Cannabinoid modulation of fear extinction brain circuits: a novel target to advance anxiety treatment

Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(13):2212-7. doi: 10.2174/13816128113199990437.


Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD), panic, and phobic disorders, can be conceptualized as a failure to inhibit inappropriate fear responses. A common, effective treatment strategy involves repeated presentations to the feared cue without any danger (extinction). However, extinction learning has a number of important limitations, and enhancing its effects, generalizability and durability via cognitive enhancers may improve its therapeutic impact. In this review we focus specifically on the role of the cannabinoid system in fear extinction learning and its retention. We address the following questions: What are the neural circuits mediating fear extinction?; Can we make fear extinction more effective?; Can cannabinoids facilitate fear extinction in humans?; How might the cannabinoid system effect fear extinction? Collectively, translational evidence suggest that enhancing cannabinoid transmission may facilitate extinction learning and its recall, and that the cannabinoid system is a potential pharmacological target for improving the active learning that occurs during exposure-based behavioral treatments prompting future research in terms of mechanisms research, novel treatment approaches ('cognitive enhancers'), and pharmacotherapeutic drug discovery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects*
  • Fear / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / physiology


  • Cannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1