Cannabis has been used to treat gastrointestinal (GI) conditions that range from enteric infections and inflammatory conditions to disorders of motility, emesis and abdominal pain. The mechanistic basis of these treatments emerged after the discovery of Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol as the major constituent of Cannabis. Further progress was made when the receptors for Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol were identified as part of an endocannabinoid system, that consists of specific cannabinoid receptors, endogenous ligands and their biosynthetic and degradative enzymes. Anatomical, physiological and pharmacological studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system is widely distributed throughout the gut, with regional variation and organ-specific actions. It is involved in the regulation of food intake, nausea and emesis, gastric secretion and gastroprotection, GI motility, ion transport, visceral sensation, intestinal inflammation and cell proliferation in the gut. Cellular targets have been defined that include the enteric nervous system, epithelial and immune cells. Molecular targets of the endocannabinoid system include, in addition to the cannabinoid receptors, transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 receptors, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha receptors and the orphan G-protein coupled receptors, GPR55 and GPR119. Pharmacological agents that act on these targets have been shown in preclinical models to have therapeutic potential. Here, we discuss cannabinoid receptors and their localization in the gut, the proteins involved in endocannabinoid synthesis and degradation and the presence of endocannabinoids in the gut in health and disease. We focus on the pharmacological actions of cannabinoids in relation to GI disorders, highlighting recent data on genetic mutations in the endocannabinoid system in GI disease.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.