The endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) is shown to induce apoptotic bodies formation and DNA fragmentation, hallmarks of programmed cell death, in human neuroblastoma CHP100 and lymphoma U937 cells. RNA and protein synthesis inhibitors like actinomycin D and cycloheximide reduced to one-fifth the number of apoptotic bodies induced by AEA, whereas the AEA transporter inhibitor AM404 or the AEA hydrolase inhibitor ATFMK significantly increased the number of dying cells. Furthermore, specific antagonists of cannabinoid or vanilloid receptors potentiated or inhibited cell death induced by AEA, respectively. Other endocannabinoids such as 2-arachidonoylglycerol, linoleoylethanolamide, oleoylethanolamide, and palmitoylethanolamide did not promote cell death under the same experimental conditions. The formation of apoptotic bodies induced by AEA was paralleled by increases in intracellular calcium (3-fold over the controls), mitochondrial uncoupling (6-fold), and cytochrome c release (3-fold). The intracellular calcium chelator EGTA-AM reduced the number of apoptotic bodies to 40% of the controls, and electrotransferred anti-cytochrome c monoclonal antibodies fully prevented apoptosis induced by AEA. Moreover, 5-lipoxygenase inhibitors 5,8,11,14-eicosatetraynoic acid and MK886, cyclooxygenase inhibitor indomethacin, caspase-3 and caspase-9 inhibitors Z-DEVD-FMK and Z-LEHD-FMK, but not nitric oxide synthase inhibitor Nomega-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester, significantly reduced the cell death-inducing effect of AEA. The data presented indicate a protective role of cannabinoid receptors against apoptosis induced by AEA via vanilloid receptors.