The endocannabinoid system and appetite: relevance for food reward

Nutr Res Rev. 2014 Jun;27(1):172-85. doi: 10.1017/S0954422414000080. Epub 2014 Jun 16.


Mounting evidence substantiates the central role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the modulation of both homeostatic and hedonic elements of appetite and food intake. Conversely, feeding status and dietary patterns directly influence activity of the ECS. Following a general introduction on the functioning of the ECS, the present review specifically addresses its role in the modulation of hedonic eating. Humans possess strong motivational systems triggered by rewarding aspects of food. Food reward is comprised of two components: one appetitive (orienting towards food); the other consummatory (hedonic evaluation), also referred to as 'wanting' and 'liking', respectively. Endocannabinoid tone seems to influence both the motivation to feed and the hedonic value of foods, probably by modifying palatability. Human physiology underlying hedonic eating is still not fully understood. A better understanding of the role of the ECS in the rewarding value of specific foods or diets could offer new possibilities to optimise the balance between energy and nutrient intake for different target groups. These groups include the obese and overweight, and potentially individuals suffering from malnutrition. Examples for the latter group are patients with disease-related anorexia, as well as the growing population of frail elderly suffering from persistent loss of food enjoyment and appetite resulting in malnutrition and involuntary weight loss. It has become clear that the psychobiology of food hedonics is extremely complex and the clinical failure of CB1 inverse agonists including rimonabant (Accomplia®) has shown that 'quick wins' in this field are unlikely.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Appetite*
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Food Preferences
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Pleasure
  • Reward*
  • Taste


  • Endocannabinoids