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Marijuana is the most commonly used drug of abuse among adolescents. Considerable clinical evidence supports the hypothesis that adolescent neurodevelopmental exposure to high levels of the principal psychoactive component in marijuana, -delta-9-tetrahydrocanabinol (THC), is associated with a high risk of developing psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia later in life. This marijuana-associated risk is believed to be related to increasing levels of THC found within commonly used marijuana strains. Adolescence is a highly vulnerable period for the development of the brain, where the inhibitory GABAergic system plays a pivotal role in the maturation of regulatory control mechanisms in the central nervous system (CNS). Specifically, adolescent neurodevelopment represents a critical period wherein regulatory connectivity between higher-order cortical regions and sub-cortical emotional processing circuits such as the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system is established. Emerging preclinical evidence demonstrates that adolescent exposure to THC selectively targets schizophrenia-related molecular and neuropharmacological signaling pathways in both cortical and sub-cortical regions, including the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and mesolimbic DA pathway, comprising the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and nucleus accumbens (NAc). Prefrontal cortical GABAergic hypofunction is a key feature of schizophrenia-like neuropsychopathology. This GABAergic hypofunction may lead to the loss of control of the PFC to regulate proper sub-cortical DA neurotransmission, thereby leading to schizophrenia-like symptoms. This review summarizes preclinical evidence demonstrating that reduced prefrontal cortical GABAergic neurotransmission has a critical role in the sub-cortical DAergic dysregulation and schizophrenia-like behaviors observed following adolescent THC exposure.
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