CB1 and CB2 receptors are influenced via exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids. To date, little is known regarding changes in receptor expression and methylation in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) dependence. Therefore, the CB1 and CB2 receptor mRNA expression levels and promoter methylation status in the peripheral blood cells of 77 subjects (36 with THC dependence, 21 cigarette smokers and 20 nonsmokers) were assessed by quantitative real-time PCR and methylation-specific PCR. There was a significant difference in CB1 receptor expression levels between the three groups (ANOVA, p < 0.001, d.f. = 2, F = 71.3). The mean promoter methylation (%) was significantly negatively correlated with CB1 receptor mRNA expression levels (Spearman’s rho: r = –0.37; p = 0.002). Using a mixed general linear model, it was demonstrated that the CB1 mRNA expression (as the dependent variable) was associated with the satisfaction with life scale (SWLS) (r = 0.101; T = 2.8; p = 0.007), craving (as measured with the VAS; r = –0.023; T = –2.3; p = 0.023) and the WHO-Assist Subscale for Cannabis consumption (r = –0.068; T = –2.4; p = 0.02). CB1 receptor expression levels and methylation status appear to be altered in subjects with THC dependence.

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