Apparent inverse relationship between cannabinoid agonist efficacy and tolerance/cross-tolerance produced by Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol treatment in Rhesus monkeys

Lenka Hruba, Brett C. Ginsburg, Lance R. McMahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Synthetic cannabinoids (CBs) [naphthalen-1-yl-(1-pentylindol-3-yl) methanone (JWH-018) and naphthalen-1-yl-(1-butylindol-3-yl) methanone (JWH-073)] are marketed, sold, and used as alternatives to cannabis. Synthetic CBs appear to have effects similar to those of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the drug primarily responsible for the behavioral effects of cannabis. However, synthetic CB products produce atypical effects (e.g., hypertension, seizures, and panic attacks). One potential explanation for atypical effects is CB1 receptor agonist efficacy, which is reportedly higher for JWH-018 and JWH-073 compared with Δ9-THC. The goal of this study was to test a prediction from receptor theory that tolerance/cross- tolerance (i.e., resulting from daily Δ9-THC treatment) is greater for a low-efficacy agonist compared with a high-efficacy agonist. Rhesus monkeys discriminated 0.1 mg/kg Δ9-THC i.v. from vehicle, and sensitivity to CB1 agonists was determined before and after 3 and 14 days of Δ9-THC treatment (1 mg/kg per day s.c.). (1R,3R,4R)-3-[2-Hydroxy-4-(1,1-dimethylheptyl) phenyl]-4-(3-hydroxypropyl) cyclohexan-1-ol (CP-55,940), a prototype high-efficacy CB1 receptor agonist, JWH-018, and JWH-073 substituted for the discriminative stimulus effects of Δ9-THC. Three days of Δ9-THC treatment produced less tolerance/cross-tolerance than 14 days of Δ9-THC treatment. Three days of Δ9-THC did not result in cross-tolerance to CP-55,940, JWH-073, and JWH-018; in contrast, as reported previously, 3 days of Δ9-THC treatment decreased sensitivity to Δ9-THC 3-fold. Fourteen days of Δ9-THC decreased sensitivity to Δ9-THC, CP-55,940, JWH-018, and JWH-073 9.2-fold, 3.6-fold, 4.3-fold, and 5.6-fold, respectively. The greater loss of sensitivity to Δ9-THC relative to CP-55,940 and JWH-018 suggests that differences in CB1 receptor agonist efficacy are important in vivo and might underlie differences in the dependence liability and adverse effects of synthetic CBs versus cannabis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-849
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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