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Keywords:

  • Cannabis;
  • decision making;
  • fMRI;
  • Iowa gambling task;
  • substance use disorders

Abstract

Decision-making deficits are thought to play an important role in the development and persistence of substance use disorders. Individual differences in decision-making abilities and their underlying neurocircuitry may, therefore, constitute an important predictor for the course of substance use and the development of substance use disorders. Here, we investigate the predictive value of decision making and neural mechanisms underlying decision making for future cannabis use and problem severity in a sample of heavy cannabis users. Brain activity during a monetary decision-making task (Iowa gambling task) was compared between 32 heavy cannabis users and 41 matched non-using controls using functional magnetic resonance imaging. In addition, within the group of heavy cannabis users, associations were examined between task-related brain activations, cannabis use and cannabis use-related problems at baseline, and change in cannabis use and problem severity after a 6-month follow-up. Despite normal task performance, heavy cannabis users compared with controls showed higher activation during wins in core areas associated with decision making. Moreover, within the group of heavy cannabis users, win-related activity and activity anticipating loss outcomes in areas generally involved in executive functions predicted change in cannabis use after 6 months. These findings are consistent with previous studies and point to abnormal processing of motivational information in heavy cannabis users. A new finding is that individuals who are biased toward immediate rewards have a higher probability of increasing drug use, highlighting the importance of the relative balance between motivational processes and regulatory executive processes in the development of substance use disorders.