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Cannabis Cravings Are Produced Throughout the Brain, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jul 07, 2020   
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Cannabis cravings are not solely produced in one area of the brain, according to a new study. Instead, say researchers, these cravings are signaled through multiple brain networks.

Published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, the new study could help determine how brain network patterns may change once consumers reduce their cannabis intake.

Cannabis on the brain

To make their findings, the researchers from the Center for Brain-Health, University of Texas at Dallas, first recruited 144 participants, 54 of whom were deemed “chronic” cannabis consumers while the remaining 90 were classed as non-consumers.

In the study, these participants were each given a piece of cannabis equipment to hold, such as a pipe or a joint, and asked to rate their urge to use marijuana on a scale of 1 (no urge) to 10 (high urge). During this test, a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine was used to measure activity changes in participants’ brains.

The researchers found that connections between certain parts of the brain were much more variable in the cannabis consumers. These two regions were the nucleus accumbens, which has a role in the cognitive processing of reward and pleasure, and the central executive network (CEN), which is associated with problem solving. The variability within the CEN, in particular, was closely associated with the participants’ cannabis cravings.

Cannabis consumers were also thought to have elevated dopamine signals when exposed to the cannabis equipment.

“Now that we have identified there are differences in large-scale brain network patterns in long-term cannabis users when there is craving, we can use these as biomarkers of cannabis use disorder to aid treatment strategies,” Francesca Filbey, a professor at the Center for Brain-Health and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

“Future studies are needed to determine how these brain network patterns might change over the course of treatment and recovery,” she added.

Another recent study from the Center for Brain-Health, which used a similar experimental model, found that women who regularly consume cannabis experienced more intense cravings than their male counterparts.


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