Antitumor Cannabinoid Chemotypes: Structural Insights.

Image result for frontiers in pharmacology“Cannabis has long been known to limit or prevent nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, and pain. For this reason, cannabinoids have been successfully used in the treatment of some of the unwanted side effects caused by cancer chemotherapy.

Besides their palliative effects, research from the past two decades has demonstrated their promising potential as antitumor agents in a wide variety of tumors.

Cannabinoids of endogenous, phytogenic, and synthetic nature have been shown to impact the proliferation of cancer through the modulation of different proteins involved in the endocannabinoid system such as the G protein-coupled receptors CB1, CB2, and GRP55, the ionotropic receptor TRPV1, or the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH).

In this article, we aim to structurally classify the antitumor cannabinoid chemotypes described so far according to their targets and types of cancer. In a drug discovery approach, their in silico pharmacokinetic profile has been evaluated in order to identify appropriate drug-like profiles, which should be taken into account for further progress toward the clinic.

This analysis may provide structural insights into the selection of specific cannabinoid scaffolds for the development of antitumor drugs for the treatment of particular types of cancer.”

“The first report on the antitumor activity of phytocannabinoids was published over four decades ago. During these last years, significant research has been focused on the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids to manage palliative effects in cancer patients. Besides such palliative applications, some cannabinoids have shown anticancer properties. Since inflammation is a common risk factor for cancer, and some cannabinoids have shown anti-inflammatory properties, they could play a role in chemoprevention.”
“Antitumor effects of THC.”
“Antitumor effects of cannabidiol”
“Anti-tumour actions of cannabinoids.”
“Extensive preclinical research has demonstrated that cannabinoids, the active ingredients of Cannabis sativa, trigger antitumor responses in different models of cancer.”
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Anandamide hydrolysis: a new target for anti-anxiety drugs?

“The major psychoactive constituent of cannabis, Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol, affects emotional states in humans and laboratory animals by activating brain cannabinoid receptors. A primary endogenous ligand of these receptors is anandamide, the amide of arachidonic acid with ethanolamine. Anandamide is released in selected regions of the brain and is deactivated through a two-step process consisting of transport into cells followed by intracellular hydrolysis. Pharmacological blockade of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which is responsible for intracellular anandamide degradation, produces anxiolytic-like effects in rats without causing the wide spectrum of behavioral responses typical of direct-acting cannabinoid agonists. These findings suggest that anandamide contributes to the regulation of emotion and anxiety, and that FAAH might be the target for a novel class of anxiolytic drugs.”

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Cannabinoid CB2 receptors and fatty acid amide hydrolase are selectively overexpressed in neuritic plaque-associated glia in Alzheimer’s disease brains.

.”We have studied the status of some of the components of the endocannabinoid system, fatty acid amide hydrolase and cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, in postmortem brains from patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Our results show that both fatty acid amide hydrolase and cannabinoid CB2 receptors are abundantly and selectively expressed in neuritic plaque-associated astrocytes and microglia, respectively, whereas the expression of CB1 receptors remains unchanged. In addition, the hydrolase activity seems to be elevated in the plaques and surrounding areas.

Thus, some elements of the endocannabinoid system may be postulated as possible modulators of the inflammatory response associated with this neurodegenerative process and as possible targets for new therapeutic approaches.

To our knowledge, this report is the first evidence for the presence of CB2 receptors in the human CNS. Furthermore, these receptors have recently been reported to play an important role in microglial migration. It is important to note that we detected CB2 receptors only in microglial cells, which is in agreement with the well known immunomodulatory effects of CB2 activation. Thus, many studies have shown that CB2 receptor activation leads to a myriad of changes in the production of inflammation-related substances, although with results that vary depending on the experimental model used and the concentration of cannabinoids used.

 In any case, the selective presence of CB2 receptors in microglial cells opens new perspectives on the role of CB2 receptors in the human CNS and suggests that the modulation of their activity may have therapeutic implications.”

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The Endogenous Cannabinoid System Modulates Nicotine Reward and Dependence


“A growing body of evidence suggests that the endogenous cannabinoid system modulates the addictive properties of nicotine, the main component of tobacco that produces rewarding effects. In our study, complementary transgenic and pharmacological approaches were used to test the hypothesis that the endocannabinoid system modulates nicotine reward and dependence. An acute injection of nicotine elicited normal analgesic and hypothermic effects in cannabinoid receptor (CB)(1) knockout (KO) mice and mice treated with the CB(1) antagonist rimonabant. However, disruption of CB(1) receptor signaling blocked nicotine reward, as assessed in the conditioned place preference (CPP) paradigm. In contrast, genetic deletion, or pharmacological inhibition of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the enzyme responsible for catabolism of the endocannabinoid anandamide, enhanced the expression of nicotine CPP. Although the expression of spontaneous nicotine withdrawal (14 days, 24 mg/kg/day nicotine) was unaffected in CB(1) KO mice, acute administration of rimonabant (3 mg/kg) ameliorated somatic withdrawal signs in wild-type mice. Increasing endogenous levels of anandamide through genetic or pharmacological approaches exacerbated the physical somatic signs of spontaneous nicotine withdrawal in a milder withdrawal model (7 days, 24 mg/kg/day nicotine). Moreover, FAAH-compromised mice displayed increased conditioned place aversion in a mecamylamine-precipitated model of nicotine withdrawal. These findings indicate that endocannabinoids play a role in the rewarding properties of nicotine as well as nicotine dependence liability. Specifically, increasing endogenous cannabinoid levels magnifies, although disrupting CB(1) receptor signaling, attenuates nicotine reward and withdrawal. Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that cannabinoid receptor antagonists may offer therapeutic advantages to treat tobacco dependence.”

“In conclusion, we have shown that the endocannabinoid system modulates various aspects of nicotine dependence in a differential way. Indeed, FAAH inhibition dramatically enhances nicotine reward through a CB1 mechanism that is most likely due to elevated levels of AEA. Moreover, our findings indicate that endogenous cannabinoid tone indirectly modulates the development of nicotine addiction by affecting the balance between the rewarding and aversive properties of nicotine.”

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Marijuana withdrawal and craving: influence of the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CNR1) and fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) genes

 “While cannabis withdrawal may not include some of the serious medical problems observed with alcohol and opioid withdrawal, it is likely that the symptoms associated with cannabis withdrawal (e.g. negative affect, appetite and sleep disturbance) contribute to the development and intractability of cannabis dependence. In this sense, cannabis withdrawal may be analogous to other, better-understood withdrawal syndromes (e.g. tobacco withdrawal, alcohol withdrawal) that have been the target of intervention efforts. Furthermore, cannabis withdrawal has been described increasingly in terms of the physiological sequelae that coincide with this syndrome, including alterations in dopamine neurotransmission, as well as alterations in other systems.”.

“These findings may have both etiological and treatment implications. For example, individuals with the CNR1 T/C genotype may be more likely to develop dependence and/or more likely to have trouble establishing abstinence or reducing marijuana use. However, longitudinal studies will be needed to clarify whether this genetic variable actually influences the trajectory of marijuana use/dependence. In addition, treatment studies that incorporate this information are needed to determine whether these (or other) genetic variants may influence treatment outcomes and determine whether alternative treatments may be indicated for these individuals.”

“In conclusion, the cannabis dependence endophenotypes, craving and withdrawal, are important factors in the etiology and treatment of cannabis dependence and, given growing recognition of the underlying physiological sequalae that coincide with long-term cannabis use, these phenotypes are likely to lend themselves to the identification of underlying genetic factors that have direct implications for treatment approaches.”

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The genetic basis of the endocannabinoid system and drug addiction in humans.


“The cannabinoid receptor (CNR1) and the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) genes are located on chromosomes 6 and 1 in the 6q15 and 1p33 cytogenetic bands, respectively. CNR1 encodes a seven-transmembrane domain protein of 472 amino acids, whereas FAAH encodes one transmembrane domain of 579 amino acids. Several mutations found in these genes lead to altered mRNA stability and transcription rate or a reduction of the activity of the encoded protein. Increasing evidence shows that these functional mutations are related to dependence upon cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, nicotine and other drugs. One of the most compelling associations is with the C385A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), which is found in the FAAH gene. For all of the genetic polymorphisms reviewed here, it is difficult to form overall conclusions due to the high diversity of population samples being studied, ethnicity, the use of volunteers, heterogeneity of the recruitment criteria and the drug addiction phenotype studied. Care should be taken when generalizing the results from different studies. However, many works have repeatedly associated polymorphisms in the CNR1 and FAAH genes with drug-related behaviours; this suggests that these genes should be examined in further genetic studies focusing on drug addiction and other psychiatric disorders.”

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The endocannabinoid system as a target for the treatment of cannabis dependence

“Cannabinoid replacement therapy and CB1 receptor antagonism are two potential treatments for cannabis dependence that are currently under investigation. However, abuse liability and adverse side effects may limit the scope of each of these approaches. A potential alternative stems from the recognition that (i) frequent cannabis use may cause an adaptive downregulation of brain endocannabinoid signaling, and (ii) that genetic traits that favor hyperactivity of the endocannabinoid system in humans may decrease susceptibility to cannabis dependence. These findings suggest in turn that pharmacological agents that elevate brain levels of the endocannabinoid neurotransmitters, anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), might alleviate cannabis withdrawal and dependence. One such agent, the fatty-acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor URB597, selectively increases anandamide levels in the brain of rodents and primates. Preclinical studies show that URB597 produces analgesic, anxiolytic-like and antidepressant-like effects in rodents, which are not accompanied by overt signs of abuse liability. In this article, we review evidence suggesting that (i) cannabis influences brain endocannabinoid signaling; and (ii) FAAH inhibitors such as URB597 might offer a possible therapeutic avenue for the treatment of cannabis withdrawal.”

“Direct modulation of CB1receptors as a treatment for cannabis dependence”

“Even though, as we have seen above, direct activation of CB1 receptors may yield variable behavioral responses, low-dosage oral Δ9-THC has shown promise in the management of human cannabis withdrawal. The rationale for this approach is that controlled replacement of Δ9-THC for smoked cannabis may reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and allow a dependent individual to remain abstinent. Additionally, given that dependent subjects are experienced with cannabis, and Δ9-THC is administered at low doses, administration of the latter is unlikely to result in the anxiety responses observed with inexperienced users or high dosages. Consistent with this idea, two independent clinical studies have shown that low-dose oral Δ9-THC attenuates withdrawal symptom scores and is minimally intoxicating in non-treatment seeking daily cannabis users.””

“Several therapeutic modalities are currently being considered to treat cannabis dependence, including activation or deactivation of CB1receptors. While these stategies show promise in measures of cannabis withdrawal and abstinence, they may also create problems of abuse liability or adverse emotional effects. An additional approach might be to enhance endogenous anandamide signaling using agents that attenuate the deactivation of this endocannabinoid transmitter.”

“Increasing anandamide signaling with deactivation inhibitors, such as the FAAH blocker URB597, potentiates stress coping behaviors in animals, indicating a role for anandamide in physiopathological context of stress-related responses. Similarly, elevation of anandamide in specific brain regions opposes the anhedonic effects of stress and promotes normal positive responses to pleasurable stimuli in rodents. It is reasonable to hypothesize that these effects could act to blunt the negative affect and stress, which is common during cannabis withdrawal, thus allowing cannabis dependent individuals to successfully abstain from drug use.”

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Biomarkers of Endocannabinoid System Activation in Severe Obesity


“Obesity is a worldwide epidemic, and severe obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Endocannabinoid system (ECS) signaling in the brain and peripheral tissues is activated in obesity and plays a role in the regulation of body weight. The main research question here was whether quantitative measurement of plasma endocannabinoids, anandamide, and related N-acylethanolamines (NAEs), combined with genotyping for mutations in fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) would identify circulating biomarkers of ECS activation in severe obesity.”


“Significantly increased levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide and related NAEs were found in carriers of the FAAH 385 A mutant alleles compared with wild-type FAAH controls. This evidence supports endocannabinoid system activation due to the effect of FAAH 385 mutant A genotype on plasma AEA and related NAE analogs. This is the first study to document that FAAH 385 A mutant alleles have a direct effect on elevated plasma levels of anandamide and related NAEs in humans. These biomarkers may indicate risk for severe obesity and may suggest novel ECS obesity treatment strategies.”

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Activation of the peripheral endocannabinoid system in human obesity.


“Obesity is the main risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. Activation of the central endocannabinoid system increases food intake and promotes weight gain. Blockade of the cannabinoid type 1 (CB-1) receptor reduces body weight in animals by central and peripheral actions; the role of the peripheral endocannabinoid system in human obesity is now being extensively investigated. We measured circulating endocannabinoid concentrations and studied the expression of CB-1 and the main degrading enzyme, fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), in adipose tissue of lean (n = 20) and obese (n = 20) women and after a 5% weight loss in a second group of women (n = 17). Circulating levels of anandamide and 1/2-arachidonoylglycerol were increased by 35 and 52% in obese compared with lean women (P < 0.05). Adipose tissue mRNA levels were reduced by -34% for CB-1 and -59% for FAAH in obese subjects (P < 0.05). A strong negative correlation was found between FAAH expression in adipose tissue and circulating endocannabinoids. Circulating endocannabinoids and CB-1 or FAAH expression were not affected by 5% weight loss. The expression of CB-1 and FAAH was increased in mature human adipocytes compared with in preadipocytes and was found in several human tissues. Our findings support the presence of a peripheral endocannabinoid system that is upregulated in human obesity.”

“We demonstrated that the CB-1 receptor is expressed in organs relevant to the pathogenesis of obesity in humans, so that results from mechanistic studies in animals may also be applicable to patients. Furthermore, the peripheral endocannabinoid system is activated in human obesity. The observation that endocannabinoid activation is not reversible with a 5% weight loss may suggest that this activation is a cause rather than a consequence of obesity. The physiology and pathophysiology of the peripheral adipose tissue endocannabinoid system warrant further studies.”

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Dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system in obesity.


“An activation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in obesity with increased concentrations of endocannabinoids in several tissues and in the circulation is described in this review. This increased availability of endocannabinoids might stimulate cannabinoid receptors in a pathophysiological manner. The successful use of the cannabinoid receptor CB(1) inverse agonists rimonabant and taranabant for weight loss and the treatment of obesity-associated metabolic disorders might well be through blocking this overstimulation of cannabinoid receptors. At present, no single mechanism has been identified that explains the increased bioavailability of endocannabinoids in obesity. Both increased synthesis and decreased degradation appear to operate in a species- and tissue-dependent manner, but many pieces of the puzzle still need to be collected. For example, most data show decreased fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) expression and/or activity as a result of obesity or high-fat intake, but the endocannabinoid predominantly increased in tissues is 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which is not degraded by FAAH in vivo. Furthermore, the influence of dietary fatty acids on the synthesis of endocannabinoids needs to be studied in much more detail. Although weight loss does not seem to influence activation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in human obesity, suggesting an underlying mechanisms independent of body weight, no such mechanism at the genetic level has yet been identified either. Thus, activation of the ECS is a hallmark of abdominal obesity, and explains the success of pharmacological CB(1) blockade, but serious attempts have to be made to clarify the underlying mechanisms of this activation.”

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