Redundancy of metabolic pathways and molecular targets is a typical feature of all lipid mediators, and endocannabinoids, which were originally defined as endogenous agonists at cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, are no exception. In particular, the two most studied endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol, are inactivated through alternative biochemical routes, including hydrolysis and oxidation, and more than one enzyme might be used even for the same type of inactivating reaction. These enzymes also recognize as substrates other concurrent lipid mediators, whereas, in turn, endocannabinoids might interact with noncannabinoid receptors with subcellular distribution and ultimate biological actions either similar to or completely different from those of cannabinoid receptors. Even splicing variants of endocannabinoid hydrolyzing enzymes, such as FAAH-1, might play distinct roles in endocannabinoid inactivation. Finally, the products of endocannabinoid catabolism may have their own targets, with biological roles different from those of cannabinoid receptors. These peculiarities of endocannabinoid signaling have complicated the use of inhibitors of its inactivation mechanisms as a safer and more efficacious alternative to the direct targeting of cannabinoid receptors for the treatment of several pathological conditions, including pain. However, new strategies, including the rediscovery of “dirty drugs”, and the use of certain natural products (including non-THC cannabis constituents), are emerging that might allow us to make a virtue of necessity and exploit endocannabinoid redundancy to develop new analgesics.
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