Cannabinoids and gastrointestinal motility: Pharmacology, clinical effects, and potential therapeutics in humans

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2018 Sep;30(9):e13370. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13370. Epub 2018 May 10.


Background: Cannabinoid agents and cannabis are frequently used for relief of diverse gastrointestinal symptoms.

Purpose: The objective of this article is to increase the awareness of gastroenterologists to the effects of cannabinoids on gastrointestinal motility, as gastroenterologists are likely to encounter patients who are taking cannabinoids, or those with dysmotility that may be associated with cannabinoid mechanisms. The non-selective cannabinoid agonist, dronabinol, retards gastric emptying and inhibits colonic tone and phasic pressure activity. In addition to the well-recognized manifestations of cannabinoid hyperemesis, cannabinoid mechanisms result in human and animal models of gastrointestinal and colonic dysmotility. Decreased enteric FAAH activity is associated with colonic inertia in slow transit constipation and, conversely, the orphan G protein-coupled receptor, GPR55, is overexpressed in streptozotocin-induced gastroparesis, suggesting it is involved in inhibition of antral motility. Experimental therapies in gastrointestinal motility and functional disorders are focused predominantly on pain relief mediated through cannabinoid 2 receptors or inhibition of DAGLα to normalize colonic transit. In summary, cannabinoid mechanisms and pharmacology are relevant to the current and future practice of clinical gastroenterology.

Keywords: 2-AG; DAGL; FAAH; anandamide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Pharmacology, Clinical


  • Cannabinoids