Does cannabis affect dopaminergic signaling in the human brain? A systematic review of evidence to date

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015 Aug;25(8):1201-24. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.03.011. Epub 2015 Mar 30.


A significant body of epidemiological evidence has linked psychotic symptoms with both acute and chronic use of cannabis. Precisely how these effects of THC are mediated at the neurochemical level is unclear. While abnormalities in multiple pathways may lead to schizophrenia, an abnormality in dopamine neurotransmission is considered to be the final common abnormality. One would thus expect cannabis use to be associated with dopamine signaling alterations. This is the first systematic review of all studies, both observational as well as experimental, examining the acute as well as chronic effect of cannabis or its main psychoactive ingredient, THC, on the dopamine system in man. We aimed to review all studies conducted in man, with any reported neurochemical outcomes related to the dopamine system after cannabis, cannabinoid or endocannabinoid administration or use. We identified 25 studies reporting outcomes on over 568 participants, of which 244 participants belonged to the cannabis/cannabinoid exposure group. In man, there is as yet little direct evidence to suggest that cannabis use affects acute striatal dopamine release or affects chronic dopamine receptor status in healthy human volunteers. However some work has suggested that acute cannabis exposure increases dopamine release in striatal and pre-frontal areas in those genetically predisposed for, or at clinical high risk of psychosis. Furthermore, recent studies are suggesting that chronic cannabis use blunts dopamine synthesis and dopamine release capacity. Further well-designed studies are required to definitively delineate the effects of cannabis use on the dopaminergic system in man.

Keywords: Cannabis; Dopamine; Dopamine receptor; Human; Neurotransmitter; Review.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cannabis
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology*


  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Dopamine