Cannabis sativa is an aromatic annual flowering plant with several botanical varieties, used for different purposes, like the production of fibers, the production of oil from the seeds, and especially for recreational or medical purposes. Phytocannabinoids (terpenophenolic compounds derived from the plant), include the well-known psychoactive cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, and many non-psychoactive cannabinoids, like cannabidiol. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) comprises of endocannabinoid ligands, enzymes for synthesis and degradation of such ligands, and receptors. This system is widely distributed in the gastrointestinal tract, where phytocannabinoids exert potent effects, particularly under pathological (i.e., inflammatory) conditions. Herein, we will first look at the hemp plant as a possible source of new functional food ingredients and nutraceuticals that might be eventually useful to treat or even prevent gastrointestinal conditions. Subsequently, we will briefly describe the ECS and the general pharmacology of phytocannabinoids. Finally, we will revise the available data showing that non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids, particularly cannabidiol, may be useful to treat different disorders and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. With the increasing interest in the development of functional foods for a healthy life, the non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids are hoped to find a place as nutraceuticals and food ingredients also for a healthy gastrointestinal tract function.
Keywords: cannabidiol; cannabinoids; gastrointestinal; inflammatory bowel disease; irritable bowel syndrome; non-psychoactive cannabinoids; nutraceutical; psychoactive cannabinoids; visceral pain.