Withdrawal from THC during adolescence: sex differences in locomotor activity and anxiety

Behav Brain Res. 2012 May 16;231(1):48-59. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.02.048. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


Research suggests that the use and abuse of marijuana can be especially harmful if it occurs during adolescence, a period of vast developmental changes throughout the brain. Due to the localization of cannabinoid receptors within the limbic system and the established effects of cannabinoids on emotional states and anxiety levels of rats and humans, we studied the sex- and dose-related effects of Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana) on behavior and anxiety during spontaneous withdrawal. Male and female Sprague Dawley rats were administered 2, 7.5 or 15 mg/kg THC or vehicle from postnatal day 35-41 (approximating mid-adolescence in humans). Locomotor activity and anxiety-related behaviors were measured during drug administration and abstinence. THC caused significant dose-dependent locomotor depression during drug administration. Locomotor depression initially abated upon drug cessation, but re-emerged by the end of the abstinence period and was greater in female than male rats. We found sensitization to the locomotor-depressing effects of THC in middle- and high-dose rats and the subsequent development of tolerance in high-dose rats. The high dose of THC increased anxiety-like behaviors while the low dose decreased anxiety-like behaviors during drug administration, with females more sensitive to the anxiogenic effects of THC than males. During abstinence, females were again especially sensitive to the anxiogenic effects of THC. This study demonstrates sexually-dimorphic effects of THC on anxiety-related behaviors and locomotor activity during and after THC administration during adolescence. This information may be useful in the development of therapeutic approaches for the treatment of marijuana withdrawal in adolescents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / chemically induced*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects*
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sex Factors
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology


  • Dronabinol