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Keywords:

  • Cocaine;
  • endocannabinoid system;
  • mesocorticolimbic system;
  • relapse;
  • reward;
  • rimonabant

ABSTRACT

Recent studies have implicated the endocannabinoid (eCB) system in the neuronal mechanisms underlying substance dependence. Here, we review results of studies using cannabinoid receptor subtype 1 (CB1) knockout mice as well as CB1 antagonists to elucidate the role of this neurotransmitter system in psychostimulant addiction. The overall picture is that CB1 receptors appear not to be involved in psychostimulant reward, nor in the development of dependence to such substances. In contrast, the eCB system appears to play a role in the persistence of psychostimulant addiction. In particular, CB1 receptors have been found to play a cardinal role in mediating reinstatement of previously extinguished drug-seeking behavior upon re-exposure to the drug or drug-associated cues. The anatomical loci as well as the neuronal mechanisms of the relapse-preventing effects of CB1 antagonists are still poorly understood, although interactions of the eCB system with afferent glutamatergic and possibly dopaminergic projections to the nucleus accumbens are most likely involved. In addition, CB1 receptors seem to modulate drug-related memories, in line with the hypothesized role of the eCB system in memory-related plasticity. Together, these findings suggest that modulators of the eCB system represent a promising novel type of therapy to treat drug addiction.