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The Endocannabinoid System

A cartoon doctor holding a cannabis briefcase with the words 'endocannabinoid system' with a quote that says, 'everything in the human body is connected, and the ECS is the glue.' by Dr. Ethan Russo.
Are you looking for a deeper understanding of your body? How about a 'secret' system that the majority of primary care physicians were never taught in medical school? If so, then it's time to introduce you to your complex and amazing Endocannabinoid System (ECS)!

The ECS is responsible for modulating various biological processes in the body such as appetite, mood regulation, inflammation, pain sensation and more! Dr. Russo says, "Everything in the body is connected, and this system is the glue."


Table of Contents

Scientific Definition

The Endocannabinoid System, defined scientifically, is a biological management system composed of endogenous neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoid receptor proteins expressed throughout the vertebrate, central, and peripheral nervous systems.

The problem with this definition is few people understand what it means. 

So, let’s simplify it.

Comprehensive Explanation

Humans and every single animal with a spine have an Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS contains neurotransmitters called cannabinoid receptors (CBR). You can find CBRs throughout the body with more concentrated cannabinoid receptor regions in the brain and spine.

Understanding this description, you can see how precisely designed our bodies are to be able to interact with specific compounds (cannabinoids) naturally derived from cannabis plants.

The primary role of the ECS is to promote homeostasis between several vital biological systems within the body.

There is a saying that goes, “Happy ECS, Happy Body.”; insinuating the direct correlation that if your ECS is functioning as it should, you will also have a properly working body achieving complete homeostasis within.

The Discovery Of The Endocannabinoid System

In 1964, the groundbreaking discovery of Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol opened a new world in cannabis research.

This was followed by the landmark identification of Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in 1988 as an intricate network regulating homeostasis- balancing physiological processes within our bodies.

Chapter 3 of the Medical Cannabis Handbook For Healthcare Professionals indicates that the ECS is the largest receptor system and the master regulator of homeostasis in the human body where Phytocannabinoids and Endocannabinoids interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors to treat a vast number of illnesses.

Undoubtedly, this will usher mankind into a novel era where modern medicine is enriched through advanced plant science!

Or, will it?

Since this massive discovery happened in 1988, lets see if the medical society has adopted this vital biological management system into their medical textbooks by conducting a quick Google search,

Is the Endocannabinoid System taught in medical school?

If you click the link above, you’ll readily see that the answer is NO.

The search results were alarming.  You’ll find hundreds of articles and quotes from Doctors speaking about the injustice and downright criminality of the ECS not being taught to our future medical professionals.

Well, if it’s not being taught in medical school, is the ECS really that important?

How Important Is The ECS? Answered By Medical Professionals

Before we list quotes from licensed physicians, lets cover the underlying question of whether or not there has been sufficient RELIABLE research into cannabis, cannabinoids, marijuana, and the endocannabinoid system.

Here is a photo I took from an article posted by the Society of Cannabis Clinicians where it shows the actual number of research studies already performed. 

Evidence of thousands of clinical research studies already performed on cannabis and the endocannabinoid system

Um, yeah. We could probably acknowledge its importance if institutions are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per test.

The research seems to be well documented, so let’s see what some of the most notable doctors are saying about the ECS and it’s importance.

Dr. Ethan Russo

Neglecting to educate medical professionals on the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is inexcusable, as it lies at the core of our physiology. Omitting this crucial information from healthcare curriculums strips away critical knowledge for treating patients and leaves a significant gap in trust between science and society.

Dr. Tom Folan

Board-certified with the American Board of Radiology (ABR), member of the Association of Cannabis Specialists (ACS) and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM)

When commenting on the medical society not teaching the ECS to doctors and medical students, Dr. Folan states:

“It is absolutely criminal that we have physicians graduating medical schools like I did without learning a single thing about one of the largest systems in our body.”

What We Learned So Far

  • You’ve learned what the Endocannabinoid System is from both a comprehensive and scientific perspective.
  • You’ve learned when the ECS was discovered and what led to its discovery.
  • You’ve learned that the medical society has not deemed the ECS important enough to teach future medical professionals about it
  • You’ve learned that there are currently tens-of-thousands of clinical research studies on the efficacy and safety of using Cannabis in medicine.
  • You’ve learned from medical professionals (in their own words) share their expert opinion on how essential the ECS is to both medicine professionals and the overall well-being mankind.

Let’s keep the ECS learning party going, shall we?

The following topics will be a deeper dive into the actual components of the ECS, Endocannabinoid Deficiency, and several Clinical Studies worth mentioning.

Biological and Synthetic Cannabinoids

There are two types of cannabinoids, biological (natural) and synthetic.

Synthetic cannabinoids are cannabinoids created in a laboratory, and living entities, such as plants, create biological cannabinoids.

Science has identified two types of natural cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids and  Phytocannabinoids.

Understanding the similarities and differences between Endocannabinoids and Phytocannabinoids is essential for understanding their medicinal effects on the endocannabinoid system.

As with any scientific concept, we must begin by defining terms.


Endo means “of/from within.” 

Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced within the human body.

Currently, science has identified 16 Endocannabinoids, each involved in tuning many cognitive and physiological processes. However, gaps in our knowledge exist due to a half-century ban on scientists pursuing truth on cannabinoids produced biologically.


Phyto means “of/from a plant.” 

Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced within plants, cannabis flowers specifically.

Currently, 151 of these have been identified, with many potentially offering therapeutic value. Still, a half-century prohibition of pursuing truth on the therapeutic potential of these molecules has resulted in gaps in our knowledge in this area.

The Potential Medicinal & Therapeutic Value of the ECS

The easiest way of conceptualizing why phytocannabinoids have therapeutic value is that phytocannabinoids interact both directly and indirectly with the same cannabinoid receptors that comprise the endocannabinoid system in the same way as the Endocannabinoids.

For more clarity, the molecular structures of phytocannabinoids are incredibly similar to the molecular structures of the Endocannabinoids that our bodies produce. Thus, phytocannabinoids have an affinity for (are attracted to) the cannabinoid receptors within the ECS.

Phytocannabinoids To Support Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD)

As we age, natural and harmful environmental factors impact our bodies. These expected and unexpected impacts can make a person deficient in particular Endocannabinoids (Endocannabinoid Deficiency), and can also cause certain functions within the Immune, Digestive, or Central nervous system can become compromised.  

As this occurs, science now acknowledges the possibility of supplementing the deficiency or broken function by introducing the body via inhalation or ingestion of the equivalent or similar chemical compound (phytocannabinoid) to help up-regulate or down-regulate the overexcited or under-excited Endocannabinoids to help balance out the deficiencies and support homeostasis throughout your body.

Clinical Research Studies

Here are some notable studies that highlight the importance of a properly functioning Endocannabinoid System.

  1. Katchan et al. (2016) research reveal that most autoimmune disorders are endocannabinoid deficiency.


  2. Dawson (2018) expanded and expounded on the research of Katchan to demonstrate diabetes is a deficiency of an endocannabinoid called virodhamine, an endocannabinoid critical in inhibiting appetite, regulating blood sugar levels, and reducing the body’s resistance to insulin.


  3. Research conducted by Carnevale et al. (2018) demonstrates the phytocannabinoid equivalent of the endocannabinoid Virodhamine is Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). When ingested in low doses, THCV inhibits appetite, regulates blood sugar levels, and reduces the body’s resistance to insulin. See THCV gummies to learn more.


Other endocannabinoid-phytocannabinoid equivalents have been identified as well! Check out some of these examples below:

  • Suppose you have a deficiency of the endocannabinoid called 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). In that case, you may be able to supplement the lack of 2-AG by ingesting its phytocannabinoid equivalent, cannabidiol (CBD), as both interact with the body’s CBRs in the same way.


  • Suppose you have a deficiency of the endocannabinoid called anandamide (AEA). In that case, you may be able to alleviate by supplementing with AEAs phytocannabinoid equivalent, Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).


The theory of phytocannabinoid supplementation for treating endocannabinoid deficiency disorders explains the “how” and the “why” botanic cannabinoid medicines may have incredible therapeutic value.

Concluding Thoughts

Research into the Endocannabinoid System is still in its infancy due to the prohibition of research. Upper-echelon influencers and politics continue to block research on the efficacy of natural medicines, making it difficult for scientists to pursue truth in this area.

By opening the doors to more cannabis and marijuana research, science can make longer strides to understand better the connection between endocannabinoid deficiencies and specific medical conditions. 

If researchers can accomplish this, the medicine society may one day have the ability to address each deficiency with the supplementation of the appropriate phytocannabinoid.


  • Carnevale, L. N., Arango, A. S., Arnold, W. R., Tajkhorshid, E., & Das, A. (2018).
  • Endocannabinoid virodhamine is an endogenous inhibitor of human cardiovascular CYP2J2 epoxygenase. Biochemistry, 57(46), 6489-6499. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.biochem.8b00691
  • Dawson, D.A. (2018). Synthetic cannabinoids, organic cannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system, and their relationship to obesity, diabetes, and depression. Mol Biol 7: 219. https://doi.org/10.4172/2168-9547.1000219
  • Katchan, V., David, P., & Shoenfeld, Y. (2016). Cannabinoids and autoimmune diseases: A systematic review. Autoimmunity Reviews, 15(6), 513-528. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autrev.2016.02.008

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