It is crucial to realize that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an integral part of regulating many bodily functions. There are very few physiological processes that are not impacted by the ECS to some degree, including but not limited to: pain, emotion, movement, digestion, skin health, and even bone health. Despite the prominence and importance of the ECS as an essential regulatory mechanism in the body’s biochemistry and physiology, the basic machinery of everyday life, it is astonishing to realize that the ECS was completely unknown until three decades ago. Unfortunately, due to a lack of appropriate education on the topic in medical schools, most physicians are not aware of the ECS and its importance. This is a knowledge deficit that must be filled so that the lessons of the ECS can be properly leveraged to benefit the public health, with cannabis-based products, or other herbal treatments or diet.
The prefix “endo-” refers to the inside or innermost part of something. The name for ECS comes from the presence of compounds in all higher animals that are chemically similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the phyto- (plant) cannabinoid. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in the Cannabis sativa plant, more commonly known as marijuana. The inner cannabinoids were discovered while researching the properties of THC.
Professor Di Marzo summarized the basic functions of the ECS in 1998 as “relax, eat, sleep, forget, and protect.”