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Thursday, March 29, 2012

A review of the interactions between alcohol and the endocannabinoid system: Implications for alcohol dependence and future directions for research

Over the past fifty years a significant body of evidence has been compiled suggesting an interaction between the endocannabinoid (EC) system and alcohol dependence.

However, much of this work has been conducted only in the past two decades following the elucidation of the molecular constituents of the EC system that began with the serendipitous discovery of the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1).

Since then, novel pharmacological and genetic tools have enabled researchers to manipulate select components of the EC system, to determine their contribution to the motivation to consume ethanol.

From these preclinical studies, it is evident that CB1 contributes the motivational and reinforcing properties of ethanol, and chronic consumption of ethanol alters EC transmitter levels and CB1 expression in brain nuclei associated with addiction pathways.

These results are augmented by
in vitro and ex vivo studies showing that acute and chronic treatment with ethanol produces physiologically relevant alterations in the function of the EC system.

This report provides a current and comprehensive review of the literature regarding the interactions between ethanol and the EC system.

We begin be reviewing the studies published prior to the discovery of the EC system that compared the behavioral and physiological effects of cannabinoids with ethanol in addition to cross-tolerance between these drugs.

Next, a brief overview of the molecular constituents of the EC system is provided as context for the subsequent review of more recent studies examining the interaction of ethanol with the EC system.

These results are compiled into a summary providing a scheme for the known changes to the components of the EC system in different stages of alcohol dependence.

Finally, future directions for research are discussed.

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