Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may stem from the formation of aberrant and enduring aversive memories. Some PTSD patients have recreationally used Cannabis, probably aiming at relieving their symptomatology. However, it is still largely unknown whether and how Cannabis or its psychotomimetic compound Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) attenuates the aversive/traumatic memory outcomes. Here, we seek to review and discuss the effects of THC on aversive memory extinction and anxiety in healthy humans and PTSD patients.
Methods: Medline, PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Central Register for Controlled Trials databases were searched to identify peer-reviewed published studies and randomized controlled trials in humans published in English between 1974 and July 2020, including those using only THC and THC combined with cannabidiol (CBD). The effect size of the experimental intervention under investigation was calculated.
Results: At low doses, THC can enhance the extinction rate and reduce anxiety responses. Both effects involve the activation of cannabinoid type-1 receptors in discrete components of the corticolimbic circuitry, which could couterbalance the low "endocannabinoid tonus" reported in PTSD patients. The advantage of associating CBD with THC to attenuate anxiety while minimizing the potential psychotic or anxiogenic effect produced by high doses of THC has been reported. The effects of THC either alone or combined with CBD on aversive memory reconsolidation, however, are still unknown.
Conclusions: Current evidence from healthy humans and PTSD patients supports the THC value to suppress anxiety and aversive memory expression without producing significant adverse effects if used in low doses or when associated with CBD. Future studies are guaranteed to address open questions related to their dose ratios, administration routes, pharmacokinetic interactions, sex-dependent differences, and prolonged efficacy.
Keywords: Cannabidiol; Cannabis; Fear extinction; Memory reconsolidation; THC.