The endocannabinoid system in the regulation of emotions throughout lifespan: a discussion on therapeutic perspectives

J Psychopharmacol. 2012 Jan;26(1):150-63. doi: 10.1177/0269881111408459. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Alterations in emotion regulation processes may form the basis of psychopathologies. The endocannabinoid (eCB) system, composed of endogenous ligands, the enzymatic machinery in charge of their metabolism and the specific metabotropic receptors, has emerged as a major neuromodulatory system critically involved in the control of emotional homeostasis and stress responsiveness. Data from animal models indicate that the eCB system plays a key role in brain development, and is probably involved in the control of emotional states from early developmental stages. The present review summarizes the latest information on the role of the eCB system in emotionality and anxiety-related disorders throughout the lifespan. Putative therapeutic strategies based on the pharmacological modulation of this system will be discussed. Given the fact that the pharmacological modulation of the eCB system has recently arisen as a promising strategy in the management of anxiety and mood disorders, the potential efficacy of this pharmacological approach (i.e. blockers of the catabolic pathway) will be discussed, as well as pharmacological alternatives such as modulators of cannabinoid receptors other than the classical CB1 receptor, or administration of other plant-derived compounds (e.g. cannabidiol).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders / metabolism*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Mood Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mood Disorders / metabolism*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids