Endocannabinoids: endogenous cannabinoid receptor ligands with neuromodulatory action

Trends Neurosci. 1998 Dec;21(12):521-8. doi: 10.1016/s0166-2236(98)01283-1.


The existence of an endogenous cannabinoid system was demonstrated conclusively with the discovery of endogenous brain constituents capable of activating the cannabinoid receptors functionally. These compounds are synthesized by neuronal cells and inactivated through re-uptake and enzymatic hydrolysis by both neurons and astrocytes. In analogy with the endorphins they can be referred to as endocannabinoids. Apart from the identification of their metabolic pathways, research carried out in the past six years has focused on the possible cellular and molecular targets for the actions of endocannabinoids. These studies have confirmed a similarity between the endocannabinoids and the psychoactive substance in marijuana, delta9(-)-tetrahydrocannabinol, and have suggested a role for endocannabinoids in the modulation of neurotransmitter action and release.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids / analysis*
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug / chemistry
  • Receptors, Drug / isolation & purification
  • Receptors, Drug / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Ligands
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug