Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2020 Dec 13:S2451-9022(20)30370-0. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2020.11.015. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Efficacy of inhaled cannabis for treating pain is controversial. Effective treatment for chemotherapy-induced neuropathy represents an unmet medical need. We hypothesized that cannabis reduces neuropathic pain by reducing functional coupling in the raphe nuclei.
METHODS: We assessed the impact of inhalation of vaporized cannabis plant (containing 10.3% Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol/0.05% cannabidiol) or placebo cannabis on brain resting-state blood oxygen level-dependent functional connectivity and pain behavior induced by paclitaxel in rats. Rats received paclitaxel to produce chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy or its vehicle. Behavioral and imaging experiments were performed after neuropathy was established and stable. Images were registered to, and analyzed using, a 3D magnetic resonance imaging rat atlas providing site-specific data on more than 168 different brain areas.
RESULTS: Prior to vaporization, paclitaxel produced cold allodynia. Inhaled vaporized cannabis increased cold withdrawal latencies relative to prevaporization or placebo cannabis, consistent with Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol-induced antinociception. In paclitaxel-treated rats, the midbrain serotonergic system, comprising the dorsal and median raphe, showed hyperconnectivity to cortical, brainstem, and hippocampal areas, consistent with nociceptive processing. Inhalation of vaporized cannabis uncoupled paclitaxel-induced hyperconnectivity patterns. No such changes in connectivity or cold responsiveness were observed following placebo cannabis vaporization.
CONCLUSIONS: Inhaled vaporized cannabis plant uncoupled brain resting-state connectivity in the raphe nuclei, normalizing paclitaxel-induced hyperconnectivity to levels observed in vehicle-treated rats. Inhaled vaporized cannabis produced antinociception in both paclitaxel- and vehicle-treated rats. Our study elucidates neural circuitry implicated in the therapeutic effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and supports a role for functional imaging studies in animals in guiding indications for future clinical trials.