Learning and memory is modulated by cannabidiol when administered during trace fear-conditioning

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2018 Mar;149:68-76. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.02.009. Epub 2018 Feb 9.


Cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to have therapeutic potential for treating psychiatric conditions that affect cognitive aspects of learning and memory, including anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have shown that CBD enhances extinction of fear memory when given after conditioning. This led us to hypothesize that CBD, if administered prior to fear conditioning, might modulate cognitive learning and memory processes in additional ways that would further guide its potential use for treating PTSD. Therefore, we designed a study to investigate effects of CBD on fear learning and memory when administered to mice prior to administering a trace fear conditioning protocol which imposes cognitive demands on the learning and memory process. We show that CBD-treated animals had increased levels of freezing during conditioning, enhanced generalized fear, inhibited cue-dependent memory extinction, slightly increased levels of freezing during an auditory-cued memory test, and increased contextual fear memory. Because synaptic plasticity is the fundamental mechanism of learning and memory, we also evaluated the impact of CBD on trace conditioning-dependent dendritic spine plasticity which occurred in the dorsal lateral amygdala and CA1 region of the ventral hippocampus. We showed that CBD mildly enhanced spine densities independent of conditioning, and inhibited conditioning-dependent spine increases in the hippocampi, but not the amygdala of fear conditioned animals. Overall, the memory-modulating effects of a single pre-conditioning dose of CBD, which we show here, demonstrate the need to more fully characterize its basic effects on memory, suggest caution when using it clinically as an anxiolytic, and point to a need for more research into its potential as a therapeutic for treating memory-loss disorders.

Keywords: Cannabidiol (CBD); Learning and memory; Memory acquisition; Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); Spine density; Trace-fear conditioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning / drug effects*
  • Cannabidiol / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects*
  • Dendritic Spines / drug effects
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Fear / drug effects*
  • Freezing Reaction, Cataleptic / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Mice


  • Cannabidiol