• Article

Sex, THC, and hormones Effects on density and sensitivity of CB1 cannabinoid receptors in rats

BACKGROUND: The recent NIH mandate to consider sex as a biological variable in preclinical research has focused attention on delineation of sex differences in behavior. To investigate mechanisms underlying sex differences in Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) effects, we examined the effects of sex and gonadal hormones on CB1 receptors in cerebellum, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and striatum.

METHODS: Adult Sprague-Dawley rats underwent gonadectomy (GDX) or sham-GDX. Half of the GDX females and males received estradiol or testosterone replacement (GDX+H), respectively. All rats were injected with vehicle or 30 mg/kg THC twice daily for 1 week before brain collection. CP55,940-stimulated [35S]GTPγS and [3H]SR141716A saturation binding assays were performed.

RESULTS: With exception of enhanced receptor activation in the hippocampi of female rats compared to males, vehicle-treated rats exhibited minimal sex differences in CB1 receptor densities or G-protein coupling. Repeated treatment with THC resulted in pronounced CB1 receptor desensitization and downregulation in both sexes in all brain regions with a greater magnitude of change in females.

CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that sex differences in the density and G-protein coupling of brain CB1 receptors may play a limited role in sex differences in acute THC effects not mediated by the hippocampus. In contrast, sex differences after repeated THC were common, with females (intact, GDX, and GDX+H) showing greater downregulation or desensitization in all four brain regions compared to the respective male groups. This result is consistent with a finding that women tend to progress to tolerance and dependence quicker than men after initiation of cannabis use.


Farquhar, C. E., Breivogel, C. S., Gamage, T. F., Gay, E. A., Thomas, B. F., Craft, R. M., & Wiley, J. L. (2019). Sex, THC, and hormones: Effects on density and sensitivity of CB1 cannabinoid receptors in rats. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 194, 20-27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.09.018