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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009 Jul;205(1):63-72. doi: 10.1007/s00213-009-1518-3. Epub 2009 Apr 3.

An endocannabinoid signal associated with desire for alcohol is suppressed in recently abstinent alcoholics.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of California, Irvine, 3101 Gillespie NRF, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Alcoholics report persistent alcohol craving that is heightened by cognitive cues, stressful situations, and abstinence. The role of endogenous cannabinoids in human alcohol craving--though long suspected--remains elusive.

MATERIALS AND METHODS:

We employed laboratory exposure to stress, alcohol cue, and neutral relaxed situations through guided imagery procedures to evoke alcohol desire and craving in healthy social drinkers (n = 11) and in treatment-engaged, recently abstinent alcoholic subjects (n = 12) and assessed alcohol craving, heart rate, and changes in circulating endocannabinoid levels. Subjective anxiety was also measured as a manipulation check for the procedures.

RESULTS:

In healthy social drinkers, alcohol cue imagery increased circulating levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide, whereas neutral and stress-related imagery had no such effect. Notably, baseline and response anandamide levels in these subjects were negatively and positively correlated with self-reported alcohol craving scores, respectively. Cue-induced increases in heart rate were also correlated with anandamide responses. By contrast, no imagery-induced anandamide mobilization was observed in alcoholics, whose baseline anandamide levels were markedly reduced compared to healthy drinkers and were uncorrelated to either alcohol craving or heart rate.

CONCLUSIONS:

The results suggest that plasma anandamide levels provide a marker of the desire for alcohol in social drinkers, which is suppressed in recently abstinent alcoholics.

PMID:
19343330
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2715164
Free PMC Article
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