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PRECLINICAL STUDY: Age-dependent differences in sensitivity and sensitization to cannabinoids and ‘club drugs’ in male adolescent and adult rats


Jenny Wiley, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University, PO Box 980613, Richmond, Virginia 23298–0613, USA. E-mail:


Lifelong substance abuse is often initiated during adolescence; yet, most pre-clinical research in this area has been conducted in adult animals. Substantial evidence exists that the brain development that continues throughout adolescence may result in pharmacological responses that differ in a crucial manner from those of adults. The goal of this study was to evaluate age differences in motor activity following acute and repeated administration of drugs that are commonly abused by adolescents, including cocaine, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), and the club drugs, ketamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Adolescent and adult male rats were injected once daily with saline or with a dose of one of the test drugs for two 5-day dosing periods, separated by a 2-day drug holiday during which they remained in their home cages. Following each injection, rats were placed in a locomotor chamber for a 20-minute session. The potencies of cocaine, ketamine and MDMA for producing motor stimulation were less in male adolescents than in male adults. Furthermore, sensitization to the club drug, ketamine, developed after repeated dosing in adults, but not adolescents. In contrast, adolescents were initially more sensitive to the stimulatory effects of low doses of Δ9-THC than were adults, although rapid tolerance occurred. These results suggest that adolescents are less sensitive to the acute and repeated stimulant effects of some, but not all, of the drugs that are preferentially abused by this age group. This differential sensitivity may contribute to the different patterns of use that have been noted in adolescent versus adult drug abusers.