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Keywords:

  • cannabis;
  • Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol;
  • cannabidiol;
  • Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin;
  • CB1 receptors;
  • CB2 receptors;
  • cannabinoid receptor agonism;
  • cannabinoid receptor antagonism;
  • clinical applications;
  • endocannabinoid system

Cannabis sativa is the source of a unique set of compounds known collectively as plant cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids. This review focuses on the manner with which three of these compounds, (−)-trans9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), (−)-cannabidiol (CBD) and (−)-trans9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (Δ9-THCV), interact with cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors. Δ9-THC, the main psychotropic constituent of cannabis, is a CB1 and CB2 receptor partial agonist and in line with classical pharmacology, the responses it elicits appear to be strongly influenced both by the expression level and signalling efficiency of cannabinoid receptors and by ongoing endogenous cannabinoid release. CBD displays unexpectedly high potency as an antagonist of CB1/CB2 receptor agonists in CB1- and CB2-expressing cells or tissues, the manner with which it interacts with CB2 receptors providing a possible explanation for its ability to inhibit evoked immune cell migration. Δ9-THCV behaves as a potent CB2 receptor partial agonist in vitro. In contrast, it antagonizes cannabinoid receptor agonists in CB1-expressing tissues. This it does with relatively high potency and in a manner that is both tissue and ligand dependent. Δ9-THCV also interacts with CB1 receptors when administered in vivo, behaving either as a CB1 antagonist or, at higher doses, as a CB1 receptor agonist. Brief mention is also made in this review, first of the production by Δ9-THC of pharmacodynamic tolerance, second of current knowledge about the extent to which Δ9-THC, CBD and Δ9-THCV interact with pharmacological targets other than CB1 or CB2 receptors, and third of actual and potential therapeutic applications for each of these cannabinoids.

British Journal of Pharmacology (2008) 153, 199–215; doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707442; published online 10 September 2007