Cannabidiol (CBD) drives sex-dependent impairments in omission, but has no effect on reinforcer devaluation

Behav Brain Res. 2022 Jul 25;434:114023. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2022.114023. Online ahead of print.


Habits are inflexible behaviors that persist despite changes in outcome value. While habits allow for efficient responding, neuropsychiatric diseases such as drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder are characterized by overreliance on habits. Recently, the commercially popular drug cannabidiol (CBD) has emerged as a potential treatment for addictive behaviors, though it is not entirely clear how it exerts this therapeutic effect. As brain endocannabinoids play a key role in habit formation, we sought to determine how CBD modifies goal-directed behaviors and habit formation. To explore this, mice were administered CBD (20 mg/kg i.p.) or vehicle as a control and trained on random interval (RI30/60) or random ratio (RR10/20) schedules designed to elicit habitual or goal-directed lever pressing, respectively. Mice were tested for habitual responding using probe trials following reinforcer-specific devaluation as well as omission trials, where mice had to withhold responding to earn rewards. We found that while CBD had little effect on operant behaviors or reward devaluation, CBD inhibited goal-directed behavior in a sex-specific and context dependent manner during the omission task. Beyond drug treatment, we found an effect of sex throughout training, reward devaluation, and omission. This work provides evidence that CBD has no effect on habit formation in a reward devaluation paradigm. However, the omission results suggest that CBD may slow learning of novel action outcome contingencies or decrease goal-directed behavior. This work calls for further examination of sex-dependent outcomes of CBD treatment and highlights the importance of investigating sex effects in habit-related experiments.

Keywords: CBD; Cannabidiol; Cannabinoids; Goal-directed behavior; Habit formation; Operant conditioning.