The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas $2.5 million to examine cannabis use disorders.
The five-year brain-imaging study seeks to better understand the brain mechanisms behind problems related to cannabis use, said Dr. Francesca Filbey, director of Cognitive Neuroscience of Addictive Behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth and lead investigator of the project.
The study, conducted in partnership with Dr. Janna Cousijn, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, will investigate individual and cultural effects on the severity of cannabis use disorder, which is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking despite negative consequences. The study will include participants from two different cultures: American and Dutch.
“Changes in legal climate warrant a better understanding of marijuana’s potential effects on the brain and risk factors that contribute towards a cannabis use disorder,” said Filbey, who is also an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas, where she holds the Bert Moore Chair in BrainHealth. “By investigating the neural underpinnings of cannabis use disorder in people from opposing cannabis cultures, we aim to disentangle how environmental factors, such as legality, may lead to differences in how cannabis use disorder manifests in the brain.”
According to Filbey, approximately 10 percent of marijuana users become addicted to cannabis. Cannabis use disorders are currently the most prevalent of all illicit substance use disorders. Long-term recovery is achieved by less than 20 percent of those who seek treatment.
The study will include a total of 200 participants, including cannabis users and non-users in the Netherlands, where recreational marijuana use is openly tolerated, and in the U.S., where use has traditionally been illegal.
Filbey and Cousijn’s previous research suggests brain mechanisms such as cognitive control and reward processing play a crucial role in people who become addicted.
“Identification of individual and cultural mechanisms of cannabis use disorder in a cross-cultural population can reveal brain-based markers that may help create new prevention and intervention strategies and inform public health policies,” Cousijn said.