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Pharmacol Ther. 2011 Dec;132(3):215-41. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2011.06.005. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Endocannabinoid influence in drug reinforcement, dependence and addiction-related behaviors.

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Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


The endogenous cannabinoid system is an important regulatory system involved in physiological homeostasis. Endocannabinoid signaling is known to modulate neural development, immune function, metabolism, synaptic plasticity and emotional state. Accumulating evidence also implicates brain endocannabinoid signaling in the etiology of drug addiction which is characterized by compulsive drug seeking, loss of control in limiting drug intake, emergence of a negative emotional state in the absence of drug use and a persistent vulnerability toward relapse to drug use during protracted abstinence. In this review we discuss the effects of drug intake on brain endocannabinoid signaling, evidence implicating the endocannabinoid system in the motivation for drug consumption, and drug-induced alterations in endocannabinoid function that may contribute to various aspects of addiction including dysregulated synaptic plasticity, increased stress responsivity, negative affective states, drug craving and relapse to drug taking. Current knowledge of genetic variants in endocannabinoid signaling associated with addiction is also discussed.

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