The endocannabinoid system and psychiatric disorders

Exp Neurol. 2010 Jul;224(1):3-14. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2010.03.018. Epub 2010 Mar 29.


The present review summarizes the latest information on the role and the pharmacological modulation of the endocannabinoid system in mood disorders and its potential implication in psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Reduced functionality might be considered a predisposing factor for major depression, so boosting endocannabinoid tone might be a useful alternative therapeutic approach for depressive disorders. The picture regarding endocannabinoids and anxiety is more complicated since either too much or too little anandamide can lead to anxiety states. However, a small rise in its level in specific brain areas might be beneficial for the response to a stressful situation and therefore to tone down anxiety. This effect might be achieved with low doses of cannabinoid indirect agonists, such as blockers of the degradative pathway (i.e. FAAH) or re-uptake inhibitors. Moreover several lines of experimental and clinical evidence point to a dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system in schizophrenia. The high anandamide levels found in schizophrenic patients, negatively correlated with psychotic symptoms, point to a protective role, whereas the role of 2-arachidonoyl glycerol is still unclear. There is a potential for pharmacological manipulation of the endocannabinoid system as a novel approach for treating schizophrenia, although experimental findings are still controversial, often with different effects depending on the drug, the dose, the species and the model used for simulating positive or negative symptoms. Besides all these limitations, SR141716A and cannabidiol show the most constant antipsychotic properties in dopamine- and glutamate-based models of schizophrenia, with profiles similar to an atypical antipsychotic drug.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Dopamine