The emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in the pathogenesis and treatment of kidney diseases

J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 2016 May 1;27(3):267-76. doi: 10.1515/jbcpp-2015-0055.


Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are endogenous lipid ligands that bind to cannabinoid receptors that also mediate the effects of marijuana. The eCB system is comprised of eCBs, anandamide, and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol, their cannabinoid-1 and cannabinoid-2 receptors (CB1 and CB2, respectively), and the enzymes involved in their biosynthesis and degradation. It is present in both the central nervous system and peripheral organs including the kidney. The current review focuses on the role of the eCB system in normal kidney function and various diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, that directly contributes to the development of renal pathologies. Normally, activation of the CB1 receptor regulates renal vascular hemodynamics and stimulates the transport of ions and proteins in different nephron compartments. In various mouse and rat models of obesity and type 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus, eCBs generated in various renal cells activate CB1 receptors and contribute to the development of oxidative stress, inflammation, and renal fibrosis. These effects can be chronically ameliorated by CB1 receptor blockers. In contrast, activation of the renal CB2 receptors reduces the deleterious effects of these chronic diseases. Because the therapeutic potential of globally acting CB1 receptor antagonists in these conditions is limited due to their neuropsychiatric adverse effects, the recent development of peripherally restricted CB1 receptor antagonists may represent a novel pharmacological approach in treating renal diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / therapeutic use
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / drug effects
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Kidney Diseases / metabolism*
  • Kidney Diseases / pathology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / metabolism


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2