Plant, synthetic, and endogenous cannabinoids in medicine

Annu Rev Med. 2006;57:553-74. doi: 10.1146/


Although used for more than 4000 years for recreational and medicinal purposes, Cannabis and its best-known pharmacologically active constituents, the cannabinoids, became a protagonist in medical research only recently. This revival of interest is explained by the finding in the 1990s of the mechanism of action of the main psychotropic cannabinoid, Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which acts through specific membrane receptors, the cannabinoid receptors. The molecular characterization of these receptors allowed the development of synthetic molecules with cannabinoid and noncannabinoid structure and with higher selectivity, metabolic stability, and efficacy than THC, as well as the development of antagonists that have already found pharmaceutical application. The finding of endogenous agonists at these receptors, the endocannabinoids, opened new therapeutic possibilities through the modulation of the activity of cannabinoid receptors by targeting the biochemical mechanisms controlling endocannabinoid tissue levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabis*
  • Emaciation / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Nausea / drug therapy
  • Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / physiology*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids
  • Plant Extracts
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid