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This review covers the main features of a newly discovered intercellular signaling system in which endogenous ligands of the brain's cannabinoid receptors, or endocannabinoids, serve as retrograde messengers that enable a cell to control the strength of its own synaptic inputs. Endocannabinoids are released by bursts of action potentials, including events resembling interictal spikes, and probably by seizures as well. Activation of cannabinoid receptors has been implicated in neuroprotection against excitotoxicity and can help explain the anticonvulsant properties of cannabinoids that have been known since antiquity.