Extensive evidence indicates that the mammalian endocannabinoid system plays an integral role in learning and memory. Our understanding of how cannabinoids influence memory comes predominantly from studies examining cognitive and emotional memory systems mediated by the hippocampus and amygdala, respectively. However, recent evidence suggests that cannabinoids also affect habit or stimulus-response (S-R) memory mediated by the dorsal striatum. Studies implementing a variety of maze tasks in rats indicate that systemic or intra-dorsolateral striatum infusions of cannabinoid receptor agonists or antagonists impair habit memory. In mice, cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor knockdown can enhance or impair habit formation, whereas Δ(9)THC tolerance enhances habit formation. Studies in human cannabis users also suggest an enhancement of S-R/habit memory. A tentative conclusion based on the available data is that acute disruption of the endocannabinoid system with either agonists or antagonists impairs, whereas chronic cannabinoid exposure enhances, dorsal striatum-dependent S-R/habit memory. CB1 receptors are required for multiple forms of striatal synaptic plasticity implicated in memory, including short-term and long-term depression. Interactions with the hippocampus-dependent memory system may also have a role in some of the observed effects of cannabinoids on habit memory. The impairing effect often observed with acute cannabinoid administration argues for cannabinoid-based treatments for human psychopathologies associated with a dysfunctional habit memory system (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction/relapse). In addition, the enhancing effect of repeated cannabinoid exposure on habit memory suggests a novel neurobehavioral mechanism for marijuana addiction involving the dorsal striatum-dependent memory system.
Keywords: Cannabinoid; Caudate nucleus; Habit; Memory; PTSD; Striatum.
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