, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 39–46 | Cite as

Anti-inflammatory mechanisms of cannabinoids: an immunometabolic perspective

  • G. van NiekerkEmail author
  • T. Mabin
  • A.-M. Engelbrecht
Review Article


A number of studies have implicated cannabinoids as potent anti-inflammatory mediators. However, the exact mechanism by which cannabinoids exert these effects remains to be fully explained. The recent resurgence in interest regarding the metabolic adaptations undergone by activated immune cells has highlighted the intricate connection between metabolism and an inflammatory phenotype. In this regard, evidence suggests that cannabinoids may alter cell metabolism by increasing AMPK activity. In turn, emerging evidence suggests that the activation of AMPK by cannabinoids may mediate an anti-inflammatory effect through a range of processes. First, AMPK may promote oxidative metabolism, which have been shown to play a central role in immune cell polarisation towards a tolerogenic phenotype. AMPK activation may also attenuate anabolic processes which in turn may antagonise immune cell function. Furthermore, AMPK activity promotes the induction of autophagy, which in turn may promote anti-inflammatory effects through various well-described processes. Taken together, these observations implicate cannabinoids to mediate part of their anti-inflammatory effects through alterations in immune cell metabolism and the induction of autophagy.


Inflammation Cannabinoid Autoimmune Immunometabolism Autophagy AMPK 



The authors would like to thank Leo Kruger for his valuable discussion. The authors acknowledge funding support from the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), National Research Foundation (NRF), and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiological SciencesStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Medicine, Cardiology DivisionUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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