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Thumbnail image of Expert Prof. Saoirse O'Sullivan leaning on a railing, smiling at camera.


A Conversation with Prof. Saoirse O'Sullivan

We chat to our resident pharmacologist Professor Saoirse O’Sullivan, who brings over 15 years of Cannabinoid expertise to Dragonfly, about all things CBD!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into researching cannabinoids? My degree and PhD are actually in physiology with a focus on the cardiovascular system. When I was looking for postdoctoral positions after my PhD, I saw a project that was investigating the effects of cannabinoids on arterial tone (how relaxed or contracted an artery is). I was drawn to the project by the technique involved, which looked at individual arteries on a machine called a myograph, but very quickly found that I really enjoyed learning about cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. I also really enjoyed doing pharmacology research, and had excellent mentors and collaborators at the University of Nottingham (Prof Michael Randall, Prof Dave Kendall, Dr Stephen Alexander, Dr Andy Bennett and Prof Victoria Chapman to name a few). This was in 2002, of course, so it was still pretty early days in terms of our knowledge of cannabinoid pharmacology. Nonetheless, I was incredibly excited to be involved in a research area that felt like there was still so much to learn about.

What has kept you interested in the field for so long?

There are actually many reasons that I really love this subject area. As I mentioned, I have always been really stimulated by the fact that it is still such an evolving area and we are making new discoveries every day. Because the endocannabinoid system is expressed in every cell in our body, it also means that I get to do research into lots of different bodily systems, which appeals to me as a physiologist. But mainly, I see real potential with cannabis-based medicines to significantly improve the lives of people with long-term chronic illnesses*. My single goal now in my career is to increase the evidence base on the clinical potential of cannabis-based medicines.

What do you think is the most common misunderstanding people have of the Cannabis plant?

This is great question and I actually think there are many misunderstandings about the Cannabis plant, but the one that bothers me the most is when people don’t differentiate between the effects and risks of recreational cannabis use with medicinal Cannabis use. On too many occasions, these conversations get muddled when we need to consider these uses of Cannabis separately.

Illustration showing CB1 and CB2 Receptors

How different is CBD to THC?

CBD and THC are really interesting because they have many similarities and many differences. The main difference between CBD and THC is that CBD does not activate the CB1 or CB2 receptor (at least not directly).  Activation of CB1 is the way THC brings about its biological effects like euphoria and appetite stimulation, which means that CBD does not have these effects. While many of the side effects of cannabis-based medicines are associated with the THC content – such as euphoric or dysphoric effects, mild sedation and mental cloudiness – these side effects tend to be absent with CBD. This is one of the reasons people choose CBD-based products.

How does CBD work within the body?

From a pharmacology point of view, CBD is a really interesting chemical because it interacts with many different protein receptors and enzymes in the body, which help to bring about the various effects of CBD. Some of the main ways that CBD is known to act include activating the serotonin receptor, inhibiting the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme, and inhibiting endocannabinoid degradation. Another way in which CBD works in the body is to inhibit the enzyme that normally breaks down our endocannabinoids. In this way, CBD indirectly increases endocannabinoid activity.

How would you recommend taking CBD oil?

CBD has low oral bioavailability, (which means that it does not easily enter into our bloodstream when taken orally), because it is a highly lipophilic (fat loving) compound. The absorption of cannabinoids is better in the mouth, which is why it is recommended to take CBD oil under the tongue where there are many tiny blood vessels that can absorb CBD into your bloodstream. Taking CBD after a meal can also improve its absorption.

What would you recommend people look for when buying CBD oil over-the-counter?

Published studies from other countries cast doubt over the quality of some over the counter CBD products. In the US, only 31% of products tested were accurately labelled for CBD content (within 10%). In the Netherlands, only 5 of 46 products were within 10% of the labelled CBD content. In Italy, only 5 of 14 were within 10% of the CBD labelled content.

Why do you choose to work with DragonflyCBD?

I choose to work with Dragonfly because they produce a high-quality product that I feel comfortable recommending. Their products have guaranteed accuracy of CBD and are tested by independent laboratories.

 *DragonflyCBD is a food supplement and not a Cannabis-based medicine designed to treat medical conditions