the ECS and help treat disease, and by creating market-disrupting technologies that utilize this research to create solutions and products (five examples coming up).

CReDO’s mission

As a Leafly reader, you may be familiar with the work of Ethan Russo, as he has been featured in many of our articles (he’s a bit of an ECS rock star). He’s nearing 25 years of experience researching the ECS and cannabis and is also a board-certified neurologist.

The mission of his new company CReDO is, “To commercialize patented products generated from our investigation of the cannabis plant and the endocannabinoid system (ECS), making cannabis safer and better.” According to the company’s website, their moniker reflects the philosophy of innovation as well: “In Latin, CReDO means ‘I believe.’ We maintain that ‘the proof is out there’ for cannabis/hemp-based solutions for better living.”

Talking about the stigma of cannabis and not taking advantage of its potential, Russo said: “What we’re doing is trying to treat disease with at least one of our hands behind our back. It’s a situation where we’re not applying the requisite knowledge to the problems at hand.”

He also went on to say: “It really points out how politics interfere with science and the public good; in this instance, because we’ve really denied ourselves the full benefits of a plant that has so much to offer medically, nutritionally, and as an aid to better living.”

Russo is joined by Nishi Whiteley, a cannabis author and educator with 30 years of business development experience. In addition to stunning business credentials, she is an advocate for cannabis law reform and sits on the board of the Foundation for an Informed Texas, a cannabis advocacy organization.

Products for the endocannabinoid system

The initial efforts of CReDO Science will concentrate in a few areas for which provisional patents are in progress. Russo shared they cannot get too specific when describing most of the products, as they’re still in development: “We’ve got a lot of convergent evolution in science—that’s a fancy way of saying that you can’t have an original idea for long before somebody else will think of the same thing.” But they were able to give us some general scoops.

Here’s what they can reveal:

Disinfectant that works on coronavirus

This product is a disinfectant that’s efficacious enough to kill coronavirus, a great example of using cannabis in a novel fashion, taking advantage of its antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties in an industrial way. “I personally don’t like Clorox, the smell gives me headaches. But there are products that can be made with cannabis in the disinfectant area that would be, I think, aesthetically nicer and potentially even organic,” said Russo.

Diagnostics for diseases of the ECS

CReDO is working on two projects that would diagnose medical conditions related to the ECS. “If there is the potential for products or treatments or profit down the road, that’s nice, but that’s not what keeps me up at night thinking about things; it’s ideas that could help explain what ails us, and what to do about it,” said Russo.

Canna nutritional line

Another product of theirs is a line of cannabis-derived nutritional products (think nutritional bars and capsules) expected to have broad anti-inflammatory effects. The ingredients remain a proprietary secret for now, but they hope to be on the market with full disclosure in the next two to three years. “These would be products that should be saleable anywhere in the US and internationally because they won’t involve the inclusion of nasty [he laughs] THC or anything,” said Russo.

Extraction technique

They’re also working on cannabis extraction hardware that will use a technique to keep more aspects of the plant. “I’m a big proponent of the entourage effect, which requires synergy of terpenoids and cannabinoid components. And yet, many of the extraction techniques really end up wasting, particularly the terpenoid fraction,” said Russo.

This technique would create cannabis products that take advantage of the full power and spectrum of cannabis’ value, allowing us to benefit from terpenes, underutilized cannabinoids, and other components.

Over-the-counter medicine

They had to stay pretty tight-lipped about this one, but according to Russo: “There is a really, really common condition where current products are either toxic or not very effective. We think that we’ve got an effective approach with a cannabis-based product that’s not going to be psychoactive, not subject to any abuse potential.”

Does cannabis make you poo?

By Meg Hartley
Published on April 13, 2020 • Last updated July 28, 2020

Have you ever sat down for a nice session but after a few tokes suddenly have to get up to hit the bathroom? I noticed a connection so I asked the internet, which provided abundant anecdotal evidence, proving I wasn’t alone in my pondering. After I started peeking into what science had to say on the matter, my curiosity only increased.

I did a deep dive into studies on the subject, as well as consulted a couple experts, and it turns out the connection between smoking a bowl and going #2 is no coincidence. Between cannabis calming our nerves, its effect on the gut’s microbiome, and the endocannabinoid system being involved in the activity in this department, it looks like weed can, indeed, make us doodie.

Too stressed to go

I spoke with medical cannabis expert and integrative medicine physician Dustin Sulak, D.O. “Endocannabinoids absolutely do affect motility, both directly and indirectly. The most powerful way in which cannabis could help a person defecate is by helping them to relax and get into a more parasympathetic state,” said Sulak.

Another way to think of a parasympathetic state is “rest and digest,” with defecation being part of the digest aspect. This is opposed to the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body to act quickly. There is an evolutionary reason for not being able to poo while in a fight-or-flight state enacted by the sympathetic nervous system: “If we’re escaping from a bear attacking us, we don’t want to have to defecate,” said Sulak.

He continued, “Conversely, when it’s time to relax and empty our bowels, we don’t want to feel threatened. That has to happen in a place where we feel comfortable. But, unfortunately, a lot of people are taking their stressors around with them, even into the bathroom, with their phones or just in their minds, remaining stressed out, feeling threatened in some way.” 

But cannabis, and endocannabinoids that our bodies produce, can help. “Our inner pharmacy’s version of cannabis, the endocannabinoids, and herbal cannabis, have the ability to suppress this excessive sympathetic activity. So if the fight-or-flight response is turned on too strongly, the right dose of cannabis can suppress it. This is obvious to people who use cannabis to help them relax and find relief from anxiety. The same mechanism would allow someone to shift into rest and digest, or parasympathetic dominance, and get the job done,” he said.

The Goldilocks zone

Endocannabinoids help keep the body in balance. One of those endocannabinoids, 2-AG, is an important physiologic regulator of gastrointestinal motility—i.e., pooping—and behaves like THC. “That’s one of our body’s signaling molecules that mimics THC, or THC mimics it. 2-AG is active in regulating the sympathetic and parasympathetic influence on the gut, and in the gut itself, where it suppresses excessive activity and brings the system into balance,” said Sulak. 

So in this way, cannabis could lead to a deuce by helping keep our nervous system and our gut in the “Goldilocks zone,” or the healthy range of activity.

Cannabis can also help someone get into the needed relaxed state by relieving pain. “When people are in chronic pain, even if it has nothing to do with the rectum—if it’s their foot or their leg or their head—that still creates a kind of threatening internal state. So it can be hard when in pain or feeling anxiety to relax enough to use the bathroom. Cannabis can be very useful for that,” said Sulak.

Dr. Sulak concluded with a word of caution: “For people with constipation not related to stress or pain, cannabis could potentially worsen the issue because it can suppress muscular contractions and secretion in the colon, the same ways in which it can help with diarrhea.”

More on cannabis and BMs

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is also integral to the brain-gut axis, which modulates activity in this realm, including helping people poop. This 2016 study says that the ECS is “An important physiologic regulator of gastrointestinal motility,” meaning bowel movements.

Foremost psychopharmacology researcher Ethan Russo, M.D., also told us, “A lot of people note easier bowel movements after cannabis. This can alleviate both constipation or diarrhea associated with irritable bowel syndrome, a presumptive clinical endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome. THC also positively alters the gut microbiome and this effect should not be discredited.”

Additionally, a 2019 study found that cannabis consumption was associated with a 30% decrease in constipation. 

So, if you’ve ever wondered if there’s a connection between enjoying herb and needing to head for a #2—‘tis not in your imagination. Next time you need a little help, maybe try sparking up a doobie so you can dookie. 

Stay regular, friends.

The ECS and Endocannabinoids: Are We Made for Cannabis? 

Originally published in the now-defunct but beloved Civilized, in early 2019.

Let me ask you a cringe-worthy question, “Have you heard of CBD?”

Of course you have. (It’s already got its own pyramid schemes, for crying out loud.) You’ve probably also heard of THC, three letters cherished throughout the world for the euphoric effects it brings. And you might even know that they are both cannabinoids, active compounds of the cannabis plant, and that there are many many others. 

But did you know that your body makes its own versions of cannabinoids?

True story. They’re called endocannabinoids, and they’ve got a big responsibility. We’ll share how to keep them at their best, but first let’s explore the system that they’re a part of.

The Endocannabinoid System is what Makes Cannabis so Powerful

There’s a network of receptors located throughout your body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and it’s how the cannabinoids in cannabis work their magic. This crucial system was discovered back in 1988; but, in large part due to the illegality and stigma surrounding the plant that it interacts with, it’s tragically understudied and hardly covered in medical school. 

The cannabinoids in cannabis interact with receptors all over the ECS, causing various effects in the system they are located within – and they’re located everywhere. 

We spoke with self-described ‘cannabinoidologist’ Tamás Bíró MD, PhD, DSc, Professor, Director General of the Hungarian Center of Excellence for Molecular Medicine and Director of Applied Research, Phytecs, Inc. who explained, “The ECS is a central player in maintaining and controlling the homeostasis of the human body. As of today, we know that the ECS is functionally active in all organs of the body and controls most of its physiological processes.” 

You read that right, the ECS is active in all organs of the body and controls most of the processes that keep us alive and functioning. It’s global presence in the body is how cannabinoids, like the now-ubiquitous CBD, are able to help treat all kinds of ailments.

But We Also Make Endocannabinoids

It might seem like our bodies were made for weed, but it’s not quite a stoner fantasy of that level. (Still pretty cool though.) Our bodies create molecules called endocannabinoids, the prefix endo– being short for endogenous, that also interact with this system, helping it to promote healthy function throughout the body. 

Though several more have been discovered, two main endocannabinoids are presently being studied. Anandamide was the first to be discovered, named for the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’. The second main endocannabinoid is 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG); whose moniker may not have a charming origin, but has been scientifically linked to feelings of bliss as well; 2-AG’s plasma levels have been found to be elevated after orgasm in both men and women. 

A more well-known byproduct of elevated endocannabinoid levels is the phenomenon of peaceful euphoria often experienced by athletes during intense exercise. As explained to us by Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside School of Medicine, “Levels of endocannabinoids are elevated in blood during running, which may contribute – at least in part – to ‘runner’s high’.”

When Endocannabinoids Can’t do Their Thing, Trouble Arises

The ECS helps promote health throughout the body by encouraging balance in its various functions. Much like we prefer not to be too hot or too cold, the systems in our bodies have “Goldilocks zones” that they perform best at. The endocannabinoids and receptors that make up the ECS help adjust functions so they are just right.

And when this system isn’t able to its job, health can go very awry. As Dr. Bíró puts it, “For the body to stay healthy, it requires a healthy ECS. However, like all equations, ‘healthy ECS = healthy body’ is also valid from the other direction.” He continues talking about the impacts of an unhealthy ECS, “As a consequence; the ECS will be unable to regulate homeostasis, which in turn impairs key physiological functions.” 

So, if you want to get a healthy body – you need to get a healthy ECS.

What Can I do to Improve my ECS Health?

1) Maintain Balance: It makes sense that practicing harmony in one’s lifestyle is the way to keep this system of balance in order. Dr. Bíró continues, “The most important thing you can do to keep the ECS healthy is to avoid the extremes. To name a few examples: avoid extreme and chronic stress, avoid being overweight, control alcohol consumption, and try to curtail dependencies, in general.”

2) …Even When it Comes to Cannabis: Dr. Bíró also notes that while overconsumption of non-endogenous cannabinoids (like those in cannabis) can lead to ECS dysfunction, conversely they can also be used to treat the symptoms that it causes. “One can use carefully selected and properly dosed cannabinoids to substitute for endocannabinoids if their production levels are low.” He also noted that some ratios were more beneficial than others, drawing importance to the use of multiple cannabinoids (not just, say, CBD) as well as why there’s discrepancy among pertinent studies.  

3)  Eat Right and Get Moving: We also spoke with Ethan Russo, MD. of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, who shared, “Lifestyle approaches can be integral to fostering a healthy ECS. These include regular aerobic exercise and following an anti-inflammatory diet; such as a Mediterranean diet, with emphasis on olive oil, fish, seeds and nuts,” also suggesting pro- and prebiotics. He added, “Sedentary behavior is harmful to the ECS, as are foods that are pro-inflammatory, such as fried foods with trans-fats, or too many calories in general.”

To Feel Good, Get Right with Your ECS

The ECS not only makes cannabis so powerful, it’s the system responsible for keeping all the other systems in line. It’s a big deal, even if your doctor isn’t privy to it. 

Dr. Russo continues, “Boosting endocannabinoid tone offers many advantages, by balancing neurotransmitter function in the brain, regulating digestion, and positively influencing overall homeostasis in virtually every physiological system of the body.” He also noted how personal advocacy is important, “People should be encouraged to educate themselves and their doctors on the role of the endocannabinoid system in overall health and its maintenance.”

So if you’re feeling off, consider how balanced your approaches to activities and wellness are; maybe your ECS needs a little TLC. And while you’re restoring balance, a bit of THC, CBD, CBN, or any of the many other cannabinoids out there – just might ease the journey.