Differential effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol dosing on correlates of schizophrenia in the sub-chronic PCP rat model

PLoS One. 2020 Mar 12;15(3):e0230238. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230238. eCollection 2020.


Social withdrawal in the sub-chronic phencyclidine (PCP) rat model, a behavioral correlate of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, results from deficits in brain endocannabinoid transmission. As cannabis intake has been shown to affect negatively the course and expression of psychosis, we tested whether the beneficial effects of endocannabinoid-mediated CB1 activation on social withdrawal in PCP-treated rats (5 mg/kg, twice daily for 7 days)also occurred after administration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; 0.1, 0.3, 1.0 mg/kg, i.p.). In addition, we assessed whether THC affected two correlates of positive symptoms: 1) motor activity induced by d-amphetamine (0.5 mg/kg, i.p.), and 2) dopamine neuron population activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). After the motor activity test, the brains from d-amphetamine-treated animals were collected and processed for measurements of endocannabinoids and activation of Akt/GSK3β, two molecular markers involved in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. In control rats, THC dose-dependently produced social interaction deficits and aberrant VTA dopamine neuron population activity similar to those observed in PCP-treated animals. In PCP-treated rats, only the lowest dose of THC reversed PCP-induced deficits, as well as PCP-induced elevation of the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) in the nucleus accumbens. Last, THC activated the Akt/GSK3β pathway dose-dependently in both control and PCP-treated animals. Taken together, these data suggest that only low doses of THC have beneficial effects on behavioral, neurochemical and electrophysiological correlates of schizophrenia symptoms. This observation may shed some light on the controversial hypothesis of marijuana use as self-medication in schizophrenic patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / pharmacology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage*
  • Endocannabinoids / pharmacology
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta / metabolism
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Phencyclidine / pharmacology*
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Schizophrenia / chemically induced*
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Dronabinol
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Phencyclidine
  • anandamide