Endocannabinoids and the Digestive Tract and Bladder in Health and Disease

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2015:231:423-47. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-20825-1_15.


Components of the so-called endocannabinoid system, i.e., cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, as well as enzymes involved in endocannabinoid synthesis and degradation, have been identified both in the gastrointestinal and in the urinary tract. Evidence suggests that the endocannabinoid system is implicated in many gastrointestinal and urinary physiological and pathophysiological processes, including epithelial cell growth, inflammation, analgesia, and motor function. A pharmacological modulation of the endocannabinoid system might be beneficial for widespread diseases such as gastrointestinal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, cystitis, and hyperactive bladder. Drugs that inhibit endocannabinoid degradation and raise the level of endocannabinoids, non-psychotropic cannabinoids (notably cannabidiol), and palmitoylethanolamide, an acylethanolamide co-released with the endocannabinoid anandamide, are promising candidates for gastrointestinal and urinary diseases.

Keywords: 2-Arachydonoylglycerol; Anandamide; Bladder; Cancer; Cannabidiol; Cannabinoid receptors; Cystitis; Fatty acid amide hydrolase; Inflammation; Monoacylglycerol lipase; Palmitoylethanolamide; Transient receptor potential channels.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Urinary Bladder / drug effects
  • Urinary Bladder / metabolism*
  • Urinary Bladder / physiopathology
  • Urinary Bladder Diseases / drug therapy
  • Urinary Bladder Diseases / metabolism*
  • Urinary Bladder Diseases / physiopathology


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid