Adolescents' risk-taking behavior has been linked to a maturational imbalance between reward (“go”) and inhibitory-control (“stop”)-related brain circuitry. This may drive adolescent drug-taking, such as cannabis use. In this study, we assessed the non-acute effects of adolescent cannabis use on reward-related brain function. We performed a two-site (United States and Netherlands; pooled data) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study with a cross-sectional design. Twenty-one abstinent but frequent cannabis-using boys were compared with 24 non-using peers on reward-related brain function, using a monetary incentive delay task with fMRI. Focus was on anticipatory and response stages of reward and brain areas critically involved in reward processing like the striatum. Performance in users was normal. Region-of-interest analysis indicated striatal hyperactivity during anticipatory stages of reward in users. Intriguingly, this effect was most pronounced during non-rewarding events. Striatal hyperactivity in adolescent cannabis users may signify an overly sensitive motivational brain circuitry. Frequent cannabis use during adolescence may induce diminished ability to disengage the motivational circuit when no reward can be obtained. This could strengthen the search for reinforcements like drugs of abuse, even when facing the negative (non-rewarding) consequences.
- reward circuitry