Cannabis and the developing brain: insights from behavior

Eur J Pharmacol. 2008 May 13;585(2-3):441-52. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2008.01.058. Epub 2008 Mar 18.


The isolation and identification, in 1964, of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, opened the door to a whole new field of medical research. The exploration of the therapeutic potential of THC and other natural and synthetic cannabinoid compounds was paralleled by the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, comprising cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous ligands, which offered exciting new insights into brain function. Besides its well-known involvement in specific brain functions, such as control of movement, memory and emotions, the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in fundamental developmental processes such as cell proliferation, migration and differentiation. For this reason, changes in its activity during stages of high neuronal plasticity, such as the perinatal and the adolescent period, can have long-lasting neurobehavioral consequences. Here, we summarize human and animal studies examining the behavioral and neurobiological effects of in utero and adolescent exposure to cannabis. Since cannabis preparations are widely used and abused by young people, including pregnant women, understanding how cannabinoid compounds affect the developing brain, leading to neurobehavioral alterations or neuropsychiatric disorders later in life, is a serious health issue. In addition, since the endocannabinoid system is emerging as a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of several neuropsychiatric diseases, a detailed investigation of possible adverse effects of cannabinoid compounds on the central nervous system (CNS) of immature individuals is warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / physiology
  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators