Comparative studies of endocannabinoid modulation of pain

Riley T. Paulsen, Brian D. Burrell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Cannabinoid-based therapies have long been used to treat pain, but there remain questions about their actual mechanisms and efficacy. From an evolutionary perspective, the cannabinoid system would appear to be highly conserved given that themost prevalent endogenous cannabinoid (endocannabinoid) transmitters, 2-arachidonyl glycerol and anandamide, have been found throughout the animal kingdom, at least in the species that have been analysed to date. This review will first examine recent findings regarding the potential conservation across invertebrates and chordates of the enzymes responsible for endocannabinoid synthesis and degradation and the receptors that these transmitters act on. Next, comparisons of how endocannabinoids modulate nociception will be examined for commonalities between vertebrates and invertebrates, with a focus on the medicinal leech Hirudo verbana. Evidence is presented that there are distinct, evolutionarily conserved anti-nociceptive and pro-nociceptive effects. The combined studies across various animal phyla demonstrate the utility of using comparative approaches to understand conserved mechanisms for modulating nociception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190279
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1785
StatePublished - Nov 11 2019


  • Cannabinoid
  • Invertebrate
  • Nociception
  • Pain
  • Synaptic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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