Endocannabinoids and the Immune System in Health and Disease

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2015:231:185-211. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-20825-1_6.


Endocannabinoids are bioactive lipids that have the potential to signal through cannabinoid receptors to modulate the functional activities of a variety of immune cells. Their activation of these seven-transmembranal, G protein-coupled receptors sets in motion a series of signal transductional events that converge at the transcriptional level to regulate cell migration and the production of cytokines and chemokines. There is a large body of data that supports a functional relevance for 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) as acting through the cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2R) to inhibit migratory activities for a diverse array of immune cell types. However, unequivocal data that supports a functional linkage of anandamide (AEA) to a cannabinoid receptor in immune modulation remains to be obtained. Endocannabinoids, as typical bioactive lipids, have a short half-life and appear to act in an autocrine and paracrine fashion. Their immediate effective action on immune function may be at localized sites in the periphery and within the central nervous system. It is speculated that endocannabinoids play an important role in maintaining the overall "fine-tuning" of the immune homeostatic balance within the host.

Keywords: 2-Arachidonoylglycerol; Anandamide; Antigen presentation; Astrocyte; Basophil; Cannabinoid receptor; Chemokine; Cytokine; Dendritic cell; Endocannabinoid; Interferon; Interleukin; Lymphocyte; Macrophage; Mast cell; Microglia; Monocyte; Natural killer (NK) cell; Neutrophil; Nitric oxide.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocannabinoids / immunology
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology
  • Immune System / metabolism*
  • Immune System / physiopathology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / immunology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / immunology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2