Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation: a review of cellular and therapeutic mechanisms.

“1. Of the neurodegenerative diseases that cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common. Three major pathologies characterize the disease: senile plaques, neurofibrillary tangles and inflammation. We review the literature on events contributing to the inflammation and the treatments thought to target this pathology. 2. The senile plaques of AD consist primarily of complexes of the beta-amyloid protein. This protein is central to the pathogenesis of the disease. 3. Inflammatory microglia are consistently associated with senile plaques in AD, although the classic inflammatory response (immunoglobulin and leucocyte infiltration) is absent. beta-Amyloid fragments appear to mediate such inflammatory mechanisms by activating the complement pathway in a similar fashion to immunoglobulin. 4. Epidemiological studies have identified a reduced risk of AD in patients with arthritis and in leprosy patients treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. Longitudinal studies have shown that the consumption of anti-inflammatory medications reduces the risk of AD only in younger patients (< 75 years). 5. There is a considerable body of in vitro evidence indicating that the inflammatory response of microglial cells is reduced by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). However, no published data are available concerning the effects of these medications on brain pathology in AD. 6. Cyclo-oxygenase 2 enzyme is constitutively expressed in neurons and is up-regulated in degenerative brain regions in AD. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce this expression. 7. Platelets are a source of beta-amyloid and increased platelet activation and increased circulating beta-amyloid have been identified in AD. Anti-platelet medication (including NSAID) would prevent such activation and its potentially harmful consequences. 8. Increased levels of luminal beta-amyloid permeabilizes the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and increases vasoconstriction of arterial vessels, paralleling the alterations observed with infection and inflammation. Cerebral amyloidosis is highly prevalent in AD, compromising the BBB and vasoactivity.

Anti-inflammatory medications may alleviate these problems.”

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Inhibition of pain responses by activation of CB(2) cannabinoid receptors.


“Cannabinoid receptor agonists diminish responses to painful stimuli. Extensive evidence demonstrates that CB(1) cannabinoid receptor activation inhibits pain responses. Recently, the synthesis of CB(2) cannabinoid receptor-selective agonists has allowed testing whether CB(2) receptor activation inhibits pain. CB(2) receptor activation is sufficient to inhibit acute nociception, inflammatory hyperalgesia, and the allodynia and hyperalgesia produced in a neuropathic pain model. Studies using site-specific administration of agonist and antagonist have suggested that CB(2) receptor agonists inhibit pain responses by acting at peripheral sites. CB(2) receptor activation also inhibits edema and plasma extravasation produced by inflammation. CB(2) receptor-selective agonists do not produce central nervous system (CNS) effects typical of cannabinoids retaining agonist activity at the CB(1) receptor. Peripheral antinociception without CNS effects is consistent with the peripheral distribution of CB(2) receptors. CB(2) receptor agonists may have promise for the treatment of pain and inflammation without CNS side effects.”

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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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Marijuana, inflammation, and CT-3 (DMH-11C): cannabis leads to new class of antiinflammatory drugs.


“CT-3, a synthetic derivative of a metabolite of marijuana, is being tested by arthritis researchers as a possible new anti-inflammatory drug. Early studies show that CT-3 may be effective without the gastric side effects of steroids and psychoactive effects of marijuana. The processes of inflammation may be important in the pathogenesis of HIV disease. Obtaining the medical benefits without the psychoactive effects of marijuana is also important, as the high associated with cannabis use can be debilitating. The drug is currently in early pre-clinical animal testing.”

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Anti-inflammatory property of the cannabinoid agonist WIN-55212-2 in a rodent model of chronic brain inflammation

“Cannabinoid receptors (CBr) stimulation induces numerous central and peripheral effects. A growing interest in the beneficial properties of manipulating the endocannabinoid system has lead to the possible involvement of CBr in the control of brain inflammation… Our results emphasize the potential use of CBr agonists in the regulation of inflammatory processes within the brain; this knowledge may lead to the use of CBr agonists in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases associated with chronic neuroinflammation, such as Alzheimer disease.”

“The current report is the first to our knowledge to demonstrate the modulatory role of cannabinoids in an animal model of chronic neuroinflammation, pointing out the effectiveness of a CBr agonist on the consequences of LPS mediated neuroinflammation at a dose (0.5 mg/kg/day i.p. of WIN-55212-2) that does not impair performance in a patial memory task. These results further advocate for the manipulation of the endocannabinoid system to diminish the consequences of neuroinflammation in progression of AD and others inflammation-related diseases.”

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Inflammation and aging: can endocannabinoids help?

“Aging often leads to cognitive decline due to neurodegenerative process in the brain. As people live longer, a growing concern exist linked to long-term, slowly debilitating diseases that have not yet found a cure, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, the role of neuroinflammation has attracted attention due to its slow onset, chronic nature and its possible role in the development of many different neurodegenerative diseases. In the future, treatment of chronic neuroinflammation may help counteract aspects of neurodegenerative disease. Our recent studies have focused upon the endocannabinoid system for its unique effects on the expression of neuroinflammation. The basis for the manipulation of the endocannabinoid system in the brain in combination with existing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease will be discussed in this review.”


Cannabinoid refers to naturally occurring or synthetic molecules mimicking the activity of plant-derived cannabinoids from Cannabis Sativa. Two types of cannabinoid receptors have been so far identified in the body, named CB1 and CB2. Discovery of cannabinoid receptors (CBr) lead to the finding of endogenous agonists for these receptors called endocannabinoids (EC). EC are derived from arachidonic acid, arachidonoylethanolamide (anandamide), and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG), synthesized on-demand post-synaptically and released in response to the entry of calcium ions. These EC in combination with the two known CBr constitute the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In the central nervous system (CNS), CB1 is overwhelmingly represented over CB2 and particularly abundant in cortical regions, the hippocampus, cerebellum and basal ganglia while CB2 may be restricted to microglia or neurons in the brainstem  and cerebellum. Deactivation of the EC is due to a rapid enzymatic degradation in the synaptic cleft or after membrane transport. The ECS is thought to be a neuromodulator and an immunomodulator. In the CNS, the ECS can influence food intake, endocrine release, motor control, cognitive processes, emotions and perception. Cannabinoids treatment has been shown to be neuroprotective under many experimental conditions. Drugs that manipulate the ECS are currently evaluated in various diseases ranging from cancer to AIDS for their peripheral analgesic and immunosuppressive properties. Their anti-inflammatory actions may make them useful in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and AD. Very little in vivo evidence to support the use of EC receptor agonists has been reported, although in vitro studies have found evidence for their anti-inflammatory effectiveness. Our recent work demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effect of a chronic treatment of a low dose of the CBr agonist WIN-55,212-2 (without psychoactive effects) on the consequences of chronic neuroinflammation induced by the infusion of LPS into the 4th ventricle of young rats. Moreover, that same anti-inflammatory effect was found using a non-psychoactive dose given by slow subcutaneous infusion of WIN-55,212-2 to healthy aged rats; these rats also demonstrated improved spatial memory. Our ongoing work in aged rats has shown that treatment with the CBr agonist WIN-55,212-2 increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Our preliminary data suggest that the neurogenic and anti-inflammatory effects in aged rats are due to the agonist/antagonist properties of WIN-55,212-2 at multiple receptors.”

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Cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids, and Related Analogs in Inflammation.

“This review covers reports published in the last 5 years on the anti-inflammatory activities of all classes of cannabinoids, including phytocannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, synthetic analogs such as ajulemic acid and nabilone, the endogenous cannabinoids anandamide and related compounds, namely, the elmiric acids, and finally, noncannabinoid components of Cannabis that show anti-inflammatory action. It is intended to be an update on the topic of the involvement of cannabinoids in the process of inflammation. A possible mechanism for these actions is suggested involving increased production of eicosanoids that promote the resolution of inflammation. This differentiates these cannabinoids from cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors that suppress the synthesis of eicosanoids that promote the induction of the inflammatory process.”



This review is intended to be an update on the topic of the involvement of cannabinoids in the process of inflammation. Other reviews cover certain aspects of this subject and the reader is referred to them for a discussion of earlier reports. In this review are reports published in the last 5 years on the activities of all classes of cannabinoids, including the endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide, related compounds such as the elmiric acids (EMAs), and noncannabinoid components of Cannabis that show anti-inflammatory action. An interesting recently published example of the latter one is caryophyllene, an abundant component of Cannabis oil that shows anti-inflammatory activity and has high affinity for cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2; 5).”


“Phytocannabinoids: Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol”



“Cannabis sativa is a complex botanical, and it is not unlikely that the therapeutic benefits of marijuana are due to some of the more than 60 cannabinoids and 200–250 noncannabinoid constituents of the plant. One noncannabinoid, the geranylated flavone cannflavin A (Fig. 5), is 30 times more potent than aspirin as an inhibitor of prostaglandin E2 . These potentially important findings have been overlooked, as most attention in marijuana research has been directed to the analgesic effects of the plant and to mechanisms of psychoactivity. A further example that this line of inquiry has remained dormant is a series of overlooked observations, which demonstrate potent anti-inflammatory actions of a crude marijuana extract and of the nonpsychoactive Cannabis constituents, CBD, cannabinol, and cannabichromene in the carrageenan paw edema model of acute inflammation in rats. Volatile oil products of the plant also have biological activity. Thus, pyrolysis products may add to the therapeutic properties of smoked marijuana. Several of the most abundant cannabinoid and noncannabinoid constituents of C. sativa are nonpsychoactive.”

“Flavonoids are ubiquitous plant phenolic compounds that consist of two aromatic rings linked by a three carbon bridge. They are attracting interest because of their antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activities. The flavone luteolin, a constituent of C. sativa, is also found in spices and in vegetables such as celery and green pepper. When added to peripheral blood mononuclear cells in vitro, luteolin suppresses production of the inflammatory cytokines TNFα, IL-1b, and IL-6, actions that relate to a selective reduction in numbers of monocytes. Perhaps more importantly, luteolin inhibits growth of Plasmodium falciparum in vitro and protects against induction of colon cancer in mice.”


Possibly the very earliest literature reference on Cannabis describes its use as an anti-inflammatory agent. The Chinese emperor Shen-nung (ca. 2000 B.C.), in a work called Pen-ts’ao Ching, noted many of the effects of Cannabis in humans. Among other properties, it was claimed that cannabis “undoes rheumatism”, suggesting possible anti-inflammatory effects. The reports described in this review of the current literature provide support for the claims made by the ancient Chinese healers. These more recent publications include relief from chronic neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and postoperative pain. In addition, a large body of preclinical data on all classes of cannabinoids, including the endogenous examples, point to a variety of therapeutic targets for cannabinoids and important roles for the endocannabinoids in the physiology of inflammation.”

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Endocannabinoid overactivity and intestinal inflammation


“Cannabinoid receptors of type 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2), endogenous ligands that activate them (endocannabinoids), and mechanisms for endocannabinoid biosynthesis and inactivation have been identified in the gastrointestinal system. Activation of CB1 receptors by endocannabinoids produces relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter and inhibition of gastric acid secretion, intestinal motility, and fluid stimulated secretion. However, stimulation of cannabinoid receptors impacts on gastrointestinal functions in several other ways. Recent data indicate that the endocannabinoid system in the small intestine and colon becomes over stimulated during inflammation in both animal models and human inflammatory disorders. The pathological significance of this “endocannabinoid overactivity” and its possible exploitation for therapeutic purposes are discussed here.”


“The endocannabinoid system of the gastrointestinal tract includes not only cannabinoid receptors but also endogenous agonists of these receptors, as well as mechanisms for their biosynthesis and inactivation”


“The main psychotropic constituent of the plant Cannabis sativa and marijuana, Δ9‐tetrahydrocannabinol, exerts its pharmacological effects by activating two G protein coupled cannabinoid receptors.1These are the CB1 receptor, present in central and peripheral nerves (including the human enteric nervous system), and the CB2 receptor, expressed abundantly in immune cells. In rodents, CB1 receptor immunoreactivity has been detected in discrete nuclei of the dorsovagal complex (involved in emesis), and in efferents from the vagal ganglia and in enteric (myenteric and submucosal) nerve terminals where they inhibit excitatory (mainly cholinergic) neurotransmission. In vivo pharmacological studies have shown that activation of CB1 receptors reduces emesis, produces inhibition of gastric acid secretion8 and relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter (two effects that might be beneficial in the treatment of gastro‐oesophageal reflux disease), and inhibits intestinal motility and secretion. Consistent with immunohistochemical data showing that CB2 receptors are particularly evident in colonic tissues from patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), evidence suggests that CB2 inhibits intestinal motility during certain pathological states.1″


“…endocannabinoids convey protection from enteric hypersecretory states (for example, cholera toxin induced diarrhoea), which is in agreement with anecdotal reports from folk medicine on the use of Cannabis sativa in the treatment of diarrhoea.


“Overactivity of the endocannabinoid system is becoming a well established concept in human intestinal conditions with an inflammatory component”


“The inhibitory effects of cannabinoids on intestinal inflammation, as well as on intestinal motility and secretory diarrhoea, observed in preclinical studies, increase the potential for their use in the treatment of IBD”


“There is great potential for the development of new therapeutic agents against intestinal inflammation from the endocannabinoid system”


“Conclusions: new therapies for the treatment of IBD from the endocannabinoid system”

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Targeting the endocannabinoid system: to enhance or reduce?


“As our understanding of the endocannabinoids improves, so does the awareness of their complexity. During pathological states, the levels of these mediators in tissues change, and their effects vary from those of protective endogenous compounds to those of dysregulated signals. These observations led to the discovery of compounds that either prolong the lifespan of endocannabinoids or tone down their action for the potential future treatment of pain, affective and neurodegenerative disorders, gastrointestinal inflammation, obesity and metabolic dysfunctions, cardiovascular conditions and liver diseases. When moving to the clinic, however, the pleiotropic nature of endocannabinoid functions will require careful judgement in the choice of patients and stage of the disorder for treatment.”

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Cannabinoids in intestinal inflammation and cancer.


“Emerging evidence suggests that cannabinoids may exert beneficial effects in intestinal inflammation and cancer. Adaptive changes of the endocannabinoid system have been observed in intestinal biopsies from patients with inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Studies on epithelial cells have shown that cannabinoids exert antiproliferative, antimetastatic and apoptotic effects as well as reducing cytokine release and promoting wound healing. In vivo, cannabinoids – via direct or indirect activation of CB(1) and/or CB(2) receptors – exert protective effects in well-established models of intestinal inflammation and colon cancer. Pharmacological elevation of endocannabinoid levels may be a promising strategy to counteract intestinal inflammation and colon cancer.”

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