Purpose of review: Recent findings suggesting that cannabinoid receptors are potential targets for the treatment of atherosclerosis are reviewed.
Recent findings: Cannabinoids, such as Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the major psychoactive compound of marijuana, their synthetic analogs and endogenous cannabinoid ligands, produce their biological effects by interacting with specific receptors. In the apolipoprotein E knockout mouse model of atherosclerosis, Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol was shown to inhibit disease progression through pleiotropic effects on inflammatory cells. Blocking of cannabinoid receptor CB2, the main cannabinoid receptor expressed on immune cells, abolished the observed effects. The development of novel cannabinoid receptor ligands that selectively target CB2 receptors or pharmacological modulation of the endocannabinoid system might offer novel therapeutic strategies in the treatment of atherosclerosis. Several reports demonstrating an implication of the endocannabinoid system in different inflammatory conditions support this hypothesis.
Summary: The immunomodulatory capacity of cannabinoids is now well established and suggests a broad therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for a variety of conditions, including atherosclerosis. New strategies based on nonpsychotropic cannabinoid receptor ligands or compounds modulating endocannabinoid synthesis or stability might solve the problem of the unwanted side effects associated with cannabinoid administration.