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Cannabinoid-Opioid Interactions in Drug Discrimination and Self-Administration: Effect of Maternal, Postnatal, Adolescent and Adult Exposure to the Drugs

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Cannabinoids and opioids are known to strictly interact in many physiological and pathological functions, including addiction. The endogenous opioid system is significantly influenced by maternal or perinatal cannabinoid exposure, major changes concerning operant behaviour in adult animals. Copious data suggests that adolescence is also a particularly sensitive period of life not only for the initiation of abusing illicit drugs, but also for the effects that these drugs exert on the neural circuitries leading to drug dependence. This paper examines the role played by the age of drug exposure in the susceptibility to discriminative and reinforcing effects of both cannabinoids and opioids. We first revisited evidence of alterations in the density and functionality of mu-opioid and CB1 cannabinoid receptors in reward-related brain regions caused by either maternal, postnatal, adolescent or adult exposure to opioids and cannabinoids. Then, we reviewed behavioural evidence of the long-term consequences of exposure to opioids and cannabinoids during gestation, postnatal period, adolescence or adulthood, focusing mostly on drug discrimination and self-administration studies. Overall, evidence confirms a neurobiological convergence of the cannabinoid and opioid systems that is manifest at both receptor and behavioural levels. Although discrepant results have been reported, some data support the gateway hypothesis that adolescent cannabis exposure contributes to greater opioid intake in adulthood. However, it should be kept into consideration that in humans genetic, environmental, and social factors could influence the direct neurobiological effects of early cannabis exposure to the progression to adult drug abuse.

Keywords: Cannabinoid; adolescence; drug discrimination; gateway hypothesis; opioid; reward; self-administration; vulnerability

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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