Cannabinoid CB 1 /CB 2 receptor agonists attenuate hyperactivity and body weight loss in a rat model of activity-based anorexia

Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Aug;174(16):2682-2695. doi: 10.1111/bph.13892. Epub 2017 Jul 11.


Background and purpose: Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious psychiatric condition characterized by excessive body weight loss and disturbed perceptions of body shape and size, often associated with excessive physical activity. There is currently no effective drug-related therapy of this disease and this leads to high relapse rate. Clinical data suggest that a promising therapy to treat and reduce reoccurrence of AN may be based on the use of drugs that target the endocannabinoid (EC) system, which appears dysregulated in AN patients.

Experimental approach: The activity-based anorexia (ABA) rodent model mimics the severe body weight loss and increased physical activity, as well as the neuroendocrine disturbances (i.e. hypoleptinaemia and hypercortisolaemia) in AN. This study investigated whether cannabinoid agonists can effectively modify anorexic-like behaviours and neuroendocrine changes in rats subjected to a repeated ABA regime that mimics the human condition in which patients repeatedly undergo a recovery and illness cycle.

Key results: Our data show that subchronic treatment with both the natural CB1 /CB2 receptor agonist Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol and the synthetic CB1 /CB2 receptor agonist CP-55,940 significantly reduced body weight loss and running wheel activity in ABA rats. These behavioural effects were accompanied by an increase in leptin signalling and a decrease in plasma levels of corticosterone.

Conclusion and implications: Taken together, our results further demonstrate the involvement of the EC system in AN pathophysiology and that strategies which modulate EC signalling are useful to treat this disorder, specifically in patients where physical hyperactivity plays a central role in its progression and maintenance.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anorexia / blood
  • Anorexia / drug therapy*
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Cyclohexanols / pharmacology
  • Cyclohexanols / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology
  • Dronabinol / therapeutic use*
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hyperkinesis / blood
  • Hyperkinesis / drug therapy*
  • Leptin / blood
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • Weight Loss / drug effects


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cyclohexanols
  • Leptin
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • Dronabinol
  • 3-(2-hydroxy-4-(1,1-dimethylheptyl)phenyl)-4-(3-hydroxypropyl)cyclohexanol
  • Corticosterone