Epigenetic mechanisms associated with addiction-related behavioural effects of nicotine and/or cocaine: implication of the endocannabinoid system

Behav Pharmacol. 2017 Oct;28(7):493-511. doi: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000326.


The addictive use of nicotine (NC) and cocaine (COC) continues to be a major public health problem, and their combined use has been reported, particularly during adolescence. In neural plasticity, commonly induced by NC and COC, as well as behavioural plasticity related to the use of these two drugs, the involvement of epigenetic mechanisms, in which the reversible regulation of gene expression occurs independently of the DNA sequence, has recently been reported. Furthermore, on the basis of intense interactions with the target neurotransmitter systems, the endocannabinoid (ECB) system has been considered pivotal for eliciting the effects of NC or COC. The combined use of marijuana with NC and/or COC has also been reported. This article presents the addiction-related behavioural effects of NC and/or COC, based on the common behavioural/neural plasticity and combined use of NC/COC, and reviews the interacting role of the ECB system. The epigenetic processes inseparable from the effects of NC and/or COC (i.e. DNA methylation, histone modifications and alterations in microRNAs) and the putative therapeutic involvement of the ECB system at the epigenetic level are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / genetics
  • Cannabinoids
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • Cocaine / pharmacology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • DNA Methylation
  • Endocannabinoids / genetics*
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Use / genetics*
  • Marijuana Use / psychology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Nicotine / genetics
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology


  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Nicotine
  • Cocaine