Cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptor mechanisms underlie cannabis reward and aversion in rats

Article date: May 2019

By: Krista J. Spiller, Guo‐hua Bi, Yi He, Ewa Galaj, Eliot L. Gardner, Zheng‐Xiong Xi in Volume 176, Issue 9, pages 1268-1281

Background and Purpose

Endocannabinoids are critically involved in brain reward functions, mediated by activation of CB1 receptors, reflecting their high density in the brain. However, the recent discovery of CB2 receptors in the brain, particularly in the midbrain dopamine neurons, has challenged this view and inspired us to re‐examine the roles of both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the effects of cannabis.

Experimental Approach

In the present study, we used the electrical intracranial self‐stimulation paradigm to evaluate the effects of various cannabinoid drugs on brain reward in laboratory rats and the roles of CB1 and CB2 receptors activation in brain reward function(s).

Key Results

Two mixed CB1 / CB2 receptor agonists, Δ9‐tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9‐THC) and WIN55,212‐2, produced biphasic effects—mild enhancement of brain‐stimulation reward (BSR) at low doses but inhibition at higher doses. Pretreatment with a CB1 receptor antagonist (AM251) attenuated the low dose‐enhanced BSR, while a CB2 receptor antagonist (AM630) attenuated high dose‐inhibited BSR. To confirm these opposing effects, rats were treated with selective CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists. These compounds produced significant BSR enhancement and inhibition, respectively.

Conclusions and Implications

CB1 receptor activation produced reinforcing effects, whereas CB2 receptor activation was aversive. The subjective effects of cannabis depend on the balance of these opposing effects. These findings not only explain previous conflicting results in animal models of addiction but also explain why cannabis can be either rewarding or aversive in humans, as expression of CB1 and CB2 receptors may differ in the brains of different subjects.

DOI: 10.1111/bph.14625

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