Cannabidiol regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders

Jonathan Lee, Leandro Bertoglio, Francisco Guimaraes, Carl W Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)
135 Downloads (Pure)


Learning to associate cues or contexts with potential threats or rewards is adaptive and enhances survival. Both aversive and appetitive memories are therefore powerful drivers of behaviour but the inappropriate expression of conditioned responding to fear- and drug-related stimuli can lead to the development of anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders, respectively.
These psychiatric diseases are associated with aberrant and persistent emotional memories and inadequate treatment using psychological therapies and/or medications, often leading to symptom relapse. Preclinical and clinical evidence indicates that cannabidiol, the main non-psychotomimetic phytocannabinoid found in Cannabis sativa, reduces anxiety in paradigms assessing innate
responses to threat. Accumulating evidence from animal studies investigating the effects of cannabidiol on different fear memory processes also indicates that this drug reduces learned fear in paradigms that are translationally relevant to post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias. Cannabidiol does so by reducing fear expression acutely, and by disrupting fear memory reconsolidation and enhancing fear extinction, both of which can result in the lasting reduction of
learned fear. Recent studies have also begun to determine the effects of cannabidiol on drug memory expression using paradigms with translational relevance to addiction. Emerging evidence suggests that cannabidiol reduces the expression of drug memories acutely and by disrupting their reconsolidation. Here we review the literature demonstrating the anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol
before focusing on studies investigating its effects on various fear and drug memory processes. Understanding how cannabidiol regulates emotion and emotional memory processing may eventually lead to its use in treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Pharmacology
Early online date9 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Mar 2017


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