The endogenous cannabinoid (endocannabinoid) system regulates a diverse array of physiological processes and unsurprisingly possesses considerable potential targets for the potential treatment of numerous disease states, including two receptors (i.e., CB1 and CB2 receptors) and enzymes regulating their endogenous ligands N-arachidonoylethanolamine (anandamide) and 2-arachidonyl glycerol (2-AG). Increases in brain levels of endocannabinoids to pathogenic events suggest this system plays a role in compensatory repair mechanisms. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) pathology remains mostly refractory to currently available drugs, perhaps due to its heterogeneous nature in etiology, clinical presentation, and severity. Here, we review pre-clinical studies assessing the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids and manipulations of the endocannabinoid system to ameliorate TBI pathology. Specifically, manipulations of endocannabinoid degradative enzymes (e.g., fatty acid amide hydrolase, monoacylglycerol lipase, and α/β-hydrolase domain-6), CB1 and CB2 receptors, and their endogenous ligands have shown promise in modulating cellular and molecular hallmarks of TBI pathology such as; cell death, excitotoxicity, neuroinflammation, cerebrovascular breakdown, and cell structure and remodeling. TBI-induced behavioral deficits, such as learning and memory, neurological motor impairments, post-traumatic convulsions or seizures, and anxiety also respond to manipulations of the endocannabinoid system. As such, the endocannabinoid system possesses potential drugable receptor and enzyme targets for the treatment of diverse TBI pathology. Yet, full characterization of TBI-induced changes in endocannabinoid ligands, enzymes, and receptor populations will be important to understand that role this system plays in TBI pathology. Promising classes of compounds, such as the plant-derived phytocannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids, and endocannabinoids, as well as their non-cannabinoid receptor targets, such as TRPV1 receptors, represent important areas of basic research and potential therapeutic interest to treat TBI.
Keywords: cannabinoid; endocannabinoid; neuroprotection; phytocannabinoid; traumatic brain injury.