Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics

Abstract: A multitude of roles for the endogenous cannabinoid system has been proposed by recent research efforts. A large number of endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitters or endocannabinoids have been identified, and the CB-1 and CB-2 cannabinoid receptors have been characterized. The presence of other receptors, transporters, and enzymes responsible for the synthesis or metabolism of endocannabinoids are becoming known at an extraordinary pace. The complex functions of this novel system have created multiple new targets for pharmacotherapies. Research has focused on separating the behavioral psychoactive effects of cannabinoid agonists from therapeutic effects. These efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Another strategy centers on changing the pharmacokinetics of drug delivery to maximize therapeutic effect and minimize cognitive and subjective drug effects. Development of oral, rectal, and transdermal medications of synthetic Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)1) are examples of this type of approach. Additionally, the potential therapeutic benefits of administering unique combinations of cannabinoids and other chemicals present in the plant Cannabis sativa is being investigated by the oromucosal route. There also is strong interest in medications based on antagonizing endocannabinoid action.

An understanding of human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics is important for the development and monitoring of new therapeutic medications and to the interpretation of cannabinoid test results in a wide variety of biological matrices, including blood, plasma, urine, oral fluid, sweat, and hair.

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