Over recent years, the interest in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as a new target for the treatment of schizophrenia has evolved. The ECS represents one of the most relevant neurotransmitter systems in the brain and mainly fulfills a homeostatic role in terms of neurotransmission but also with respect to inflammatory processes. Two main approaches to the modulation of endocannabinoid functioning have been chosen so far. First, the selective blockade or inverse agonism of the type 1 cannabinoid receptor has been tested for the improvement of acute psychotic symptoms, as well as for the improvement of cognitive functions in schizophrenia. This was not effective in either case. Second, the modulation of endocannabinoid levels by use of the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol and selective fatty acid amide hydrolase inhibitors has been proposed, and the antipsychotic properties of cannabidiol are currently being investigated in humans. Unfortunately, for most of these trials that have focused on psychopathological and cognitive effects of cannabidiol, no published data are available. However, there is first evidence that cannabidiol may ameliorate psychotic symptoms with a superior side-effect profile compared with established antipsychotics. In conclusion, several clinical trials targeting the ECS in acute schizophrenia have either been completed or are underway. Although publicly available results are currently limited, preliminary data indicate that selected compounds modulating the ECS may be effective in acute schizophrenia. Nevertheless, so far, sample sizes of patients investigated are not sufficient to come to a final judgment, and no maintenance studies are available to ensure long-term efficacy and safety.
Keywords: Antipsychotic; Cannabidiol; Cannabinoid receptors; Clinical trial; Endocannabinoids; Schizophrenia.
Copyright © 2016 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.