The roles of THC and CB1 receptors in cannabis reinforcement and dependence

Cannabis reinforcement and dependence occur through cannabinoid type 1 receptors

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug worldwide, and chronic cannabis use can lead to dependence. Of the users who seek treatment for cannabis dependence, only 10% successfully remain abstinent.

What are the underlying neurobiological causes of cannabis dependence in the first place? And what causes the observed withdrawal symptoms?

Here, researchers look at the effects of the CB1 receptor in cannabis use, dependence, and withdrawal.

THC is implicated in reward
​Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid found in plant cannabis and activates the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system which has been implicated in reward. This is initiated by THC binding to cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain.

Studies in both mice and humans show that blocking CB1 receptor activity decreases the rewarding effects of cannabis. For instance, blocking CB1receptors in mice reduces the amount that mice will self-administer THC, suggesting that the reinforcing effects of cannabis indeed act through the CB1receptor pathway.

Chronic cannabis use can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms
Abstinence from THC can cause symptoms including anger, anxiety, decreased appetite, and sleep disturbances.

These withdrawal effects are alleviated by marijuana consumption, making abstinence from marijuana particularly challenging as the “cure” for these symptoms only leads to more dependence.

However, low doses of oral THC are somewhat effective in treating marijuana dependence because they relieve withdrawal symptoms without creating a high.

Therapies to treat marijuana dependence
Cognitive behavioral therapy and motivation enhancement therapy are also moderately successful in treating marijuana dependence. The CB1 receptor system may be the primary target for further treatments to marijuana dependence.

Are you cannabis dependent?
To learn how to manage your cannabis dependence or withdrawal symptoms, book an appointment with our medical cannabis doctors through our virtual booking link or by giving us a call (617–500–3595).

Dr. Kaplan and his team at The CED Clinic in Chestnut Hill, MA are available to guide and support you! Behavioral or pharmacological therapies might be the go to way to treat your dependence on marijuana.

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