CSCI Research Brief

Cannabidiol (CBD), Memory Processing, and Substance Use Disorders

Lee JLC, Bertoglio LJ, Guimarães FS, Stevenson CW. Cannabidiol regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2017;174(19):3242-3256. doi:10.1111/bph.13724

There are two types of memory that help humans learn link cues with rewards or potential threats; these skills enhance survival. The two types of memory include “appetitive” and “aversive.” Appetitive memories play an important role in behavior and learning. Under certain circumstances, appetitive memories can become maladaptive and often become linked with addiction and anxiety-related disorders.  Aversive memories are considered negative memories; this type of memory can lend itself to survival by helping a person avoid a threat linked with a previous experience. 

Cannabinoid receptors in the brain control crucial, survival-linked memories that are powerful drivers of behavior. Disorders associated with maladaptation, such as substance use disorder and anxiety-related conditions, are linked with ongoing abnormal emotional memories. This often leads to relapse in those who are chemically dependent.

Study Findings

 Studies show that cannabidiol (CBC), found in the Cannabis sativa plant, reduces anxiety via indirect cannabinoid receptor activation. Animal research studies have shown that the effects of cannabidiol on fear memory processing, has shown that CBD reduces fear memory processing involved in learned fear that is associated with phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. CBD acutely lowers fear expression, disruption fear memory and enhancing fear extinction 

Studies suggest that CBD acutely reduces the expression of drug memories by disrupting the reconsolidation of the memories. In addition to its effect on fear and drug use memory processing, CBD also has anxiolytic effects.


According to the study authors, “Emerging preclinical and clinical evidence indicates that CBD regulates different aversive and appetitive memory processes.” Understanding exactly how CBD regulates emotions and emotional memory processing may lead to the use of CBD in the treatment of substance use and anxiety-related disorders.

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