The biochemical complexity of the endocannabinoid system with some remarks on stress and related disorders: a minireview

Endocr Regul. 2012 Apr;46(2):107-24. doi: 10.4149/endo_2012_02_107.


Nowadays, the endocannabinoid-regulated processes are in the focus of interest, among others, for the treatment of stress-related disorders. In this minireview, we attempt to give some possible explanations for the conflicting results of the cannabinoidergic regulation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis and related disorders, drawing attention to the complexity of the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a part of an intricate network of lipid pathways and consists of the cannabinoid receptors, their endogenous ligands, and the enzymes catalyzing their formation and degradation. The stress research is focused almost exclusively on the anandamide and 2-arachidonyl glycerol, and the cannabinoid 1 receptor. However, physiological, pathological, and pharmacological perturbations of the interconnected lipid pathways have a profound effect on the regulation of the endocannabinoid signaling system. For example, diet may substantially influence the lipid composition of the body. Recent studies have indicated that beside cannabinoid 1 receptor, the endocannabinoids may act on the cannabinoid 2, peroxisome proliferator-activated, and transient receptor potential of vanilloid type-1 receptors, too. All of these receptors are implicated in the development of stress-related disorders. However, it has to be mentioned that degradation of the endocannabinoids may result in the production of active compounds as well. Since endocannabinoids have a widespread distribution in the body, they may influence a phenomenon at several points. Different effects (stimulatory or inhibitory) at different levels of endocannabinoids (e.g. hypothalamus, hypophysis, adrenal gland in the case of HPA axis) may explain some of their unequivocal results.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / chemistry*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid