Medical Research

ECS vs other systems in the body: why it’s unique

Written by Lydia Kariuki

“Two eminent scientists said that the endocannabinoid system is involved in essentially all human disease,” said Mechoulam. “This is a very strong statement, but it seems to be correct.”

The endocannabinoid system, abbreviated as ECS, was discovered in 1992, this is many years after the other systems had found their way to medical textbooks. To bring all to speed, the other systems include:

  • The respiratory system
  • The circulatory system
  • The integumentary system
  • The renal system
  • The digestive system
  • The musculoskeletal system
  • Reproductive system
  • The nervous system
  • Endocrine system
  • Lymphatic system

Together with the profound ECS, we now have 11 systems that have been identified in the human body.

The ECS is made up of three major components; endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and metabolize enzymes that degrade the endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids are similar in many ways to neurotransmitters. However, they are produced quite differently. While most neurotransmitters are produced and stored in vesicles, endocannabinoids are produced on demand.

This being a “newish system,” its mechanisms have not been fully elucidated. However, it is clear that the ECS is responsible for maintaining physiological balance in the body aka homeostasis.

In maintaining a state of homeostasis, the ECS has been implicated in the following functions:

  • Pain and inflammation
  • Memory
  • Sleep
  • Hormonal control
  • Metabolism
  • Immune response
  • Appetite
  • Moods
  • Sperm production among others

Consequently, a dysregulation of the ECS may trigger debilitating conditions. This has been described by Dr. Ethan Russo as the clinical endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome (CEDS). Conversely, when the endocannabinoid tone is preserved, the body is able to wade of infection and disease.

As much as there is a dearth of knowledge on the workings of this incredible system, current evidence suggests that an understanding of this system could facilitate the understanding of health and disease. For example, CECD has been linked to the pathology of autoimmune diseases. [1] At the same time the ECS has shown to offer a “protective role” against many medical conditions. Modulating the ECS could help in the treatment of a myriad of diseases such as emesis, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, depression, metabolic syndrome related diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease among others.

In summary, the ECS appears to be a system that underpins the functions of most other systems in the body; it has a hand in everything. But what is most unique about it is its link to a plant.

As Dr. Mechoulam aptly puts it:

“By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance. We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”


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  1. Russo E. B. (2016). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 1(1), 154–165.

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Lydia Kariuki

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