Prevention of cannabinoid withdrawal syndrome by lithium: involvement of oxytocinergic neuronal activation
Cui SS, Bowen RC, Gu GB, Hannesson DK, Yu PH, Zhang X.
Neuropsychiatry Research Unit,
Department of Psychiatry,
University of Saskatchewan,
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7N 5E4.
J Neurosci. 2001 Dec 15;21(24):9867-76
Cannabis (i.e., marijuana and cannabinoids) is the most commonly used illicit drug in developed countries, and the lifetime prevalence of marijuana dependence is the highest of all illicit drugs in the United States. To provide clues for finding effective pharmacological treatment for cannabis-dependent patients, we examined the effects and possible mechanism of lithium administration on the cannabinoid withdrawal syndrome in rats. A systemic injection of the mood stabilizer lithium, at serum levels that were clinically relevant, prevented the cannabinoid withdrawal syndrome. The effects of lithium were accompanied by expression of the cellular activation marker Fos proteins within most oxytocin-immunoreactive neurons and a significant increase in oxytocin mRNA expression in the hypothalamic paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei. Lithium also produced a significant elevation of oxytocin levels in the peripheral blood. We suggest that the effects of lithium against the cannabinoid withdrawal syndrome are mediated by oxytocinergic neuronal activation and subsequent release and action of oxytocin within the CNS. In support of our hypothesis, we found that the effects of lithium against the cannabinoid withdrawal syndrome were antagonized by systemic preapplication of an oxytocin antagonist and mimicked by systemic or intracerebroventricular injection of oxytocin. These results demonstrate that oxytocinergic neuronal activation plays a critical role in the action of lithium against the cannabinoid withdrawal syndrome in rats, thus providing a potentially novel strategy for the treatment of cannabis dependence in humans.