, Volume 122, Issue 1, pp 1-14

Behavioural consequences of maternal exposure to natural cannabinoids in rats

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Cannabis sativa preparations (hashish, marijuana) are the most widely used illicit drugs during pregnancy in Western countries. The possible long-term consequences for the child of in utero exposure to cannabis derivatives are still poorly understood. Animal models of perinatal cannabinoid exposure provide a useful tool for examining the developmental effects of cannabinoids. Behavioral consequences of maternal exposure to either cannabis preparations or to its main psychoactive component, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in rat models are reviewed in this paper. Maternal exposure to cannabinoids resulted in alteration in the pattern of ontogeny of spontaneous locomotor and exploratory behavior in the offspring. Adult animals exposed during gestational and lactational periods exhibited persistent alterations in the behavioral response to novelty, social interactions, sexual orientation and sexual behavior. They also showed a lack of habituation and reactivity to different illumination conditions. Adult offspring of both sexes also displayed a characteristic increase in spontaneous and water-induced grooming behavior. Some of the effects were dependent on the sex of the animals being studied, and the dose of cannabinoid administered to the mother during gestational and lactational periods. Maternal exposure to low doses of THC sensitized the adult offspring of both sexes to the reinforcing effects of morphine, as measured in a conditioned place preference paradigm. The existence of sexual dimorphisms on the developmental effects of cannabinoids, the role of sex steroids, glucocorticoids, and pituitary hormones, the possible participation of cortical projecting monoaminergic systems, and the mediation of the recently described cannabinoid receptors are also analyzed. The information obtained in animal studies is compared to the few data available on the long-term behavioral and cognitive effects on in utero exposure to cannabis in humans.