The appetite-stimulating effects of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa) have been known since ancient times, and appear to be effected through the incentive and rewarding properties of foods. Investigations into the biological basis of the multiple effects of cannabis have yielded important breakthroughs in recent years: the discovery of two cannabinoid receptors in brain and peripheral organ systems, and endogenous ligands (endocannabinoids) for these receptors. Theseadvances have greatly increased our understanding of how appetite is regulated through these endocannabinoid receptor systems. The presence of endocannabinoids in the developing brain and in maternal milk have led to evidence for a critical role for CB1 receptors in oral motor control of suckling during neonatal development. The endocannabinoids appear to regulate energy balance and food intake at four functional levels within the brain and periphery: (i) limbic system (for hedonic evaluation of foods), (ii) hypothalamus and hindbrain (integrative functions), (iii) intestinal system, and (iv) adipose tissue. At each of these levels, the endocannabinoid system interacts with a number of better known molecules involved in appetite and weight regulation, including leptin, ghrelin, and the melanocortins. Therapeutically, appetite stimulation by cannabinoids has been studied for several decades, particularly in relation to cachexia and malnutrition associated with cancer, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or anorexia nervosa. The recent advances in cannabinoid pharmacology may lead to improved treatments for these conditions or, conversely, for combating excessive appetite and body weight, such as CB1 receptor antagonists as antiobesity medications. In conclusion, the exciting progress in the understanding of how the endocannabinoid CB receptor systems influence appetite and body weight is stimulating the development of therapeutic orexigenic and anorectic agents. Furthermore, the role of cannabinoid CB1 receptor activation for milk suckling in newborns may open new doors toward understanding nonorganic failure-to-thrive in infants, who display growth failure without known organic cause.
- [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
- Animals, Newborn
- Appetite Regulation*
- Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators/physiology*
- Feeding Behavior/physiology
- Infant, Newborn
- Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1/physiology