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Cannabinoids, Opioids and MDMA: Neuropsychological Interactions Related to Addiction

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3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) is an amphetamine derivative with psychostimulant properties. This substance is widely used around the world by young adults in recreational settings. One of the most remarkable characteristics of ecstasy users is the concurrent consumption of several other drugs of abuse including psychostimulants, alcohol, tobacco, LSD, cannabis, and opioids. This poly-drug pattern of use is now prompting research towards understanding how the combination of MDMA with cannabis and opioids could affect neuropsychobiological processes related to addiction. As with other drugs of abuse, behavioural evidence has been presented supporting the role of the endocannabinoid system as a modulator of the rewarding/reinforcing properties of MDMA. On the other hand, the neurochemical substrate for the complex interactions between the endocannabinoid system and MDMA is poorly understood. MDMA also modulates the activity of the dynorphinergic and enkephalinergic systems in several brain structures related to addiction, as it has been shown for other psychostimulants. The work regarding the contribution of μ- and -opioid receptors in the rewarding effects of MDMA shows differential results in pharmacological studies in rats, with respect to studies using knock-out mice. The present review describes the behavioural and neurochemical interactions between MDMA, cannabinoids, and opioids with respect to addiction processes.

Keywords: MDMA; addiction; cannabinoids; cannabis; dependence; dopamine; dynorphin; ecstasy; endocannabinoid; heroin; morphine; opioids; poly-drug abuse; reinforcement; reinstatement; reward; withdrawal

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-04-01

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  • Current Drug Targets aims to cover the latest and most outstanding developments on the medicinal chemistry and pharmacology of molecular drug targets e.g. disease specific proteins, receptors, enzymes, genes. Each issue of the journal will be devoted to a single timely topic, with series of in-depth reviews, written by leaders in the field, covering a range of current topics on drug targets. These issues will be organized and led by a guest editor who is a recognized expert in the overall topic. As the discovery, identification, characterisation and validation of novel human drug targets for drug discovery continues to grow; this journal will be essential reading for all pharmaceutical scientists involved in drug discovery and development.
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