CB1 Receptor Signaling in the Brain: Extracting Specificity from Ubiquity

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Jan;43(1):4-20. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.206. Epub 2017 Sep 1.


Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are amongst the most ubiquitous signaling molecules in the nervous system. Over the past few decades, observations based on a large volume of work, first examining the pharmacological effects of exogenous cannabinoids, and then the physiological functions of eCBs, have directly challenged long-held and dogmatic views about communication, plasticity and behavior in the central nervous system (CNS). The eCBs and their cognate cannabinoid receptors exhibit a number of unique properties that distinguish them from the widely studied classical amino-acid transmitters, neuropeptides, and catecholamines. Although we now have a loose set of mechanistic rules based on experimental findings, new studies continue to reveal that our understanding of the eCB system (ECS) is continuously evolving and challenging long-held conventions. Here we will briefly summarize findings on the current canonical view of the 'ECS' and will address novel aspects that reveal how a nearly ubiquitous system can determine highly specific functions in the brain. In particular, we will focus on findings that push for an expansion of our ideas around long-held beliefs about eCB signaling that, while clearly true, may be contributing to an oversimplified perspective on how cannabinoid signaling at the microscopic level impacts behavior at the macroscopic level.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism


  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1