Repeated exposure to JWH-018 induces adaptive changes in the mesolimbic and mesocortical dopaminergic pathways, glial cells alterations, and behavioural correlates


Background and Purpose Spice/K2 herbal mixtures, containing synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-018, have been marketed as marijuana surrogates since 2004. JWH-018 has cannabinoid CB1 receptor-dependent reinforcing properties and acutely increases dopaminergic transmission selectively in the NAc shell. Here, we tested the hypothesis that repeated administration of JWH-018 (i) modulates behaviour, (ii) affects dopaminergic transmission and its responsiveness to motivational stimuli, and (iii) is associated with a neuroinflammatory phenotype. Experimental Approach Rats were administered with JWH-018 once a day for 14 consecutive days. We then performed behavioural, electrophysiological, and neurochemical evaluation at multiple time points after drug discontinuation. Key Results Repeated JWH-018 exposure (i) induced anxious and aversive behaviours, transitory attentional deficits, and withdrawal signs; (ii) decreased spontaneous activity and number of dopamine neurons in the VTA; and (iii) reduced stimulation of dopaminergic transmission in the NAc shell while potentiating that in the NAc core, in response to acute JWH-018 challenge. Moreover, (iv) we observed a decreased dopamine sensitivity in the NAc shell and core, but not in the mPFC, to a first chocolate exposure; conversely, after a second exposure, dialysate dopamine fully increased in the NAc shell and core but not in the mPFC. Finally, selected dopamine brain areas showed (v) astrogliosis (mPFC, NAc shell and core, VTA), microgliosis (NAc shell and core), and downregulation of CB1 receptors (mPFC, NAc shell and core). Conclusion and Implications Repeated exposure to JWH-018 may provide a useful model to clarify the detrimental effects of recurring use of Spice/K2 drugs.



addiction, dopamine, glial cells, habituation, novel psychoactive substances, synthetic cannabinoids, taste