The Cannabis sativa plant has been exploited for medicinal, agricultural and spiritual purposes in diverse cultures over thousands of years. Cannabis has been used recreationally for its psychotropic properties, while effects such as stimulation of appetite, analgesia and anti-emesis have lead to the medicinal application of cannabis. Indeed, reports of medicinal efficacy of cannabis can been traced back as far as 2700 BC, and even at that time reports also suggested a neuroprotective effect of the cultivar. The discovery of the psychoactive component of cannabis resin, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) occurred long before the serendipitous identification of a G-protein coupled receptor at which Δ9-THC is active in the brain. The subsequent finding of endogenous cannabinoid compounds, the synthesis of which is directed by neuronal excitability and which in turn served to regulate that excitability, further widened the range of potential drug targets through which the endocannabinoid system can be manipulated. As a result of this, alterations in the endocannabinoid system have been extensively investigated in a range of neurodegenerative disorders. In this review we examine the evidence implicating the endocannabinoid system in the cause, symptomatology or treatment of neurodegenerative disease. We examine data from human patients and compare and contrast this with evidence from animal models of these diseases. On the basis of this evidence we discuss the likely efficacy of endocannabinoid-based therapies in each disease context.
This article is part of a themed issue on Cannabinoids. To view the editorial for this themed issue visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00831.x
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