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Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol increases striatal glutamate levels in healthy individuals: implications for psychosis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Early online date15 Feb 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Feb 2019


King's Authors


The neurobiological mechanisms underlying the association between cannabis use and acute or long-lasting psychosis are not completely understood. While some evidence suggests altered striatal dopamine may underlie the association, direct evidence that cannabis use affects either acute or chronic striatal dopamine is inconclusive. In contrast, pre-clinical research suggests that cannabis may affect dopamine via modulation of glutamate signaling. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover design was used to investigate whether altered striatal glutamate, as measured using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, underlies the acute psychotomimetic effects of intravenously administered delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC; 1.19 mg/2 ml), the key psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, in a set of 16 healthy participants (7 males) with modest previous cannabis exposure. Compared to placebo, acute administration of Δ9-THC significantly increased Glutamate (Glu) + Glutamine (Gln) metabolites (Glx) in the left caudate head (P = 0.027). Furthermore, compared to individuals who were not sensitive to the psychotomimetic effects of Δ9-THC, individuals who developed transient psychotic-like symptoms (~70% of the sample) had significantly lower baseline Glx (placebo; P 7= 0.023) and a 2.27-times higher increase following Δ9-THC administration. Lower baseline Glx values (r = −0.55; P = 0.026) and higher previous cannabis exposure (r = 0.52; P = 0.040) were associated with a higher Δ9-THC-induced Glx increase. These results suggest that an increase in striatal glutamate levels may underlie acute cannabis-induced psychosis while lower baseline levels may be a marker of greater sensitivity to its acute psychotomimetic effects and may have important public health implications.

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