Cannabimimetic phytochemicals in the diet - an evolutionary link to food selection and metabolic stress adaptation?

Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Jun;174(11):1464-1483. doi: 10.1111/bph.13676. Epub 2017 Jan 16.


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a major lipid signalling network that plays important pro-homeostatic (allostatic) roles not only in the nervous system but also in peripheral organs. There is increasing evidence that there is a dietary component in the modulation of the ECS. Cannabinoid receptors in hominids co-evolved with diet, and the ECS constitutes a feedback loop for food selection and energy metabolism. Here, it is postulated that the mismatch of ancient lipid genes of hunter-gatherers and pastoralists with the high-carbohydrate diet introduced by agriculture could be compensated for via dietary modulation of the ECS. In addition to the fatty acid precursors of endocannabinoids, the potential role of dietary cannabimimetic phytochemicals in agriculturist nutrition is discussed. Dietary secondary metabolites from vegetables and spices able to enhance the activity of cannabinoid-type 2 (CB2 ) receptors may provide adaptive metabolic advantages and counteract inflammation. In contrast, chronic CB1 receptor activation in hedonic obese individuals may enhance pathophysiological processes related to hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, hepatorenal inflammation and cardiometabolic risk. Food able to modulate the CB1 /CB2 receptor activation ratio may thus play a role in the nutrition transition of Western high-calorie diets. In this review, the interplay between diet and the ECS is highlighted from an evolutionary perspective. The emerging potential of cannabimimetic food as a nutraceutical strategy is critically discussed.

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Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / administration & dosage*
  • Cannabinoids / administration & dosage*
  • Diet
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Phytochemicals / administration & dosage*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Phytochemicals