The Endocannabinoid System: A Potential Target for the Treatment of Various Diseases

ijms-logo“The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is primarily responsible for maintaining homeostasis, a balance in internal environment (temperature, mood, and immune system) and energy input and output in living, biological systems.

In addition to regulating physiological processes, the ECS directly influences anxiety, feeding behaviour/appetite, emotional behaviour, depression, nervous functions, neurogenesis, neuroprotection, reward, cognition, learning, memory, pain sensation, fertility, pregnancy, and pre-and post-natal development.

The ECS is also involved in several pathophysiological diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. In recent years, genetic and pharmacological manipulation of the ECS has gained significant interest in medicine, research, and drug discovery and development.

The distribution of the components of the ECS system throughout the body, and the physiological/pathophysiological role of the ECS-signalling pathways in many diseases, all offer promising opportunities for the development of novel cannabinergic, cannabimimetic, and cannabinoid-based therapeutic drugs that genetically or pharmacologically modulate the ECS via inhibition of metabolic pathways and/or agonism or antagonism of the receptors of the ECS. This modulation results in the differential expression/activity of the components of the ECS that may be beneficial in the treatment of a number of diseases.

This manuscript in-depth review will investigate the potential of the ECS in the treatment of various diseases, and to put forth the suggestion that many of these secondary metabolites of Cannabis sativa L. (hereafter referred to as “C. sativa L.” or “medical cannabis”), may also have potential as lead compounds in the development of cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals for a variety of diseases.”


“Cannabis sativa L. as a Natural Drug Meeting the Criteria of a Multitarget Approach to Treatment”

Cannabinoids and reduced risk of hepatic steatosis in HIV-HCV co-infection: paving the way for future clinical research

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“Whether or not cannabis itself or cannabinoids contained in it may help to reduce hepatic steatosis in HIV-HCV coinfected patients remains an open question. The existing body of knowledge on the interactions between cannabis and the liver suggest a protective effect of cannabinoids on insulin resistance, diabetes, and NAFLD in the general population. Clinical research with randomized study designs is needed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of cannabis-based pharmacotherapies in HIV-HCV coinfected patients. Targeting the endocannabinoid system seems essential to differently manage several pathological conditions such as intestinal inflammation, obesity, diabetes and fatty liver disease. However, to date, few drugs have been tested in clinical trials. CB1-antagonists and CB2 agonists appear to be viable therapeutic options that need to be explored for the management of liver diseases. As HCV cure rates are coming close to 100% in the era of direct-acting antivirals, it is especially important to be able to identify modifiable risk factors of complications and death in HIV-HCV coinfected patients, as well as possible levers for intervention. Given the persistence of metabolic risk factors after HCV eradication, cannabis-based therapies need to be evaluated both as preventive and therapeutic tools in patients living with or at risk of liver steatosis, possibly in combination with existing conventional approaches.”

Daily cannabis and reduced risk of steatosis in human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis C virus co-infected patients (ANRS CO13-HEPAVIH).

Journal of Viral Hepatitis

“Liver steatosis is common in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) co-infected patients. Some recent studies have found that cannabis use is negatively associated with insulin resistance in the general population and in HIV-HCV co-infected patients.

Given the causal link between insulin resistance and steatosis, we hypothesized that cannabis use has a positive impact on steatosis.

Therefore, we aimed to study whether cannabis use in this population was associated with a reduced risk of steatosis, measured by ultrasound examination.

The ANRS CO13-HEPAVIH cohort is a French nationwide multicenter of HIV-HCV co-infected patients. Medical and socio-behavioral data from clinical follow-up visits and annual self-administered questionnaires were prospectively collected. A cross-sectional analysis was conducted using data from the first visit where both ultrasound examination data for steatosis (positive or negative diagnosis) and data on cannabis use were available. A logistic regression model was used to evaluate the association between cannabis use and steatosis. Among study sample patients (n=838), 40.1% had steatosis. Fourteen percent reported daily cannabis use, 11.7% regular use, and 74.7% no use or occasional use (“never or sometimes”).

Daily cannabisuse was independently associated with a reduced prevalence of steatosis (adjusted odds ratio [95%]=0.64 [0.42;0.99]; p=0.046), after adjusting for body mass index, hazardous alcohol consumption and current or lifetime use of lamivudine/zidovudine. Daily cannabisuse may be a protective factor against steatosis in HIV-HCV co-infected patients. These findings confirm the need for a clinical evaluation of cannabis-based pharmacotherapies in this population.”

ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM: A multi-facet therapeutic target.

Image result for Curr Clin Pharmacol.

“Cannabis sativa is also popularly known as marijuana. It is being cultivated and used by man for recreational and medicinal purposes from many centuries.

Study of cannabinoids was at bay for very long time and its therapeutic value could not be adequately harnessed due to its legal status as proscribed drug in most of the countries.

The research of drugs acting on endocannabinoid system has seen many ups and down in recent past. Presently, it is known that endocannabinoids has role in pathology of many disorders and they also serve “protective role” in many medical conditions.

Several diseases like emesis, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, anorexia, epilepsy, glaucoma, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity, metabolic syndrome related diseases, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome could possibly be treated by drugs modulating endocannabinoid system.

Presently, cannabinoid receptor agonists like nabilone and dronabinol are used for reducing the chemotherapy induced vomiting. Sativex (cannabidiol and THC combination) is approved in the UK, Spain and New Zealand to treat spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. In US it is under investigation for cancer pain, another drug Epidiolex (cannabidiol) is also under investigation in US for childhood seizures. Rimonabant, CB1 receptor antagonist appeared as a promising anti-obesity drug during clinical trials but it also exhibited remarkable psychiatric side effect profile. Due to which the US Food and Drug Administration did not approve Rimonabant in US. It sale was also suspended across the EU in 2008.

Recent discontinuation of clinical trial related to FAAH inhibitor due to occurrence of serious adverse events in the participating subjects could be discouraging for the research fraternity. Despite of some mishaps in clinical trials related to drugs acting on endocannabinoid system, still lot of research is being carried out to explore and establish the therapeutic targets for both cannabinoid receptor agonists and antagonists.

One challenge is to develop drugs that target only cannabinoid receptors in a particular tissue and another is to invent drugs that acts selectively on cannabinoid receptors located outside the blood brain barrier. Besides this, development of the suitable dosage forms with maximum efficacy and minimum adverse effects is also warranted.

Another angle to be introspected for therapeutic abilities of this group of drugs is non-CB1 and non-CB2 receptor targets for cannabinoids.

In order to successfully exploit the therapeutic potential of endocannabinoid system, it is imperative to further characterize the endocannabinoid system in terms of identification of the exact cellular location of cannabinoid receptors and their role as “protective” and “disease inducing substance”, time-dependent changes in the expression of cannabinoid receptors.”

[A role for the endocannabinoid system in hepatic steatosis].

“The endocannabinoid system (SEC) is an important modulator of several metabolic functions.

This system is composed by cannabinoid receptors type 1 and 2 (RCB1 and RCB2), their endogenous ligands, known as endocannabinoids, and the enzymes involved in their synthesis and degradation. A deregulated SEC originates metabolic alterations in several tissues, resulting in the typical manifestations of the metabolic syndrome…

In this review we discuss the proposed mechanisms by which SEC is involved in the etiology of hepatic steatosis, as well as the therapeutic possibilities involving peripheral RCB1/RCB2 antagonism/agonism, for the treatment of this condition.”

Therapeutic potential of cannabinoid medicines.

Drug Testing and Analysis

“Cannabis was extensively used as a medicine throughout the developed world in the nineteenth century but went into decline early in the twentieth century ahead of its emergence as the most widely used illicit recreational drug later that century. Recent advances in cannabinoid pharmacology alongside the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) have re-ignited interest in cannabis-based medicines.

The ECS has emerged as an important physiological system and plausible target for new medicines. Its receptors and endogenous ligands play a vital modulatory role in diverse functions including immune response, food intake, cognition, emotion, perception, behavioural reinforcement, motor co-ordination, body temperature, wake/sleep cycle, bone formation and resorption, and various aspects of hormonal control. In disease it may act as part of the physiological response or as a component of the underlying pathology.

In the forefront of clinical research are the cannabinoids delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, and their contrasting pharmacology will be briefly outlined. The therapeutic potential and possible risks of drugs that inhibit the ECS will also be considered. This paper will then go on to review clinical research exploring the potential of cannabinoid medicines in the following indications: symptomatic relief in multiple sclerosis, chronic neuropathic pain, intractable nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and weight in the context of cancer or AIDS, psychosis, epilepsy, addiction, and metabolic disorders.”

The endocannabinoid system and its therapeutic exploitation.

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“The term ‘endocannabinoid’ – originally coined in the mid-1990s after the discovery of membrane receptors for the psychoactive principle in Cannabis, Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and their endogenous ligands – now indicates a whole signalling system that comprises cannabinoid receptors, endogenous ligands and enzymes for ligand biosynthesis and inactivation. This system seems to be involved in an ever-increasing number of pathological conditions. With novel products already being aimed at the pharmaceutical market little more than a decade since the discovery of cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoid system seems to hold even more promise for the future development of therapeutic drugs. We explore the conditions under which the potential of targeting the endocannabinoid system might be realized in the years to come.”

From cannabis to the endocannabinoid system: refocussing attention on potential clinical benefits.

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“Cannabis sativa is one of the oldest herbal remedies known to man. Over the past four thousand years, it has been used for the treatment of numerous diseases but due to its psychoactive properties, its current medicinal usage is highly restricted. In this review, we seek to highlight advances made over the last forty years in the understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the effects of cannabis on the human body and how these can potentially be utilized in clinical practice. During this time, the primary active ingredients in cannabis have been isolated, specific cannabinoid receptors have been discovered and at least five endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitters (endocannabinoids) have been identified. Together, these form the framework of a complex endocannabinoid signalling system that has widespread distribution in the body and plays a role in regulating numerous physiological processes within the body. Cannabinoid ligands are therefore thought to display considerable therapeutic potential and the drive to develop compounds that can be targeted to specific neuronal systems at low enough doses so as to eliminate cognitive side effects remains the ‘holy grail’ of endocannabinoid research.”

The endocannabinoid system as a key mediator during liver diseases: new insights and therapeutic openings

  “Alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) represent the major causes of chronic liver injury, resulting in progressive accumulation of fibrosis within the liver parenchyma. Progression to cirrhosis exposes patients to life-threatening complications of portal hypertension liver failure and hepatic encephalopathy, and to a high risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma. Overall, chronic liver diseases represent a major health problem with an estimated rate of death in the range of 1 400 000 per year worldwide. Recent findings have revealed a role of endocannabinoids and their receptors in the pathogenesis of several key steps of acute and chronic liver injury, therefore identifying pharmacological modulation of cannabinoid receptors as an attractive strategy for the management of morbidity related to liver injury .”


“Chronic liver diseases represent a major health problem due to cirrhosis and its complications. During the last decade, endocannabinoids and their receptors have emerged as major regulators of several pathophysiological aspects associated with chronic liver disease progression. Hence, hepatic cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) receptors display beneficial effects on alcoholic fatty liver, hepatic inflammation, liver injury, regeneration and fibrosis. Cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) receptors have been implicated in the pathogenesis of several lesions such as alcoholic and metabolic steatosis, liver fibrogenesis, or circulatory failure associated with cirrhosis. Although the development of CB1 antagonists has recently been suspended due to the high incidence of central side effects, preliminary preclinical data obtained with peripherally restricted CB1 antagonists give real hopes in the development of active CB1 molecules devoid of central adverse effects. CB2-selective molecules may also offer novel perspectives for the treatment of liver diseases, and their clinical development is clearly awaited. Whether combined treatment with a peripherally restricted CB1 antagonist and a CB2 agonist might result in an increased therapeutic potential will warrant further investigation.”


“Cannabis Sativa has a long-standing history of recreational and therapeutic use, starting over 200 years ago. Understanding of pathways involved in the pharmacological properties of cannabinoids has only emerged with the identification of an endocannabinoid system that comprises at least two specific G-protein coupled receptors [cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2)], their endogenous lipidic ligands (endocannabinoids), and enzymes involved in endocannabinoid synthesis and degradation.”

“Over the past 10 years, the endocannabinoid system has emerged as a major player in the pathogenesis of liver diseases. CB1 receptors have been implicated in the pathogenesis of several lesions such as liver fibrogenesis, alcoholic and metabolic steatosis, or circulatory failure associated with cirrhosis. In contrast, stimulation of hepatic CB2 receptors is emerging as an overall protective pathway with antifibrogenic properties and beneficial effects on liver inflammation, alcoholic fatty liver and hepatocyte survival and regeneration. Exciting therapeutic developments expected with the availability of CB1 receptor antagonists have been put to a hold, due to the high incidence of central side effects of first generation compounds. Fortunately, CB1 antagonists devoid of brain penetrance are increasingly being synthetized and initial results suggest that they exhibit beneficial effects expected from previous studies. The clinical development of CB2-selective agonists is also eagerly awaited.”

Endocannabinoids and Liver Disease. II. Endocannabinoids in the pathogenesis and treatment of liver fibrosis

“Plant-derived cannabinoids such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Two G protein-coupled receptors termed CB1 and CB2 were identified in the early 1990s as receptors for cannabinoids…”

“Hepatic fibrosis is the response of the liver to chronic injury and is associated with portal hypertension, progression to hepatic cirrhosis, liver failure, and high incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma. On a molecular level, a large number of signaling pathways have been shown to contribute to the activation of fibrogenic cell types and the subsequent accumulation of extracellular matrix in the liver. Recent evidence suggests that the endocannabinoid system is an important part of this complex signaling network. In the injured liver, the endocannabinoid system is upregulated both at the level of endocannabinoids and at the endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. The hepatic endocannabinoid system mediates both pro- and antifibrogenic effects by activating distinct signaling pathways that differentially affect proliferation and death of fibrogenic cell types. Here we will summarize current findings on the role of the hepatic endocannabinoid system in liver fibrosis and discuss emerging options for its therapeutic exploitation.”

“There is overwhelming evidence that the endocannabinoid system plays a major role in the pathophysiology of chronic liver injury and wound healing responses and that modulation of the endocannabinoid system may be exploited for the treatment of liver fibrosis. Among all candidates, CB1 represents the most promising target for antifibrotic therapies. In addition to the antifibrogenic effects of CB1 blockade, one can expect positive effects on other complications such as portal hypertension, ascites formation, hepatic encephalopathy, and cardiomyopathy. Moreover, CB1 antagonism appears to have beneficial effects on hepatic steatosis…”