Animal and human studies have suggested that cannabidiol (CBD) may possess anxiolytic properties, but how these effects are mediated centrally is unknown. The aim of the present study was to investigate this using functional neuroimaging. Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was measured at rest using (99m)Tc-ECD SPECT in 10 healthy male volunteers, randomly divided into two groups of five subjects. Each subject was studied on two occasions, 1 week apart. In the first session, subjects were given an oral dose of CBD (400 mg) or placebo, in a double-blind procedure. SPECT images were acquired 90 min after drug ingestion. The Visual Analogue Mood Scale was applied to assess subjective states. In the second session, the same procedure was performed using the drug that had not been administered in the previous session. Within-subject between-condition rCBF comparisons were performed using statistical parametric mapping (SPM). CBD significantly decreased subjective anxiety and increased mental sedation, while placebo did not induce significant changes. Assessment of brain regions where anxiolytic effects of CBD were predicted a priori revealed two voxel clusters of significantly decreased ECD uptake in the CBD relative to the placebo condition (p<0.001, uncorrected for multiple comparisons). These included a medial temporal cluster encompassing the left amygdala-hippocampal complex, extending into the hypothalamus, and a second cluster in the left posterior cingulate gyrus. There was also a cluster of greater activity with CBD than placebo in the left parahippocampal gyrus (p<0.001). These results suggest that CBD has anxiolytic properties, and that these effects are mediated by an action on limbic and paralimbic brain areas.
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