Neuroinflammation as a possible link between cannabinoids and addiction

Acta Neuropsychiatr. 2014 Dec;26(6):334-46. doi: 10.1017/neu.2014.24.


Objective: Substance dependence disorder is a chronically relapsing condition characterised by neurobiological changes leading to loss of control in restricting a substance intake, compulsion and withdrawal syndrome. In the past few years, (endo)cannabinoids have been raised as a possible target in the aetiology of drug addiction. On the other hand, although the exact mechanisms of the genesis of addiction remain poorly understood, it is possible that neuroinflammation might also play a role in the pathophysiology of this condition. Studies demonstrated that (endo)cannabinoids act as immunomodulators by inhibiting cytokines production and microglial cell activation. Thus, in the present review, we explore the possible role of neuroinflammation on the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids on drug addiction.

Methods: We conducted an evidence-based review of the literature in order to assess the role of cannabinoids on the neuroinflammatory hypothesis of addiction (terms: addiction, cannabinoids and inflammation). We searched PubMed and BioMedCentral databases up to April 2014 with no date restrictions.

Results: In all, 165 eligible articles were included in the present review. Existing evidence suggests that disruption in cannabinoid signalling during the drug addiction process leads to microglial activation and neuroinflammation.

Conclusion: The literature showed that inflammation and changes in endocannabinod signalling occur in drug abuse; however, it remains uncertain whether these changes are causally or coincidentally associated with addiction. Additional studies, therefore, are needed to elucidate the contribution of neuroinflammation on the behavioural and neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids on drug addiction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / etiology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / immunology
  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / immunology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism


  • Cannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1