Cannabidiol and the remainder of the plant extract modulate the effects of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol on fear memory reconsolidation

Anthony Murkar, Pam Kent, Christian Cayer, Jon James, Tony Durst, Zul Merali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: ∆9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, a CB1 receptor agonist) and Cannabidiol (CBD, a non-competitive antagonist of endogenous CB1 and CB2 ligands) are two primary components of Cannabis species, and may modulate fear learning in mammals. The CB1 receptor is widely distributed throughout the cortex and some limbic regions typically associated with fear learning. Humans with posttraumatic disorder (PTSD) have widespread upregulation of CB1 receptor density and reduced availability of endogenous cannabinoid anandamide, suggesting a role for the endocannabinoid system in PTSD. Pharmacological blockade of memory reconsolidation following recall of a conditioned response modulates the expression of learned fear and may represent a viable target for the development of new treatments for PTSD. In this study, we focused on assessing the impact of the key compounds of the marijuana plant both singly and, more importantly, in concert on attenuation of learned fear. Specifically, we assessed the impact of THC, CBD, and/or the remaining plant materials (post-extraction; background material), on reconsolidation of learned fear. Method: Male Sprague-Dawley rats received six 1.0 mA continuous foot shocks (contextual training). Twenty-four hours later, rats were re-exposed to the context. Immediately following memory retrieval (recall) rats received oral administration of low dose THC, high dose THC, CBD, CBD + low THC, CBD + high THC [as isolated phytochemicals and, in separate experiments, in combination with plant background material (BM)]. Rodents were tested for freezing response context re-exposure at 24 h and 7 days following training. Results: CBD alone, but not THC alone, significantly attenuated fear memory reconsolidation when administered immediately after recall. The effect persisted for at least 7 days. A combination of CBD and THC also attenuated the fear response. Plant BM also significantly attenuated reconsolidation of learned fear both on its own and in combination with THC and CBD. Finally, THC attenuated reconsolidation of learned fear only when co-administered with CBD or plant BM. Conclusion: CBD may provide a novel treatment strategy for targeting fear-memories. Furthermore, plant BM also significantly attenuated the fear response. However, whereas THC alone had no significant effects, its effects were modulated by the addition of other compounds. Future research should investigate some of the other components present in the plant BM (such as terpenes) for their effects alone, or in combination with isolated pure cannabinoids, on fear learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number174
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Blockade
  • CBD
  • Cannabinoids
  • Cannabis
  • Fear
  • Memory
  • Reconsolidation
  • THC


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