Neuroanatomical substrates involved in cannabinoid modulation of defensive responses

J Psychopharmacol. 2012 Jan;26(1):40-55. doi: 10.1177/0269881111400651. Epub 2011 May 26.


Administration of Cannabis sativa derivatives causes anxiolytic or anxiogenic effects in humans and laboratory animals, depending on the specific compound and dosage used. In agreement with these findings, several studies in the last decade have indicated that the endocannabinoid system modulates neuronal activity in areas involved in defensive responses. The mechanisms of these effects, however, are still not clear. The present review summarizes recent data suggesting that they involve modulation of glutamate and GABA-mediated neurotransmission in brain sites such as the medial prefrontal cortex, amygdaloid complex, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, hippocampus and dorsal periaqueductal gray. Moreover, we also discuss results indicating that, in these regions, the endocannabinoid system could be particularly engaged by highly stressful situations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Humans
  • Neuroanatomy / methods
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Cannabinoids