The role of endocannabinoid transmission in cocaine addiction

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005 Jun;81(2):396-406. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2005.02.015.


Research is beginning to outline a role for the endocannabinoid system in cocaine addiction. Human and animal studies indicate that exogenous cannabinoids modulate the acute rewarding effects of cocaine. These studies, however, cannot directly investigate the necessity of endocannabinoid transmission in cocaine addiction. Studies that do offer a direct assessment show that neither pharmacological antagonism nor deletion of the CB1 receptor alters the acute rewarding effects of cocaine. In contrast, CB1 receptors appear to be involved in the association of cocaine reward with environmental cues and reinstatement of cocaine self-administration. Together, these results point to CB1 receptor antagonists as potential anti-craving compounds in the treatment of cocaine addiction. Given the limitations of human population studies, animal research may be useful in discerning causal inferences between cannabis and cocaine use. While animal research suggests cannabis use may precipitate cocaine relapse, cross-sensitization between cannabinoids and cocaine has not been demonstrated and CB1 receptors do not mediate behavioral sensitization to cocaine. The effect of acute or chronic cocaine on endocannabinoid transmission in reward-related areas of the brain is relatively under-researched. Acute cocaine administration increases anandamide levels in the striatum, an effect that is mediated by dopamine D2-like receptors. Conversely, chronic cocaine exposure has no effect on anandamide, but decreases 2-arachidonylglycerol levels in the limbic forebrain. This review highlights research indicating that the endocannabinoid system may subserve certain aspects of cocaine addiction and suggests avenues for future investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / physiology*
  • Cocaine / pharmacology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Reward
  • Self Administration
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Cocaine