The role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity

J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 May:20 Suppl 1:35-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01673.x.


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a recently identified neuromodulatory system, which is involved in several physiological processes and in disease. For example, the ECS not only represents the biological substrate of marijuana's effects, but also is known to modulate several neuroendocrine axes, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Although previous pharmacological studies using plant-derived or synthetic cannabinoids have implied a stimulating action on the HPA axis, more recent findings have led to the conclusion that an endogenous cannabinoid tone might exist, which is actually inhibiting the release of both adrenocorticotrophic hormone and glucocorticoids. Studies using mice lacking cannabinoid receptor CB(1) have demonstrated that presence and activity of these receptors is essential for the regulation of HPA axis activity. Interestingly, the effects of endocannabinoids on the HPA axis are consistent with their neuromodulatory action on brain neurotransmitter systems. Endocannabinoids have been found to mediate the nongenomic glucocorticoid-induced inhibition of the release of corticotrophin-releasing factor within the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. Altogether, these observations suggest that alterations of the endocannabinoid tone might be associated with the development of stress-related diseases, including anxiety, depression and obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / physiology*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids