25 Mar Animal Study Finds Vaporized Cannabis Can Enhance Drug Seeking Behavior
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ryan J. McLaughlin, PhD
Department of Integrative Physiology & Neuroscience
College of Veterinary Medicine
Washington State University, Pullman, WA
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: The evolving legal landscape concerning the use of cannabis has increased urgency to better understand its effects on the brain and behavior. Animal models are advantageous in this respect; however, researchers traditionally use forced injections of synthetic cannabinoids which fails to capture the complex effects of volitional cannabis consumption.
In our study, we developed a novel model of cannabis self-administration using response-contingent delivery of vaporized cannabis extracts containing high concentrations of Δ9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD).
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Our data indicate that THC-rich cannabis vapor has reinforcing properties that support stable rates of responding and conditioned drug-seeking behavior in rats. This approach will be valuable for investigating the effects of cannabis and uncovering neural mechanisms that give rise to cannabis dependence.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: There are still many unknowns when it comes to the effects of cannabis, and much more research is needed, particularly during this age of legalization. However, some questions are very difficult to answer in human populations without considering ethical implications or the many environmental factors that can obscure the direct causal effects of cannabis use. By developing a more translational model of cannabis use in rodents that mimics the drug and route of administration most common in human cannabis users, we believe that the results of this work will fundamentally shift how we study cannabis use in rodents, and that the results generated from this approach can be used to generate new knowledge that can hopefully be leveraged to inform public health policy.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: The sky is the limit when it comes to the future directions that we can take. Our laboratory is particularly interested in applying this model to study the long-term effects of cannabis exposure during sensitive developmental periods, like pregnancy or adolescence. These concerns are paramount to the citizens and policy makers in Washington State, but are exceptionally difficult studies to conduct in human populations due to the time and cost associated with tracking individuals for years, or even decades.
We feel that this cannabis vapor self-administration can be particularly useful to generate new knowledge in instances like this, but we also think that it could be exciting to explore other factors, such as effects of stress or pain on cannabis self-administration, or perhaps even the effects of polysubstance use on behavioral and physiological endpoints. We want to use the model to also explore how and why cannabis affects males and females differently, since the effects of cannabis in female populations remains largely understudied.
Finally, there is also considerable intrigue for this model in the context of pulmonary health following e-cigarette use, which has quickly emerged as a major public health concern due to the increased prevalence of vaping-related illness in recent months. It is a very exciting time to be conducting cannabis research and I am very excited to see all of the many other important discoveries that researchers will make using this model in the years to come.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about our lab’s work! I want to personally thank all of the amazing members of my lab and our various collaborators who were responsible for making this all happen, as well as our generous funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Washington State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program that supported the research. It was many years in the making, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of everybody in the lab.
“Vaporized Cannabis Extracts Have Reinforcing Properties and Support Conditioned Drug-Seeking Behavior in Rats”. Timothy G. Freels, Lydia N. Baxter-Potter, Janelle M. Lugo, Nicholas C. Glodosky, Hayden R. Wright, Samantha L. Baglot, Gavin N. Petrie, Zhihao Yu, Brian H. Clowers, Carrie Cuttler, Rita A. Fuchs, Matthew N. Hill and Ryan J. McLaughlin.
Journal of Neuroscience doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2416-19.2020.
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