Background: The endocannabinoid (eCB) system plays an important role in homeostatic regulation of anxiety and stress responses; however, the eCB system can be disrupted following traumatic stressors. Additionally, traumatic or chronic stressors that occur during adulthood or early life can cause long-lasting disturbances in the eCB system. These alterations interfere with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function and may be involved in lifelong increased fear and anxiety behaviors as well as increased risk for development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Methods: This review focuses on the implications of trauma and significant stressors on eCB functionality and neural pathways, both in adolescence and into adulthood, as well as the current state of testing for CBD efficacy in treating pediatric and adult patients suffering from stress-induced eCB dysregulation. Articles were searched via Pubmed and included studies examining eCB modulation of stress-related disorders in both clinical settings and preclinical models. Conclusion: Given the potential for lifelong alterations in eCB signaling that can mediate stress responsiveness, consideration of pharmaceutical or nutraceutical agents that impact eCB targets may improve clinical outcomes in stress-related disorders. However, caution may be warranted in utilization of medicinal cannabinoid products that contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol due to pronounced euphorigenic effects and potential to exacerbate stress-related behaviors. Other cannabinoid products, such as cannabidiol (CBD), have shown promise in reducing stress-related behaviors in pre-clinical models. Overall, pre-clinical evidence supports CBD as a potential treatment for stress or anxiety disorders resulting from previously stressful events, particularly by reducing fearful behavior and promoting extinction of contextual fear memories, which are hallmarks of PTSD. However, very limited clinical research has been conducted examining the potential effectiveness of CBD in this regard and should be examined further.
Keywords: cannabidiol; childhood trauma; neurogenesis; post-traumatic stress disorder; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.