Endogenous cannabinoid system
as a modulator of food intake

Cota D, Marsicano G, Lutz B,
Vicennati V, Stalla GK, Pasquali R, Pagotto U.
Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2003 Mar;27(3):289-301


The ability of Cannabis sativa (marijuana) to increase hunger has been noticed for centuries, although intensive research on its molecular mode of action started only after the characterization of its main psychoactive component Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol in the late 1960s. Despite the public concern related to the abuse of marijuana and its derivatives, scientific studies have pointed to the therapeutic potentials of cannabinoid compounds and have highlighted their ability to stimulate appetite, especially for sweet and palatable food. Later, the discovery of specific receptors and their endogenous ligands (endocannabinoids) suggested the existence of an endogenous cannabinoid system, providing a physiological basis for biological effects induced by marijuana and other cannabinoids. Epidemiological reports describing the appetite-stimulating properties of cannabinoids and the recent insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying cannabinoid action have proposed a central role of the cannabinoid system in obesity. The aim of this review is to provide an extensive overview on the role of this neuromodulatory system in feeding behavior by summarizing the most relevant data obtained from human and animal studies and by elucidating the interactions of the cannabinoid system with the most important neuronal networks and metabolic pathways involved in the control of food intake. Finally, a critical evaluation of future potential therapeutical applications of cannabinoid antagonists in the therapy of obesity and eating disorders will be discussed.

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