Marijuana, endocannabinoids, and epilepsy: potential and challenges for improved therapeutic intervention

Exp Neurol. 2013 Jun:244:43-50. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2011.11.047. Epub 2011 Dec 9.


Phytocannabinoids isolated from the cannabis plant have broad potential in medicine that has been well recognized for many centuries. It is presumed that these lipid soluble signaling molecules exert their effects in both the central and peripheral nervous system in large part through direct interaction with metabotropic cannabinoid receptors. These same receptors are also targeted by a variety of endogenous cannabinoids including 2-arachidonoyl glycerol and anandamide. Significant effort over the last decade has produced an enormous advance in our understanding of both the cellular and the synaptic physiology of endogenous lipid signaling systems. This increase in knowledge has left us better prepared to carefully evaluate the potential for both natural and synthetic cannabinoids in the treatment of a variety of neurological disorders. In the case of epilepsy, long standing interest in therapeutic approaches that target endogenous cannabinoid signaling systems are, for the most part, not well justified by available clinical data from human epileptics. Nevertheless, basic science experiments have clearly indicated a key role for endogenous cannabinoid signaling systems in moment to moment regulation of neuronal excitability. Further it has become clear that these systems can both alter and be altered by epileptiform activity in a wide range of in vitro and in vivo models of epilepsy. Collectively these observations suggest clear potential for effective therapeutic modulation of endogenous cannabinoid signaling systems in the treatment of human epilepsy, and in fact, further highlight key obstacles that would need to be addressed to reach that goal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabis / chemistry*
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Epilepsy / metabolism*
  • Epilepsy / pathology
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*


  • Cannabinoids