The endocannabinoid system: its general strategy of action, tools for its pharmacological manipulation and potential therapeutic exploitation

Pharmacol Res. 2009 Aug;60(2):77-84. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2009.02.010. Epub 2009 Mar 4.


The endocannabinoid signalling system includes: (1) at least two G-protein-coupled receptors, known as the cannabinoid CB(1) and CB(2) receptors and discovered following studies on the mechanism of action of Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol, the major psychoactive principle of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa; (2) the endogenous agonists at these receptors, known as endocannabinoids, of which anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol are the best known; and (3) proteins and enzymes for the regulation of endocannabinoid levels and action at receptors. The endocannabinoid system is quite widespread in mammalian tissues and cells and appears to play a pro-homeostatic role by being activated following transient or chronic perturbation of homeostasis, and by regulating in a local way the levels and action of other chemical signals. Compounds that selectively manipulate the action and levels of endocannabinoids at their targets have been and are being developed, and represent templates for potential new therapeutic drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / chemistry
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / physiology*
  • Dronabinol
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / agonists
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / agonists
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / physiology
  • TRPV Cation Channels / physiology


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • TRPV Cation Channels
  • Dronabinol