Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2008; 12 (5): 81-93

Cannabinoids and gastrointestinal motility: animal and human studies

G. Aviello, B. Romano, A.A. Izzo

Department of Experimental Pharmacology and Endocannabinoid Research Group, University of Naples Federico II, Naples (Italy)

Abstract. – The plant Cannabis has been known for centuries to be beneficial in a variety of gastrointestinal diseases, including emesis, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal pain. D9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychotropic component of Cannabis, acts via at least two types of cannabinoid receptors, named CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are located primarily on central and peripheral neurons (including the enteric nervous system) where they modulate neurotransmitter release, whereas CB2 receptors are concerned with immune function, inflammation and pain. The discovery of endogenous ligands [i.e. anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG)] for these receptors indicates the presence of a functional endogenous cannabinoid system in the gastrointestinal tract.
Anatomical and functional evidence suggests the presence of CB1 receptors in the myenteric plexus, which are associated with cholinergic neurons in a variety of species, including in humans. Activation of prejunctional CB1 receptors reduces excitatory enteric transmission (mainly cholinergic transmission) in different regions of the gastrointestinal tract. Consistently, in vivo studies have shown that cannabinoids reduce gastrointestinal transit in rodents through activation of CB1, but not CB2, receptors. However, in pathophysiological states, both CB1 and CB2 receptors could reduce the increase of intestinal motility induced by inflammatory stimuli. Cannabinoids also reduce gastrointestinal motility in randomized clinical trials. Overall, modulation of the gut endogenous cannabinoid system may provide a useful therapeutic target for disorders of gastrointestinal motility.

Corresponding Author: Angelo A Izzo, MD; e-mail:

To cite this article

G. Aviello, B. Romano, A.A. Izzo
Cannabinoids and gastrointestinal motility: animal and human studies

Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci
Year: 2008
Vol. 12 - N. 5
Pages: 81-93