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An endocannabinoid signal associated with desire for alcohol is suppressed in recently abstinent alcoholics

  • Author(s): Mangieri, RA
  • Hong, KIA
  • Piomelli, D
  • Sinha, R
  • et al.
Abstract

Background: Alcoholics report persistent alcohol craving that is heightened by cognitive cues, stressful situations, and abstinence. The role of endogenous cannabinoids in human alcohol craving-though long suspected-remains elusive. Materials and methods: We employed laboratory exposure to stress, alcohol cue, and neutral relaxed situations through guided imagery procedures to evoke alcohol desire and craving in healthy social drinkers (n∈=∈11) and in treatment-engaged, recently abstinent alcoholic subjects (n∈=∈12) and assessed alcohol craving, heart rate, and changes in circulating endocannabinoid levels. Subjective anxiety was also measured as a manipulation check for the procedures. Results: In healthy social drinkers, alcohol cue imagery increased circulating levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide, whereas neutral and stress-related imagery had no such effect. Notably, baseline and response anandamide levels in these subjects were negatively and positively correlated with self-reported alcohol craving scores, respectively. Cue-induced increases in heart rate were also correlated with anandamide responses. By contrast, no imagery-induced anandamide mobilization was observed in alcoholics, whose baseline anandamide levels were markedly reduced compared to healthy drinkers and were uncorrelated to either alcohol craving or heart rate. Conclusions: The results suggest that plasma anandamide levels provide a marker of the desire for alcohol in social drinkers, which is suppressed in recently abstinent alcoholics. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.

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