Cannabinoids and the immune system: an overview

Immunobiology. 2010 Aug;215(8):588-97. doi: 10.1016/j.imbio.2009.12.005. Epub 2010 Jan 4.


Cannabinoids can influence the immune network. Data on the impact of exogenous cannabinoid ligands on immune function serve not only to understand how the endocannabinoid system modulates immune phenomena associated with infection or inflammation, but also to identify therapeutic targets for immune diseases. Cannabinoids can modulate immune reactions in the periphery but also in the brain, influence T cell subset balance and cytokine expression and play a role in the balance between neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. Immune cells can synthesize endocannabinoids and also be influenced by cannabinoid analogues. Cannabinoid receptors show different expression on immune cells depending on activation status and stimuli. The complexity of relation between cannabinoid ligands of various classes and cannabinoid receptors brought the need to refine the simple conceptual frame of agonist-antagonists and offered potential implications for understanding interactions in pathological conditions. The immune influence of cannabinoid ligands is not fully elucidated. However, aspects of their immunomodulatory effects provide the basis for a context-dependent targeted therapeutic approach, thus leading to the possibility for the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of inflammatory disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoids / immunology*
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immunity, Humoral
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / immunology
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Cannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid