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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Jun;38(7):1198-208. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.16. Epub 2013 Jan 11.

Prior exposure to THC increases the addictive effects of nicotine in rats.

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  • 1Preclinical Pharmacology Section, Behavioral Neuroscience Research Branch, Intramural Research Program, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Although it is more common for drug abuse to progress from tobacco to cannabis, in many cases cannabis use develops before tobacco use. Epidemiological evidence indicates that prior cannabis use increases the likelihood of becoming dependent on tobacco. To determine whether this effect might be due to cannabis exposure per se, in addition to any genetic, social, or environmental factors that might contribute, we extended our series of studies on 'gateway drug' effects in animal models of drug abuse. Rats were exposed to THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, for 3 days (two intraperitoneal injections/day). Then, starting 1 week later, they were allowed to self-administer nicotine intravenously. THC exposure increased the likelihood of acquiring the nicotine self-administration response from 65% in vehicle-exposed rats to 94% in THC-exposed rats. When the price of nicotine was manipulated by increasing the response requirement, THC-exposed rats maintained higher levels of intake than vehicle-exposed rats, indicating that THC exposure increased the value of nicotine reward. These results contrast sharply with our earlier findings that prior THC exposure did not increase the likelihood of rats acquiring either heroin or cocaine self-administration, nor did it increase the reward value of these drugs. The findings obtained here suggest that a history of cannabis exposure might have lasting effects that increase the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine.

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