With an inventory of several hundreds secondary metabolites identified, Cannabis sativa L. (hemp) is one of the phytochemically best characterized plant species. The biomedical relevance of hemp undoubtedly underlies the wealth of data on its constituents and their biological activities, and cannabinoids, a class of unique meroterpenoids derived from the alkylation of an olivetollike alkyl resorcinol with a monoterpene unit, are the most typical constituents of Cannabis. In addition to the well-known psychotropic properties of Δ9-THC, cannabinoids have been reported to show potential in various fields of medicine, with the capacity to address unmet needs like the relief of chemotherapy-derived nausea and anorexia, and symptomatic mitigation of multiple sclerosis. Many of the potential therapeutic uses of cannabinoids are related to the interaction with (at least) two cannabinoid G-protein coupled receptors (CB1 and CB2). However, a number of activities, like the antibacterial or the antitumor properties are non totally dependent or fully independent from the interaction with these proteins. These pharmacological activities are particularly interesting since, in principle, they could be easily dissociated by the unwanted psychotropic effects.
This review aims at giving readers a survey of the more recent advances in both phytochemistry of C. sativa, the medicinal chemistry of cannabinoids, and their distribution in plants, highlighting the impact that research in these hot fields could have for modern medicinal chemistry and pharmacology.