Sex, species and age: Effects of rodent demographics on the pharmacology of ∆9-tetrahydrocanabinol

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2021 Mar 2:106:110064. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2020.110064. Epub 2020 Aug 15.


Cannabis edibles are becoming more common in an increasingly diverse population of users, and the impact of first pass metabolism on cannabis's pharmacological profile across age and sex is not well understood. The present study examined the impact of age, sex and rodent species on the effects of intraperitoneal (i.p.) delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its primary psychoactive metabolite, 11-OH-THC, in rodent models of psychoactivity and molecular assays of cannabinoid receptor type-1 (CB1) pharmacology. Like oral THC, i.p. THC also undergoes first pass metabolism. In both species and sexes, 11-OH-THC exhibited marginally higher affinity (~1.5 fold) than THC and both served as partial agonists in [35S]GTPγS binding with equivalent potency; 11-OH-THC exhibited slightly greater efficacy in rat brain tissue. In ICR mice, 11-OH-THC exhibited greater potency than THC in assays of catalepsy (7- to 15-fold) and hypothermia (7- to 31-fold). Further, 11-OH-THC was more potent in THC drug discrimination (7- to 9-fold) in C57Bl/6 J mice, with THC-like discriminative stimulus effects being CB1-, but not CB2-, mediated. THC's discriminative stimulus also was stable across age in mice, as its potency did not change over the course of the experiment (~17 months). While sex differences in THC's effects were not revealed in mice, THC was significantly more potent in females Sprague-Dawley rats than in males trained to discriminate THC from vehicle. This study demonstrates a cross-species in the psychoactive effects of i.p. THC across sex that may be related to differential metabolism of THC into its psychoactive metabolite 11-OH-THC, suggesting that species is a crucial design consideration in the preclinical study of phytocannabinoids.

Keywords: 11-OH-THC; Age differences; Cannabinoid; Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; Drug discrimination; Metabolite; Sex differences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / metabolism
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Discrimination Learning / drug effects*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Dronabinol / metabolism
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reaction Time / drug effects*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / agonists*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Rodentia
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Species Specificity


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Dronabinol