ECS Defined

Updated: May 7

In the early 1990s, scientists discovered a network of microscopic cellular receptors that function as intricately connected neurotransmitters within the human body. This important find was inspired by discovery of a particular type of molecule produced by humans called an endocannabinoid.

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While researching the underlying mechanisms involving endocannabinoids, scientists learned that these unique wellness molecules plug into, or bind, with a body-wide system of cellular receptors that has been dubbed the endocannabinoid system, or ECS (sometimes called the endogenous cannabinoid system).

Neurotransmitter Network

Technically, the microscopic endocannabinoid receptors that populate the ECS are "endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters." They populate nearly every organ, gland, and tissue of the body, including the critical and protected brain and central nervous system (CNS). The ECS is so widespread within the body, in fact, that receptors also appear on white blood cells and in the tissues of the olfactory (nasal passages). More significant, however, are the physiological and cognitive processes over which the ECS has been shown to exert significant control.

Bodily systems and functions for which the ECS maintains control include appetite, motor learning and function, mood, pain, cognition, immune function, energy level and metabolism, and sleep patterns. The ECS also plays a prominent role in libido health, prevention of motion sickness, and bone health (including both repair after injury and resilience against disease).

A state of optimal health and balance within the ECS is called homeostasis. Some leading researchers theorize that many major diseases—including fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, migraine headache, Crohn's disease, and arthritis—may be the result of a lack of homeostasis within the endocannabinoid system (see Clinical ECS Deficiency Theory at the end of this Part).

In all Vertebrates

The ECS is a feature of not only all humans, but also vertebrates—a group that includes all mammals and common house pets. Veterinary medicine is beginning to discover the value of hemp-based cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG) that bind with the cellular receptors within the endocannabinoid systems of common household pets. Canines and felines that suffer common ailments such as arthritis and mobility issues, vision degradation, and digestion problems gain many of the same benefits from CBD as humans.

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