What are Cannabinoid compounds ?
As per the definition of the National Institute of Health (NIH), Cannabinoid are compounds that are found in the marijuana plant that causes drug-like effect throughout the whole body, including the central and peripheral nervous systems in addition to the immune system which typically plays a role in the majority of the medical conditions we see today. The main active cannabinoid compound that is found in marijuana is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects which gets you high. On the other hand, Cannabidiol, or CBD, which is found in marijuana in trace amount and in the hemp plant in abundant amount, does not have any of the psychoactive properties that THC exhibits.
Cannabinoids are similar to the endocannabinoids inside our bodies in structure, so they may exhibit various effects at the targeted organs. Cannabinoids are normally found in our bodies in the form of ‘endocannabinoids’ that target one of the cannabinoids receptors (type 1 or 2), which are normally distributed in our brains and our immune systems. This is known as the Endocannabinoid system (ECS). These compounds target these receptors in order to exhibit a certain action inside our bodies and brains, including control of memory and cognitive functions, pain perception, mood and depression, inflammatory processes, and other immune-related functions.
There are a wide variety of synthetic cannabinoids that target the endocannabinoid system to perform a certain function. Cannabinoids have been known to help treat the symptoms associated with cancer or the side effects of its treatments. Moreover, moderate to high scientific evidence shows that cannabinoids, including CBD can be perceived as future therapeutic options for chronic pain, certain types of resistant epilepsy, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, depression, psychosis, and many other conditions.
Herein, we will briefly summarize the effects of certain cannabinoids on various body systems.
Cannabinoids Can Work as Gastrointestinal Anti-inflammatory Drugs
Preliminary evidence has demonstrated that cannabinoids can exhibit various anti-inflammatory effects on various inflammatory gastrointestinal disease, including inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease. Also, cannabinoids at low, non-psychoactive doses have been shown to counteract some of the non-inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, such as chemotherapy-induced diarrhea.
Even though these findings are supported by human studies, however, more studies of larger population are needed to confirm these observations.
The effects of Cannabinoids on the Endocrine System
Substantial evidence has confirmed the involvement of endocannabinoids in the regulation of food intake and energy regulation inside our bodies as well as having a significant impact on the endocrine system. This system includes all of our endogenous glands, such as the pancreas, adrenal gland, and pituitary gland which are involved in the regulation of many endogenous functions inside our bodies. Therefore, the interrelations between both systems (ECS and endocrine system) may be a therapeutic target for many drugs which would target various disease, like diabetes, infertility, obesity, and other diseases.
The results of some human studies showed that various cannabinoids (THCV and CBD) may be promising agents in the treatment of diabetes type 1. These cannabinoids reduced fasting plasma glucose and improved pancreatic ?-cell function. However, these results require further confirmation by clinical trials.
The Role of Cannabinoids, and Endocannabinoids in the Lungs
There has been a large body of evidence supporting the fact that the activation of the cannabinoid system helps alleviate the pain as well as reduced inflammation. In the context of lung inflammation, various cannabinoids (exogenous and endogenous) have shown valid therapeutic potential due to their inhibitory effects on the immune system. However, this research still warrants further confirmation prior to implicating it on the public population.
Bones and Joints: The Effects of Cannabinoids on the Skeleton
Recently, research demonstrates the influence of the endocannabinoid system on the process of bone metabolism. With the use of various cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabindiol (CBD), it was observed that they involve in the process of bone growth and remodeling, which has become clinically relevant in recent years. However, the relevance of these observations on humans in not very clear till the current time. Therefore, we are in need of more research in order to generalize these observations.
Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Resistant Epilepsy
Evidence regarding the potential anti-epilepsy efficacy of cannabinoids has reached a turning point in the past 3 years. After the conduction of 3 high-quality placebo-controlled clinical trial, it was proved that the cannabinoid, particularly, Cannabidiol (CBD) was more effective than placebo in the management of certain types of epilepsy, including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Today, CBD is FDA-approved in the management of these disorders.
Cannabinoids and Cardiovascular System
The cannabinoids can influence the cardiovascular system (both the heart and blood vessels) through various mechanism. The endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in both the physiology and pathology of the heart. The ECS is over-activated under certain pathological conditions (diseases), where it plays both a protective and compensatory role. This includes the effect of various cannabinoids on various forms of heart diseases, such as hypertension-increased blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and other inflammatory-associated conditions. Recently, it has been shown that the cannabinoid (CBD) has the potential to decrease the resting blood pressure of normal subjects.
However, the role that cannabinoids play on the cardiovascular system is still under investigation and the results are not yet confirmatory. Therefore, more research is needed in this area in order to create a drug that can save the humanity of heart disorders and hypertension.
Table1. Summary of evidence for medicinal use of cannabis based products and cannabinoids.
Number of studies (Participants)
Primary Product Tested
Summary estimate (95% Confidence interval)
Grade Certainty Rating
Sativex (THC + CBD)
30% reduction in pain
Odds ratio: 1.46 (1.16 – 1.84). More effective than placebo
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Sativex (THC + CBD)
Ashworth spasticity scale
Weighted mean difference: -0.12 (-0.24 to 0.01). Not more effective than placebo
Treatment of resistant types of Epilepsy
50% reduction in seizure frequency
Relative risk: 1.74 (1.24 – 2.43). More effective than placebo
Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
Complete response in nausea and vomiting
Odds ratio: 3.82 (1.55 – 9.42). More effective than placebo.
??? Moderate : the authors believe that the true effect is probably close to the estimated effect;
?? Low : the true effect might be markedly different from the estimated effect.