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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Jan;43(1):116-141. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.193. Epub 2017 Aug 28.

Preclinical Studies of Cannabinoid Reward, Treatments for Cannabis Use Disorder, and Addiction-Related Effects of Cannabinoid Exposure.

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Preclinical Pharmacology Section, Behavioral Neuroscience Research Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, DHHS, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Cannabis use has become increasingly accepted socially and legally, for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Without reliable information about the effects of cannabis, people cannot make informed decisions regarding its use. Like alcohol and tobacco, cannabis can have serious adverse effects on health, and some people have difficulty discontinuing their use of the drug. Many cannabis users progress to using and becoming addicted to other drugs, but the reasons for this progression are unclear. The natural cannabinoid system of the brain is complex and involved in many functions, including brain development, reward, emotion, and cognition. Animal research provides an objective and controlled means of obtaining information about: (1) how cannabis affects the brain and behavior, (2) whether medications can be developed to treat cannabis use disorder, and (3) whether cannabis might produce lasting changes in the brain that increase the likelihood of becoming addicted to other drugs. This review explains the tactics used to address these issues, evaluates the progress that has been made, and offers some directions for future research.

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