Altered orbitofrontal activity and dorsal striatal connectivity during
emotion processing in dependent marijuana users after 28 days
Received: 14 August 2017 / Accepted: 26 November 2017 / Published online: 2 December 2017
Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017
Rationale Intact cognitive and emotional functioning is vital for the long-term success of addiction treatment strategies.
Accumulating evidence suggests an association between chronic marijuana use and lasting alterations in cognitive brain function.
Despite initial evidence for altered emotion processing in dependent marijuana users after short abstinence periods, adaptations in
the domain of emotion processing after longer abstinence remain to be determined.
Objective and methods Using task-based and resting state fMRI, the present study investigated emotion processing in 19
dependent marijuana users and 18 matched non-using controls after an abstinence period of > 28 days.
Results Relative to the control subjects, negative emotional stimuli elicited increased medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) activity
and stronger mOFC-dorsal striatal and mOFC-amygdala functional coupling in dependent marijuana users (p < 0.022, FWE-
corrected). Furthermore, mOFC-dorsal striatal functional connectivity was increased at rest in marijuana users (p <0.03,FWE-
corrected). Yet, processing of positive stimuli and subjective ratings of valence and arousal were comparable in both groups.
Conclusions Together, the present findings provide the first evidence for persisting emotion processing alterations in dependent
marijuana users. Alterations might reflect long-term neural adaptations as a consequence of chronic marijuana use or predispos-
ing risk factors for the development of marijuana dependence.
Worldwide, marijuana is among the most frequently used drugs
of potential abuse, with an estimated 3.8% of the world popula-
tion using it regularly (UNODC 2016). Although the majority of
regular marijuana users may not develop addictive patterns of
use, epidemiological data and increasing rates of treatment de-
mand for marijuana dependence indicate that a significant num-
ber of regular users can develop a clinically relevant marijuana
use disorder (EMCDDA 2016). Despite the growing treatment
demand for problematic marijuana use, current therapeutic op-
tions remain limited. Evidence-based pharmacological treatment
strategies are lacking (Van den Brink 2012), and although behav-
ioral therapeutic interventions show some efficacy (Gates et al.
2016), the long-term success of interventions in individuals with
substance addictions strongly relies on intact cognitive (Stevens
et al. 2014) and emotional functioning (Charlet et al. 2014).
Kaeli Zimmermann and Shuxia Yao contributed equally to this work.
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-017-4803-6) contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
* Benjamin Becker
Department of Psychiatry and Division of Medical Psychology,
University of Bonn, 53105 Bonn, Germany
The Clinical Hospital of Chengdu Brain Science Institute, MOE Key
Lab for Neuroinformation, University of Electronic Science and
Technology of China, Xiyuan Ave, No 2006, Chengdu 625014,
Department of Addiction and Psychotherapy, LVR-Clinic Bonn,
53111 Bonn, Germany
Center for Economics and Neuroscience, University of Bonn,
53127 Bonn, Germany
Department of Epileptology, University Hospital Bonn,
53127 Bonn, Germany
Psychopharmacology (2018) 235:849–859