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Brain Mapping-Based Model of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Effects on Connectivity in the Pain Matrix

: Walter, C.; Oertel, B.G.; Felden, L.; Kell, C.A.; Nöth, U.; Vermehren, J.; Kaiser, J.; Deichmann, R.; Lötsch, J.


Neuropsychopharmacology 41 (2016), S.1659–1669
ISSN: 0893-133X
ISSN: 1740-634X
Fraunhofer IME ()

Cannabinoids receive increasing interest as analgesic treatments. However, the clinical use of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) has progressed with justified caution, which also owes to the incomplete mechanistic understanding of its analgesic effects, in particular its interference with the processing of sensory or affective components of pain. The present placebo-controlled crossover study therefore focused on the effects of 20 mg oral THC on the connectivity between brain areas of the pain matrix following experimental stimulation of trigeminal nocisensors in 15 non-addicted healthy volunteers. A general linear model (GLM) analysis identified reduced activations in the hippocampus and the anterior insula following THC administration. However, assessment of psychophysiological interaction (PPI) revealed that the effects of THC first consisted in a weakening of the interaction between the thalamus and the secondary somatosensory cortex (S2). From there, dynamic causal modeling (DCM) was employed to infer that THC attenuated the connections to the hippocampus and to the anterior insula, suggesting that the reduced activations in these regions are secondary to a reduction of the connectivity from somatosensory regions by THC. These findings may have consequences for the way THC effects are currently interpreted: as cannabinoids are increasingly considered in pain treatment, present results provide relevant information about how THC interferes with the affective component of pain. Specifically, the present experiment suggests that THC does not selectively affect limbic regions, but rather interferes with sensory processing which in turn reduces sensory-limbic connectivity, leading to deactivation of affective regions.