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Keywords:

  • inflammatory bowel disease;
  • colitis;
  • cannabis;
  • endocannabinoids;
  • enteric nervous system;
  • gastrointestinal motility;
  • bowel cancer;
  • visceral sensation

The emerging potential for the cannabinoid (CB) system in modulating gastrointestinal inflammation has gained momentum over the last few years. Traditional and anecdotal use of marijuana for gastrointestinal disorders, such as diarrhoea and abdominal cramps is recognized, but the therapeutic benefit of cannabinoids in the 21st century is overshadowed by the psychoactive problems associated with CB1 receptor activation. However, the presence and function of the CB2 receptor in the GI tract, whilst not yet well characterized, holds great promise due to its immunomodulatory roles in inflammatory systems and its lack of psychotropic effects. This review of our current knowledge of CB2 receptors in the gastrointestinal tract highlights its role in regulating abnormal motility, modulating intestinal inflammation and limiting visceral sensitivity and pain. CB2 receptors represent a braking system and a pathophysiological mechanism for the resolution of inflammation and many of its symptoms. CB2 receptor activation therefore represents a very promising therapeutic target in gastrointestinal inflammatory states where there is immune activation and motility dysfunction.

British Journal of Pharmacology (2008) 153, 263–270; doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707486; published online 1 October 2007