The cannabis plant and products produced from it, such as marijuana and hashish, have been used for centuries for their psychoactive properties. The mechanism for how Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active constituent of cannabis, elicits these neurological effects remained elusive until relatively recently, when specific G-protein coupled receptors were discovered that appeared to mediate cellular actions of THC. Shortly after discovery of these specific receptors, endogenous ligands (endocannabinoids) were identified. Since that time, an extensive number of papers have been published on the endocannabinoid signaling system, a widespread neuromodulatory mechanism that influences neurotransmission throughout the nervous system. This paper summarizes presentations given at the 12th International Neurotoxicology Association meeting that described the potential role of endocannabinoids in the expression of neurotoxicity. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam first gave an overview of the discovery of exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids and their potential for neuroprotection in a variety of conditions. Dr. Larry Parsons then described studies suggesting that endocannabinoid signaling may play a selective role in drug reinforcement. Dr. Carey Pope presented information on the role that endocannabinoid signaling may have in the expression of cholinergic toxicity following anticholinesterase exposures. Together, these presentations highlighted the diverse types of neurological insults that may be modulated by endocannabinoids and drugs/toxicants which might influence endocannabinoid signaling pathways.
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