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Mental Health - Neurological Disorders - Radiology and Medical Imaging

Approach-Bias Predicts Development of Cannabis Problem Severity in Heavy Cannabis Users: Results from a Prospective FMRI Study
Published: Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Author: Janna Cousijn et al.

by Janna Cousijn, Anna E. Goudriaan, K. Richard Ridderinkhof, Wim van den Brink, Dick J. Veltman, Reinout W. Wiers

A potentially powerful predictor for the course of drug (ab)use is the approach-bias, that is, the pre-reflective tendency to approach rather than avoid drug-related stimuli. Here we investigated the neural underpinnings of cannabis approach and avoidance tendencies. By elucidating the predictive power of neural approach-bias activations for future cannabis use and problem severity, we aimed at identifying new intervention targets. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), neural approach-bias activations were measured with a Stimulus Response Compatibility task (SRC) and compared between 33 heavy cannabis users and 36 matched controls. In addition, associations were examined between approach-bias activations and cannabis use and problem severity at baseline and at six-month follow-up. Approach-bias activations did not differ between heavy cannabis users and controls. However, within the group of heavy cannabis users, a positive relation was observed between total lifetime cannabis use and approach-bias activations in various fronto-limbic areas. Moreover, approach-bias activations in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) independently predicted cannabis problem severity after six months over and beyond session-induced subjective measures of craving. Higher DLPFC/ACC activity during cannabis approach trials, but lower activity during cannabis avoidance trials were associated with decreases in cannabis problem severity. These findings suggest that cannabis users with deficient control over cannabis action tendencies are more likely to develop cannabis related problems. Moreover, the balance between cannabis approach and avoidance responses in the DLPFC and ACC may help identify individuals at-risk for cannabis use disorders and may be new targets for prevention and treatment.