The endocannabinoid system and its therapeutic implications in rheumatoid arthritis

Int Immunopharmacol. 2015 May;26(1):86-91. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2015.03.006. Epub 2015 Mar 16.


Since the discovery of the endogenous receptor for Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol, a main constituent of marijuana, the endocannabinoid system (comprising cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous ligands, as well as the enzymes involved in their metabolic processes) has been implicated as having multiple regulatory functions in many central and peripheral conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease that is associated with the involvement of many kinds of cells (such as fibroblastlike synoviocytes [FLSs], osteoclasts, T cells, B cells, and macrophages) and molecules (such as interleukin-1β, tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-6, matrix metalloproteinases [MMPs], and chemokines). Increasing evidence suggests that the endocannabinoid system, especially cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), has an important role in the pathophysiology of RA. Many members of the endocannabinoid system are reported to inhibit synovial inflammation, hyperplasia, and cartilage destruction in RA. In particular, specific activation of CB2 may relieve RA by inhibiting not only the production of autoantibodies, proinflammatory cytokines, and MMPs, but also bone erosion, immune response mediated by T cells, and the proliferation of FLSs. In this review, we will discuss the possible functions of the endocannabinoid system in the modulation of RA, which may be a potential target for treatment.

Keywords: Cannabinoid receptors; Drug therapy; Endocannabinoid system; Endocannabinoids; Rheumatoid arthritis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Cannabinoids / administration & dosage
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Endocannabinoids / immunology*
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / immunology
  • Humans
  • Osteoblasts / drug effects
  • Osteoblasts / immunology
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / immunology*


  • Cannabinoids
  • Cytokines
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid