Binding of δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and diazepam to human serum albumin

IUBMB Life. 2011 Jun;63(6):446-51. doi: 10.1002/iub.466. Epub 2011 May 9.


Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug worldwide. Cannabis users also appear to use other psychoactive drugs more frequently than noncannabis users. Here, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and diazepam binding to human serum albumin (HSA) and HSA-heme is reported. THC binds to two different binding sites of HSA (K(d1) ≤ 10(-7) M and K(d2) = 10(-3)M) without affecting diazepam binding (K(d) = 1.2 × 10(-5) M). THC binding to the high-affinity site accounts for the low free fraction of the drug in plasma. Moreover, THC increases the affinity of heme for HSA. Accordingly, the affinity of THC for HSA-heme is higher than that for HSA. THC could bind to FA2 and FA7 sites, as substantiated by docking simulations; nevertheless, the observed allosteric effect(s) suggests that the primary binding site of THC is the FA2 cleft that positively modulates heme affinity. Possibly, the HSA conformational transition(s) induced by THC binding could account for drug delivery to the liver through receptor- mediated endocytosis.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / chemistry
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / metabolism*
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • Diazepam / chemistry
  • Diazepam / metabolism*
  • Dronabinol / chemistry
  • Dronabinol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Serum Albumin / chemistry
  • Serum Albumin / metabolism*


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Serum Albumin
  • Dronabinol
  • Diazepam