Cannabis and endocannabinoid modulators: Therapeutic promises and challenges


  “The discovery that botanical cannabinoids such as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol exert some of their effect through binding specific cannabinoid receptor sites has led to the discovery of an endocannabinoid signaling system, which in turn has spurred research into the mechanisms of action and addiction potential of cannabis on the one hand, while opening the possibility of developing novel therapeutic agents on the other. This paper reviews current understanding of CB1, CB2, and other possible cannabinoid receptors, their arachidonic acid derived ligands (e.g. anandamide; 2 arachidonoyl glycerol), and their possible physiological roles. CB1 is heavily represented in the central nervous system, but is found in other tissues as well; CB2 tends to be localized to immune cells. Activation of the endocannabinoid system can result in enhanced or dampened activity in various neural circuits depending on their own state of activation. This suggests that one function of the endocannabinoid system may be to maintain steady state. The therapeutic action of botanical cannabis or of synthetic molecules that are agonists, antagonists, or which may otherwise modify endocannabinoid metabolism and activity indicates they may have promise as neuroprotectants, and may be of value in the treatment of certain types of pain, epilepsy, spasticity, eating disorders, inflammation, and possibly blood pressure control.”


“The discovery of an endocannabinoid signaling system has opened new possibilities for research into understanding the mechanisms of marijuana actions, the role of the endocannabinoid system in homeostasis, and the development of treatment approaches based either on the phytocannabinoids or novel molecules. CB1 agonists may have roles in the treatment of neuropathic pain, spasticity, nausea and emesis, cachexia, and potentially neuroprotection after stroke or head injury. Agonists and antagonists of peripheral CB receptors may be useful in the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, as well as hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. CB1 antagonists may find utility in management of obesity and drug craving. Other novel agents that may not be active at CB receptor sites, but might otherwise modify cannabinoid transport or metabolism, may also have a role in therapeutic modification of the endocannabinoid system. While the short and long term toxicities of the newer compounds are not known, one must expect that at least some of the acute effects (psychotropic effects; hypotension) may be shared by CB agonists. While there are few, long-term serious toxicities attributable to marijuana, extrapolation to newer and more potent agonists, antagonists, and cannabinoid system modulators cannot be assumed. CB1 agonists have the potential in animal models to produce drug preference and drug seeking behaviors as well as tolerance and abstinence phenomena similar to, though not generally as severe as those of other drugs of addiction. There is increasing evidence from human observations that withdrawal from the phytocannabinoids can produce an abstinence syndrome characterized primarily by irritability, sleep disturbance, mood disturbance, and appetite disturbance in chronic heavy users, therefore, such possible effects will need to be considered in the evaluation of newer shorter acting and more potent agonists.”

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