Cannabis is one of the most commonly used illicit recreational drugs that is often taken for medicinal purposes. The psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is Δ9
-THC, hereafter referred to as THC), which is an agonist at the endocannabinoid receptors CB1
R and CB2
R. Here, we exposed zebrafish embryos to THC during the gastrulation phase to determine the long-term effects during development. We specifically focused on reticulospinal neurons known as the Mauthner cells (M-cell) that are involved in escape response movements. The M- cells are born during gastrulation, thus allowing us to examine neuronal morphology of neurons born during the time of exposure. After the exposure, embryos were allowed to develop normally and were examined at two days post-fertilization for M-cell morphology and escape responses. THC treated embryos exhibited subtle alterations in M-cell axon diameter and small changes in escape response dynamics to touch. Because escape responses were altered, we also examined muscle fiber development. The fluorescent labelling of red and white muscle fibers showed that while muscles were largely intact, the fibers were slightly disorganized with subtle but significant changes in the pattern of expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. However, there were no overt changes in the expression of nicotinic receptor subunit mRNA ascertained by qPCR. Embryos were allowed to further develop until 5 dpf, when they were examined for overall levels of movement. Animals exposed to THC during gastrulation exhibited reduced activity compared with vehicle controls. Together, these findings indicate that zebrafish exposed to THC during the gastrula phase exhibit small changes in neuronal and muscle morphology that may impact behavior and locomotion.
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