Enecta interviews Livio Luongo, researcher at the University of Campania “L. Vanvitelli” of Naples.
With Luongo we’ve been talking about Research, about what has been done in the recent years in relation to the Topic of Cannabis and not only, and about which the future prospects are.
Dr. Luongo, since when have you been studying the endocannabinoid system?
In our Research group we have been studying the lipidergic system for years now and in particular the cannabinoid system, with a special focus on the molecules modulating the endocannabinoid system.
Professor Sabatino Maione is the ‘principal investigator’ of our Research group and has given his contribution in the research area studying the involvement of the cannabinoid system in pathophysiology of chronic pain.
Are we able to mention specific results obtained thus far?
As pharmacologists we have been called to investigate the possible mechanisms of action of medical drugs; this is called pharmacodynamics.
We work with preclinical models of chronic-degenerative pathologies or chronic pathologies like neuropathic pain and other health issues like minor head injuries associated with sensory dysfunctions.
We assess, in particular, the effectiveness and the safety profile of substances which can in some manner change the endogenous tone of cannabinoids.
In the past, we investigated the involvement of the CB2 receptor in neuropathic pain (we are talking about peripheral receptors) and, in collaboration with other international Research groups, we have contributed to the identification of its impact on haematopoietic cells residing in the central nervous system, the microglial cells.
We can state that the stimulation of this receptor with synthetic or natural medicines deriving from Cannabis, along with indirect pharmacological modulation of this receptor represent a useful strategy in treating chronic pain of the neuropathic type.
Today much is being said about Cannabis…
We are dealing with a ‘young’ system compared to other neurotransmission systems which have been discovered.
Just think about the fact that the first identification of THC took place in 1964, while endocannabinoids were identified in 1992 with regard to anandamide and in 1995 with regard to 2-Arachidonoylglycerol.
The characteristic of cannabinoids in general, deriving from membrane phospholipids through a synthesis mediated by specific enzymes, is that they are potentially produced by all cells of our organism.
As a consequence, they can in some way be involved in a series of pathologies and this, obviously, makes study and research more complicated.
Cannabis and its extracts are substances which have a pharmacological effectiveness if taken individually and, in some cases, in combination; just think about the fact that medical drugs have been created based on products derived from Cannabis in combination for the symptomatic treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.
We are dealing with a plant which is some kind of a ‘molecule laboratory’; as of today more than a 100 phytocannabinoids have been identified and, even though not all of them affect the endocannabinoid system, but as they interact with other systems, they could have pharmacological effectiveness.
What we now need are clinical studies, because up to now we have mainly done preclinical or translational studies.
What is the state of Research today and what has to be done?
Research on Cannabis today has a limit which derives from the little research done on humans, for the reason that we are dealing with a plant which contains a psychotropic substance.
A not so recent study conducted by Prof. Maione showed that Cannabidiol possesses analgesic properties and that it is able to strengthen both those endogenous systems which generate analgesic modulation, and the interaction with other systems.
Without a doubt it has a very important potential; today we know Cannabidiol is a medical drug which can, at least in part, resolve epileptic seizures in drug-resistant epilepsy in patients with specific syndromes associated with epilepsy. It certainly is a molecule generating much interest.
How do you imagine the future of Research in the field of Cannabis?
Basic as well as translational and clinical Research are of interest in the study of the cannabinoid system and of products deriving from Cannabis.
A part from the areas of action, in order to obtain concrete results, Research needs three essential elements: basic research, translational research and clinical research; the latter might at the moment represent the missing link for achieving more concrete objectives.
Interview by Giuseppe Cantelmi