Therapeutic potential of cannabinoid-based drugs.


“Cannabinoid-based drugs modeled on cannabinoids originally isolated from marijuana are now known to significantly impact the functioning of the endocannabinoid system of mammals. This system operates not only in the brain but also in organs and tissues in the periphery including the immune system. Natural and synthetic cannabinoids are tricyclic terpenes, whereas the endogenous physiological ligands are eicosanoids. Several receptors for these compounds have been extensively described, CB1 and CB2, and are G protein-coupled receptors; however, cannabinoid-based drugs are also demonstrated to function independently of these receptors. Cannabinoids regulate many physiological functions and their impact on immunity is generally antiinflammatory as powerful modulators of the cytokine cascade. This anti-inflammatory potency has led to the testing of these drugs in chronic inflammatory laboratory paradigms and even in some human diseases. Psychoactive and nonpsychoactive cannabinoid-based drugs such as Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, HU-211, and ajulemic acid have been tested and found moderately effective in clinical trials of multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, and neuropathic pain. Furthermore, although clinical trials are not yet reported, preclinical data with cannabinoid-based drugs suggest efficacy in other inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis.”

Targeting the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoid receptor agonists: pharmacological strategies and therapeutic possibilities.

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: 367 (1607)

“Human tissues express cannabinoid CB(1) and CB(2) receptors that can be activated by endogenously released ‘endocannabinoids’ or exogenously administered compounds in a manner that reduces the symptoms or opposes the underlying causes of several disorders in need of effective therapy. Three medicines that activate cannabinoid CB(1)/CB(2) receptors are now in the clinic: Cesamet (nabilone), Marinol (dronabinol; Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ(9)-THC)) and Sativex (Δ(9)-THC with cannabidiol). These can be prescribed for the amelioration of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (Cesamet and Marinol), stimulation of appetite (Marinol) and symptomatic relief of cancer pain and/or management of neuropathic pain and spasticity in adults with multiple sclerosis (Sativex). This review mentions several possible additional therapeutic targets for cannabinoid receptor agonists. These include other kinds of pain, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stroke, cancer, drug dependence, glaucoma, autoimmune uveitis, osteoporosis, sepsis, and hepatic, renal, intestinal and cardiovascular disorders. It also describes potential strategies for improving the efficacy and/or benefit-to-risk ratio of these agonists in the clinic. These are strategies that involve (i) targeting cannabinoid receptors located outside the blood-brain barrier, (ii) targeting cannabinoid receptors expressed by a particular tissue, (iii) targeting upregulated cannabinoid receptors, (iv) selectively targeting cannabinoid CB(2) receptors, and/or (v) adjunctive ‘multi-targeting’.”

“Targeting the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoid receptor agonists: pharmacological strategies and therapeutic possibilities”

The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy


“The recent identification of cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous lipid ligands has triggered an exponential growth of studies exploring the endocannabinoid system and its regulatory functions in health and disease. Such studies have been greatly facilitated by the introduction of selective cannabinoid receptor antagonists and inhibitors of endocannabinoid metabolism and transport, as well as mice deficient in cannabinoid receptors or the endocannabinoid-degrading enzyme fatty acid amidohydrolase. In the past decade, the endocannabinoid system has been implicated in a growing number of physiological functions, both in the central and peripheral nervous systems and in peripheral organs. More importantly, modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system turned out to hold therapeutic promise in a wide range of disparate diseases and pathological conditions, ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis, to name just a few. An impediment to the development of cannabinoid medications has been the socially unacceptable psychoactive properties of plant-derived or synthetic agonists, mediated by CB(1) receptors. However, this problem does not arise when the therapeutic aim is achieved by treatment with a CB(1) receptor antagonist, such as in obesity, and may also be absent when the action of endocannabinoids is enhanced indirectly through blocking their metabolism or transport. The use of selective CB(2) receptor agonists, which lack psychoactive properties, could represent another promising avenue for certain conditions. The abuse potential of plant-derived cannabinoids may also be limited through the use of preparations with controlled composition and the careful selection of dose and route of administration. The growing number of preclinical studies and clinical trials with compounds that modulate the endocannabinoid system will probably result in novel therapeutic approaches in a number of diseases for which current treatments do not fully address the patients’ need. Here, we provide a comprehensive overview on the current state of knowledge of the endocannabinoid system as a target of pharmacotherapy.”

Future Directions

“The length of this review, necessitated by the steady growth in the number of indications for the potential therapeutic use of cannabinoid-related medications, is a clear sign of the emerging importance of this field. This is further underlined by the quantity of articles in the public database dealing with the biology of cannabinoids, which numbered ∼200 to 300/year throughout the 1970s to reach an astonishing 5900 in 2004. The growing interest in the underlying science has been matched by a growth in the number of cannabinoid drugs in pharmaceutical development from two in 1995 to 27 in 2004, with the most actively pursued therapeutic targets being pain, obesity, and multiple sclerosis (Hensen, 2005). As in any rapidly growing area of research, not all the leads will turn out to be useful or even valid. Nevertheless, it is safe to predict that new therapeutic agents that affect the activity of the endocannaboinoid system will emerge and become members of our therapeutic armamentarium. The plant-derived cannabinoid preparation Sativex has already gained regulatory approval in Canada for the treatment of spasticity and pain associated with multiple sclerosis, and the CB1 receptor antagonist rimonabant has been approved in Europe and is awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval in the United States for the treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Undoubtedly, these will be followed by new and improved compounds aimed at the same or additional targets in the endocannabinoid system. However, it may be only after the widespread therapeutic use of such compounds that some important side effects will emerge. Although this occurrence would be undesirable from a health care perspective, such side effects may shed further light on the biological functions of endocannabinoids in health and disease.”