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The discovery of cannabinoid receptors, together with the development of selective cannabinoid receptor antagonists, has encouraged a resurgence of cannabinoid pharmacology. With the identification of endogenous agonists, such as anandamide, scientists have sought to uncover the biological role of endocannabinoid systems; initially guided by the long-established actions of cannabis and exogenous cannabinoids such as [DELTA]9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In particular, considerable research has examined endocannabinoid involvement in appetite, eating behaviour and body weight regulation. It is now confirmed that endocannabinoids, acting at brain CB1 cannabinoid receptors, stimulate appetite and ingestive behaviours, partly through interactions with more established orexigenic and anorexigenic signals. Key structures such as the nucleus accumbens and hypothalamic nuclei are sensitive sites for the hyperphagic actions of these substances, and endocannabinoid activity in these regions varies in relation to nutritional status and feeding expression. Behavioural studies indicate that endocannabinoids increase eating motivation by enhancing the incentive salience and hedonic evaluation of ingesta. Moreover, there is strong evidence of an endocannabinoid role in energy metabolism and fuel storage. Recent developments point to potential clinical benefits of cannabinoid receptor antagonists in the management of obesity, and of agonists in the treatment of other disorders of eating and body weight regulation.

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