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Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 25, Issue 7, Pages 377-383

Alternative Targets Within the Endocannabinoid System for Future Treatment of Gastrointestinal Diseases

Rudolf Schicho1 and Martin Storr2,3

1Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, Medical University of Graz, Austria
2Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
3Department of Medicine, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany

Received 26 November 2010; Accepted 10 January 2011

Copyright © 2011 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Many beneficial effects of herbal and synthetic cannabinoids on gut motility and inflammation have been demonstrated, suggesting a vast potential for these compounds in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. These effects are based on the so-called ‘endocannabinoid system’ (ECS), a cooperating network of molecules that regulate the metabolism of the body’s own and of exogenously administered cannabinoids. The ECS in the gastrointestinal tract quickly responds to homeostatic disturbances by de novo synthesis of its components to maintain homeostasis, thereby offering many potential targets for pharmacological intervention. Of major therapeutic interest are nonpsychoactive cannabinoids or compounds that do not directly target cannabinoid receptors but still possess cannabinoid-like properties. Drugs that inhibit endocannabinoid degradation and raise the level of endocannabinoids are becoming increasingly promising alternative therapeutic tools to manipulate the ECS.