Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Kimberly Nixon

Second Advisor

Dr. James Pauly


Excessive ethanol consumption, characteristic of alcohol use disorders (AUDs), is associated with widespread neurodegeneration and cognitive and behavioral impairments that may contribute to the chronic and relapsing nature of alcoholism. Therefore, identifying novel targets that can afford neuroprotection will undoubtedly aid current treatment strategies for AUDs. The cannabinoids have been shown to provide neuroprotection in a variety of preclinical models of neurodegeneration; however minimal data is available regarding the use of cannabinoid-based pharmacotherapies for treating ethanol-induced neurodegeneration. Therefore, the current dissertation examined the overarching hypothesis: the cannabinoids are a therapeutic strategy to afford neuroprotection in the context of ethanol-induced neurodegeneration. Importantly, this overarching hypothesis was approached with translational considerations in mind. Specifically, the use of many cannabinoids in the clinic is hindered due to multiple unfavorable pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic profiles, including high first pass metabolism and untoward psychoactivity. Therefore, the studies herein were designed to circumvent these PK/PD obstacles. The first set of studies examined whether transdermal delivery of the phytocannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), could attenuate binge ethanol induced neurodegeneration. Transdermal CBD afforded neuroprotection in the entorhinal cortex and neuroprotection was similar in magnitude as intraperitoneal administration. The second set of studies found that binge ethanol treatment transiently down-regulated the main CNS cannabinoid receptor, CB1R. Interestingly, these changes were not accompanied by alterations in one of the major endogenous ligands, anandamide (AEA), or other related n-acylethanolamides (NAEs). The latter finding is in contrast to other literature reports demonstrating that endocannabinoid content is substantially elevated in response to a CNS insult. Nevertheless, studies were carried out to determine if administration of the AEA and NAE catabolism inhibitor, URB597, could attenuate binge ethanol induced neurodegeneration. URB597 failed to produce neuroprotection in the entorhinal cortex and dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. However, additional studies found that URB597 failed to elevate AEA in the entorhinal cortex, and in general the biological activity of URB597 was impaired by ethanol exposure. Therefore, with further drug discovery/development efforts, it may be feasible to optimize such treatment strategies. In conclusion, the studies within the current dissertation demonstrated the feasibility of using some cannabinoid-based agents to prevent ethanol-induced neurodegeneration.